I’ve started following college football pretty closely these last few years, and I’ve taken a strong interest in the coaches of the game during that time. One type of coach I’ve come to especially admire is the “does more with less” type, especially when they have “less” due to factors beyond their control (i.e. they’re not terrible recruiters, but rather in tough situations). One of the finest examples of this type of coach is Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe.

Wake is a small private school with a small stadium working with relatively tough academic restrictions – in other words, on the surface not an ideal situation in which to compete with places like Florida State. The results on the field bore that out for many years – the coach prior to Grobe, Jim Caldwell, went 26-63 at Wake (although he did have a 7-5 season in1999). When Grobe took over prior to the 2001 season, there was little reason to expect things to get better.

Strangely, they did. Grobe went 6-5 in his first season, and 7-6 in his second, which included a Seattle Bowl win over Oregon. His next three years were a different story. The team stayed competitive, but went 5-7, 4-7, and 4-7 successively. Natural order had been restord in the ACC, and Wake had returned to the bottom.

In 2006, though, things changed – a lot. Traditional powers (Florida State, Miami) had unusually weak years. In fact, the conference was almost devoid of any good teams at all. Luckily for Wake, they were one of the good ones. They did it with a great defense and a freshman QB (Riley Skinner) who didn’t play like a freshman. They didn’t kill themselves with mistakes, but their opponents usually did.When they had to win, they won. One such occasion was a brutal 9-6 win over Georgia Tech in which neither team got much of anything going, but Wake did just enough. Remarkably, that was the ACC title game. They won the conference. They gave Louisville, a team they had no business beating, a tough, ugly game in the Orange Bowl, eventually losing 24-13 when Louisville pulled away at the end. Still, Wake had gone 11-3. That was three more games than they had won the previous two seasons combined. By any measure, a tremendous success, and, it appeared, a fluke.

Everything aligned perfectly. Wake had its best team in years in a particularly weak season for its conference. They took advantage brilliantly. But what would happen the following season? Surely some order would be restored and they would fall back into the pack – especially considering they lost their top linebacker, Jon Abbate.

Well, that sort of happened – but also sort of didn’t. They finished 8-4, 5-3 in the conference. They had a close loss to Nebraska early in the year, 20-17, without Skinner (and before Nebraska’s season collapsed). There was also a 17-16 loss to Virginia in a game that could have gone either way. Overall, it was another very solid season, with a chance to add another win in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against UConn. It was also another season one might have thought impossible at Wake just a couple seasons ago.

Grobe is upgrading the talent coming into the program, and clearly gets the most out of what he has. He is building momentum with back-to-back winning seasons, and a chance for another very good year in 2008. As a Rutgers fan, I’m supposed to hate everything about the ACC. However, as a Rutgers fan, I can also appreciate a good reclamation project when I see one. What Grobe has done at Wake is outstanding. I would have hated to see him leave for a place supposedly “more prestigious,” and rumors were going around for a while that he was taking the job at Arkansas. It would have disappointed me to see him go somewhere else just as he was about to be able to enjoy the spoils of building a consistent winner, which he has Wake on the way to being. I was, therefore, just as pleased to see his decision to stay where he is.

I never like it when people fail to recognize a great thing right in front of them. I thought Grobe was in danger of doing that. However, he seems happy with the program he’s putting together, and I’m happy for Wake. This whole story has some parallels to what just happened with Rutgers and our coach, Greg Schiano. Supposedly, though a formal offer was never made, the job was his if he wanted it – and he tentatively decided he was taking it. However, after much agonizing, he changed his mind and stayed. This is good for Rutgers. Schiano turned down Michigan, one of the top jobs in the profession. It’s a nice recruiting tool to use. However, I can’t totally say it was the slam-dunk right move for Schiano. As much as he has improved the program, Michigan is still miles ahead. There is a lot of work that still needs to be done to make Rutgers consistently successful. Michigan is college football royalty, and I can’t bring myself to say Schiano would have been dumb to go there. What he would have been was a liar. Everything he said about building a championship program for New Jersey would have been nullified. He has taken Rutgers up from nothing based on a vision that the place can be the best. That’s what he always said, at least, and that would have been compromised in a BIG way if he had left for Michigan. I still think he can achieve tremendous success at Rutgers, and if not build it into a Michigan-type program, build it into a force in college football.

Actually – let’s throw caution to the wind here. Schiano and Grobe BOTH made the right decision. They both proved they can be more than hired guns and commit themselves to finishing the jobs they started. My guess is that they’ll both succeed, and while you never know what will happen when the next big job comes along, I know what will happen for the foreseeable future – both these guys will stick to coaching the teams they’re with. For that, those programs are better off. And the reputations of both men should be as well.