Q&A with Coach Lobo -- Part III

DeaconSports sat down with Wake Forest assistant football coach Steed Lobotzke, known to most Deacon fans as Coach Lobo. The Demon Deacon offensive coordinator talked about the Demon Deacons' 2004 season as well as the future of the Wake Forest program. This is part III of DeaconSports' interview with Coach Lobo.

DS: When it's a key third or fourth down, are you the guy who makes the calls or do you have help from Coach Grobe or the other coaches?

Coach Grobe will normally make the call on whether we're going for it on fourth down or kicking it. He'll make suggestions throughout the game – ‘I'd like to see us run the ball a little more,' ‘I'd like to see us throw the ball a little more,' or maybe a particular run…He doesn't say exactly what formation and play call he wants to see but he makes general suggestions about running more, throwing more, going for it or not going for it. He'll ask my opinion, ‘4th and 1, Lobo what do you think here.' I'll step up and say ‘Coach this is a great situation to go for it, a punt does us no good. I feel good about the offensive line right now, lets go for it...' He'll ask my opinion but in the end it's his team and it's his call.

DS: What's the toughest part of the job being an assistant coach at the D-I level?

CL: The toughest part at Wake Forest is recruiting. The teams we recruit against are signing national caliber classes. They're ranked in the top 10, top 20. Every year half of our league is in the top 20 in talent. That's usually based on talent, height, weight, and 40 stats. That doesn't talk about academics at all. Lots of schools in our league are dealing with a different academic situation than we are and Duke is. The hardest part is trying to find kids that can compete with the #1 recruiting class in the country that Florida State might get or Miami might get. At Wake Forest, there's no place to hide. Every class is challenging. Every class is full of valedictorians. We need to find the right guy. We also have to find the guy who will fit in character-wise. Any screw up by a football player will be noticed. You do something bad it's going to show up right away because there is no place to hide. We need to recruit kids with character and academics who can also compete and help us win football games. When you find great character and great academics and great ability, now you're in a big-time recruiting war there. That's the hardest part about being at Wake Forest is finding the guys with the academics and character who will help us win football games.

DS: Obviously you guys pitch academics, but what else does the coaching staff sell about Wake Forest when recruiting?

CL: We're proud of our academics. We emphasize small class sizes and the small campus. You will get to know your teacher and they will know you. We try to emphasize Coach Grobe and his loyalty to this school and his long contract and the low turnover of coaches we have here. When we recruit somebody, we're going to be here coaching them when they're seniors. We promote that our staff does not turnover much. We don't have five new assistants each year. We're trying to keep the turnover down and keep coaching the same things every year and hopefully getting better and better at it. We sell our graduation rate as that's a part of the school and it's also staff emphasis. Some football staffs emphasize winning more than graduating but we're trying to emphasize graduation every bit as much as winning football games. We emphasize our excellent graduation rate here and it's also definitely the involvement of professors and the academic support staff. And on top of that, we have had some successes. We show the steady improvement we've made over some of the rough seasons that were had in the 90s. We show that, although we lost to Clemson last year, it was a double overtime loss, not a 50 point loss. There is progress being made here and we're just a couple of blue chippers away from putting us over the top. Maybe you're the blue chipper that puts us at the top half of the league or gets us the 4th quarter win over Florida State. We're trying to show that maybe the record is 4-7 rather than 2-9 so there is improvement in the win-loss column but we're also losing close games instead of blowouts and we're just a couple of guys away. So it's the small classes, good character and Coach Grobe's character and how good a person he is, and then also how we're getting better every year and getting a little closer and a little closer. We're finding the right guys. It's tough, but we're recruiting regionally, driving distance, so we're seeing the same high school coaches year after year. They're getting to know us and we're learning about kids when they're freshmen, we're watching them grow up in the program, and we're recruiting them as juniors and seniors. We're getting a feel for what we're doing and they're getting a good feel of us and you can look at the great in-state signees we had this past year and that's a result of recruiting the state four years ago, getting to know those coaches, and watching them grow up.

DS: What's your recruiting territory?

CL: I have Fayetteville, North Carolina and a nine country area around it and I've got southwest Florida which includes Tampa and St. Pete down to Naples -- This last season I signed Brandon Ghee out of Fayetteville. We also have someone assigned to every state nationally if for some reason there is some interest. What happened was I ended up with Nebraska because Boomer Peterson had interest in our track program, being recruited by our track team, we ended up being involved in recruiting him as a football player also. He's a fabulous player, we're glad we have him, we wouldn't have known about him as we don't actively recruit Nebraska. We have to thank John Williams there, the track coach who recruited him. We have had other kids who have come from a long distance – Ryan Plackemeier from San Diego is probably our best player and a sure NFL prospect. There was some interest there from his uncle who was a Wake Forest alum. Anytime there is interest and ability, we're going to recruit them even if they're not within driving distance. We go up into Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia and a little in New Jersey as well as some connections in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Most of the schools we're hitting are in Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky as the northern border, Georgia as the western border, and South Carolina and Florida going south. We recruit all the way to the tip of Florida. We've had the best results in Georgia, that's probably our #1 state for us. Northern Florida has been very good for us as a lot of those guys can drive up to visit in the summer, the middle of Florida has been ok, South Florida has been tough. Tennessee and Kentucky is really under recruited in our opinion. There's some good football over there. We've had a lot of good kids from those two states come in and join our program over the last few years. Coach Hood has done a really good job, he's got history in those states from working at Eastern Kentucky, and he knows a lot of guys over there. We've had some great success over there and a lot of benefit from recruiting those two states. And then in-state of course, every recruiting coach has an area in-state. We try to pride ourselves on never missing an in-state recruit. If they're not interested, we can't help that. But, we know about them, we contact them, and if they're a Wake Forest kind of a person, we'll recruit them first. If we can find the same kid in-state that we can find out-of-state, we'll recruit the in-state guy instead.

DS: As far as this year, what positions are you focusing on for recruiting?

CL: Offensively, we'll take a little bit of everything. We'll take a quarterback, we'll take a running back…we'll take a lineman but we have plenty. We'll take a tight end – that's probably a need. We're looking for another big wide receiver. We'd like to have a big center, a big guy who can play tackle for me in pass pro. There's not a whole lot of needs. Defensively, a little bit of everything also. We feel good about what we've done recruiting-wise in the past four classes including this past one. We're just doing some maintainence recruiting, a little bit of everything and just keep moving in the right direction. There's no position that is glaring at this point. Maybe defensive line is a little thin but we just signed three interior D-linemen last year so we made up a lot of ground. Offensive line is a little thin now, but we just signed seven. So just a little bit of everything at this point.

DS: I know a lot of coaching staffs go to other colleges or NFL teams to learn, do you guys do that?

CL: We do do that, but we do that on more of an individual basis rather than as a staff. I know our defensive staff did some things, I think they went to Iowa to learn some things and to Alabama. As an offense, we have done it more on an individual basis to learn how to better coach our positions. Now, we did go out to Oklahoma where they had a one-back symposium out there and invited a bunch of different teams out. We were out there with several different staffs sharing ideas. Individually we've had guys go to Florida, Georgia, Tennessee so guys have been various places learning here and there. NFL-wise Troy Calhoun is with the Broncos so I do an annual session with him. He's coming out here in June so we'll talk and compare our two programs. I'll definitely try to steal some of the things the Broncos do that fits us. I've got a friend with the Falcons and we're trying to set something up with them to get down there. We think they're a good running football team that we can emulate a little bit. We're also talking to the Indianapolis Colts. They said we can try to get in there and visit with them possibly. We're working on the dates. We try to get out there and stay on the cutting edge.

DS: The final thing is more along the personal lines. You spend a lot of time on the road and a lot of time breaking down film. How tough is it to balance coaching with family life?

CL: It's brutal. It takes a special woman to be a football coach's wife. The coach's wife during the season is basically a single mom. My wife Kristin does a great job. She works right now also, she teaches over at Carver High School. During the season, she's raising our daughter almost single handedly and I'm very little help. We're working seven days a week during the season. Coach Grobe is great for us as he's not a big hours guy. A lot of coaches believe the more hours you work, the more games you win, but that's not his philosophy. We try to work smart and work fast and work well together so we don't put as many hours in but it's still brutal. We try to take full advantage of the offseason. February and March when we're not into recruiting yet and not into spring ball yet those are nice months to try to catch up with your family and try to spend a lot of time with your kids and wife. After May recruiting and June camps, there's the end of June and beginning of July when we really try to recharge the batteries and spend lots of family time in those months knowing that August is right around the corner and August might be the biggest gut check of all. During two-a-days the players don't have class. We're basically practicing up to bedtime. During the season practice ends before dinner and we're cutting them loose and going home for dinner – it's a late dinner. During two-a-days we don't even get that. It just takes a special woman.

Special thanks to Coach Lobo for taking the time to talk Wake Forest football!


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