20 Questions With Jim Grobe

Wake Forest head football coach Jim Grobe talks with DeaconSports.com about the upcoming season as well as other topics pertaining to Wake Forest football.

Michael Jennings: Coach, I know it's early, but how is practice going so far, are you satisfied?
Jim Grobe: Yeah, the thing you want to see early is energy level. We've got that and we've got competition at most of the spots. Our guys are playing with a lot of enthusiasm and we're happy with where we are right now.

MJ: Is everyone coming in pretty good shape?
JG: Most of our guys were here for summer school summer session so they got to be here with our strength coach, Ethan Reeve. We're happy with our overall team strength and our conditioning is really, really good. So we're pleased.

MJ: No new injuries in conditioning drills?
JG: We've had some little dings. I think a couple of our receivers are banged up. Nothing serious. You always have that stuff, With all the throwing and catching you always have that stuff but nothing serious… [L.J. Flintall] has a fractured toe. I guess he also had it in high school, so it's a reinjury if anything. Our best guess is he ought to be back at it in a week or two.

MJ: Any big surprises so far, maybe someone who stood out that you didn't expect?
JG: I think the biggest surprise is the carry over from spring to summer. We've really thrown a lot at our guys in three days from a mental standpoint. It doesn't mean we're not making mistakes, but we're really pleased with the concepts and things that those guys have carried over from the spring.

MJ: Are there any casualties academically?
JG: Not that I know of. All of our kids qualified out of high school, the freshmen coming in. Right now, we feel that all of our kids will be ready athletically and academically.

MJ: I know one weakness last year was defensive tackle to a degree. What's the status of that position?
JG: We've moved Jyles Tucker from defensive end to defensive tackle. The nice thing about Jyles is that he can play tackle and end. We'll play him at tackle because we feel that's where we may have a problem. If Jason Finklea was totally healthy and full speed then I think we would feel better about the tackle position but he's not. He's had a long recovery from an Achilles tear and sprained his ankle about a week ago so he hasn't had the reps and is a real question mark. But it looks like we should have 4-5 defensive tackles and 4-5 defensive ends. If we can get to where we are 2-deep plus one at the inside and outside positions up front and one gets banged up a little, we should be ok.

MJ: It seemed like toward the end of the season they were a little worn out and didn't have the replacements to be there late in the game.
JG: That's true. We were somewhat undersized. We had true freshman Jeremy Thompson and then Matt Robinson. Both have put on 15-20 pounds and should be able to weather the season a little better this year.

MJ: Do you think that the North Carolina coaches here are becoming more receptive to you guys in recruiting?
JG: I think the North Carolina coaches have been great to us from day 1. From the minute we got here. A lot of the guys did not know us and certainly had questions as to whether they wanted their kids to come to play at Wake Forest. After that first year we proved we could compete on Saturdays. We have an open door policy of talking with the coaches on X and O's. We let them be right in the middle of spring practices. Allowing the guys to be on the inside of our program helped them see that Wake Forest is a pretty good place.

MJ: Do you find it easier to recruit now that you know Wake Forest better? Is it easier or is it tougher because of the changing of recruiting philosophies at places like North Carolina where they have so many early commitments?
JG: It's become much easier for us. There's no question. Absolutely no question we're making fewer mistakes than we did early. Each year we're getting better, not only in the way we approach recruiting, but deciding who to recruit. Our recruiting pool isn't as big as most schools because of the academics, but I think we understand Wake Forest better, I think we understand our needs in the ACC better, and I think we have a better idea of the type of kid from the work ethic and character standpoint that we have to have to do the job on the field and off the field at Wake Forest. We're further along in leaps and bounds than we were when we got here.

MJ: Would you consider recruiting the toughest part of your job?
JG: I think it's the scariest part of the job. For us, so many of our recruits are developmental kids. We recruit and sign a lot of really good blue chip kids, but quite honestly, a lot of kids we take are like Jon Abbate. Nobody wanted Jon because he was too short. We look at him on film and we can't find anything wrong with him. The guy can run, he's one of the best tacklers we saw on film that year, has a great attitude, great work ethic in the weight room, strong as a bull, and a smart guy who can handle the academics at Wake Forest. We found nothing wrong with Jon Abbate except he wasn't very tall. All he needed was to mature. We took Jon and he's fourth in the league in tackles as a freshman in the ACC. That's the great thing about recruiting. There are so many great players out there that may not fit the mold that others are looking for. But if we do a good job finding guys that have the ability to play football in the ACC regardless of height, weight, and speed, we'll find guys we can win with at Wake Forest.

MJ: A little off the subject, but is Antonio Wilson going to play basketball at Wake Forest?
JG: Antonio was a very good player in high school. Basically what we told him coming in and I tell everyone this, was that they're more than welcome to play two sports. They have two things they have to take care of. First and foremost, they have to be solid academically. Most freshmen are not, even the good students. Second, they have to be a regular player for me. They can't come in and spend a year on the scout team and never play a snap of football and play another sport. They have to be a real, for real football player. They have to be solid academically and Skip [Prosser] has to want them. There's a lot left for Antonio, but he knows if he's good in the classroom and good on the field that he can do it. I'd much rather have him working with Skip in basketball starting in January than working with me. Skip will work him harder than I would in the off season. If he's tough enough to do that, is good academically, and is playing for us, I would have no problem with that at all.

MJ: It seems like many athletes coming into the ACC, not necessarily at Wake, are having more problems and getting into trouble. Do you have an explanation for that?
JG: I think it's typical for a kid who first gets away from home to be a little bit of a train wreck. I think most guys who come from home, especially those from good solid backgrounds have curfews, have to be in at a certain time, have study hours at home. Everything is so structured. Then once they get in college, even though we've got study hall and tutoring that keep these guys busy, they make all their decisions. They decide when to go to bed. If they want to stay up all night playing video games, they can do that. That's why I think its good not having to count on them the first year. I think in some cases if those guys are having to play on Saturdays, have to take 12 hours, and have more free time that the law allows it can be a problem. If you don't have a really mature, stable kind of guy, there's a possibility that the wheels come off. I think that the pressure placed on these guys with somewhat less structure than they had at home makes that first year transition a tough one.

MJ: There are a lot of schools with many more problems. How has Wake managed to stay relatively unscathed? Is it the way you recruit?
JG: Well, I think we have problems like everyone else. I thought it was funny when I was at the Air Force Academy that even with the standards at the Academy, we would sometimes have players in trouble academically. We would have guys do dumb things and get in trouble from time to time. We would have players who would look like they didn't have good work ethic because other guys had such a great work ethic. No matter where you are, you're going to have problems. We've got 100 kids 18-22 and if you think back when you were that age, it really clears things up. I think it's real easy to just say that kids are harder to deal with now than they were way back, but I think if we remember when we were 18-22, we all made a few dumb decisions. I think the main thing to remember is that we can't be with them 24 hours a day. We can't have the control that even the parents had when they were at home. We've got to have the kind of kids who will come in every day and at least try to make the right decisions. Coach Deberry at the Air Force Academy used to tell our players every day ‘You are who you associate with.' Part of our philosophy here is that we want a really good football player, a guy who wants to get a good college degree, but more importantly for us is finding the right kind of kid character wise. Sometimes you miss, sometimes you make a mistake. And also sometimes a kid gets away and is different than when they were at home. Our whole thought process revolves around building a team, not the best individual football players. If you get 1-2 guys on the edge on your team, you hope that all the great kids on your team can drag them into the fold and that kind of peer pressure makes them think twice before doing something that hurts the team.

MJ: How exaggerated are the measurements and 40 times of guys on professional sites or scouting sites. Are they really way off?
JG: I can't say they're not accurate, but there is such a wide range of times from camp to camp. When we get kids at our one day camp, sometimes they run better and sometimes they don't run as well. I think with the proliferation of all the one-day camps, the kids are running in so many of them that they're going to get them on good days and sometimes on down days. It's going to vary. Certainly we would like to see them on our watch if we can. There is a great discrepancy in the numbers kids put up over a summer period. I guess what that means is that you have to do a good job looking at that tape. If you do a good job making sure that guy is a player on high school film, you probably have a little better indicator.

MJ: Do you pay attention to the star rankings on the sites? Do you use them as a guide or do you ignore them and just find the guys who you know can play for you?
JG: We absolutely use them as a guide. We don't always agree with them. I keep using Jon Abbate as an example, but Matt Robinson is another…an undersized guy. When we cut the film on he was flying around like a mad dog in a meat house every snap and was going to the whistle every play. We never saw the guy take one step that wasn't a full speed step. From a size standpoint everyone said he wasn't big enough to play D-I football, so you have to be careful. We love input and try to get the most we can. But no matter how much you look at 4 and 5-star ratings and performances at different combines as far as height, weight, and speed, you've got to see him on film. If you don't like what he does on film, there's a good chance that the height, weight, and speed stuff doesn't matter.

MJ: Chris Barclay is another guy ranked very low – he's obviously proved better than his ranking.
JG: Chris Barclay, it may not be completely accurate, but I believe we had at least one weight on him in the spring at 169 pounds. You're talking about a guy who has led the ACC the past two regular seasons in rushing. Not many people are going to give a 170 pound running back a lot of stars. That whole year we didn't see a single running back we liked on film better than Chris Barclay. Trust me, we looked. I don't know how our guys do it. I let my position guys decide who we're going to recruit. I don't go tell Billy Mitchell that we're going to recruit this running back just because I've seen him and like him. If Billy doesn't sign off on him we're not going to offer him a scholarship, and Mitch flat fell in love with Chris Barclay. That's out of a huge number of running backs that Mitch saw on film. My number one thing is that if you're a position coach and you tell me you want to offer a kid a scholarship, make sure you really like him on film. Don't have any reservations. When you cut the video on and watch the kid play, he's got to be your kind of kid. Our coaches do a great job of bringing the right kids to Wake Forest.

MJ: As far as the offensive and defensive schemes you use, is that predicated on your team's talent or your personal philosophy?
JG: It's all predicated on the talent that we've got. If we don't feel like a kid can do something that we're trying to do offensively or defensively, we're not going to beat our head against the wall trying to get him to do something he can't do. When we first got here, John Stone was the fastest kid in the ACC. John's hands weren't that good at the time. You hear the typical track guy playing football. We felt like John was a football player at heart. He was a great track guy and a good football player who, if you had the ball in his hands, could really hurt you. But he wasn't always going to catch everything thrown to him. That's why we developed that orbit sweep where we handed him the ball. We were going to make sure John Stone had the ball as much as we could throw it to him but we were going to hand it to him 3-4 times per game on the orbit play. We didn't know much I guess since he's playing wide out for the Oakland Raiders now. But if we've got a kid who needs to be on the field, we're going to find a way to get him the ball. When we got here, we didn't necessarily want to be a [5 defensive back] team. Now we've developed guys where we can be in 3 and 4 man schemes and at times we'll have two linebackers on the field and at times we'll have four linebackers on the field. We're going to mold our team around our talent.

MJ: If you had one wish for your team, what would you wish for? Would it be more size, more speed, more lateral quickness – what would it be?
JG: I think the thing as much as anything is to stay healthy. Everybody is fighting the same battle and its all depth. There's been talk about cutting back scholarships on this level. That's scary. I think the reason you see so much balance is because of the 85 scholarship limit. One of the drawbacks is that if you have 20 freshmen coming in and want to redshirt them, you put those guys on the shelf and then you have 65. You have part of your 65 who aren't ready to play and if you have any injuries at all then you've completely lost all depth. I think the key for most teams, the guys who play the best football are the ones who stay healthy. I think if we could play with our best people all year and not have them banged up, that would be my wish.

MJ: Talk about your staff. I know they do a lot of the ground work that you follow up on. I know they work very, very hard. Can you tell us a little about them?
JG: When I first became a head coach, I hired guys I already knew or guys who were recommended to me by some of my best friends who had my interests at heart. What I've done primarily is put together a staff that is a good group of people, who treat our players well, who bring character to our program, who treat our players like their own sons. I think we've assembled a great staff. Xs and Os were secondary to me when I put this staff together. Consequently, I hired a lot of young guys who didn't have a lot of college coaching experience. That's my staff in a nutshell. It's a bunch of good guys. These are guys my players enjoy playing for and who don't have a lot of out of control egos. I just have guys who want to win football games.

MJ: Last question, maybe the toughest one, who is the better coach, you or your wife Holly [Grobe.]
JG: Holly, no question. That didn't take me long to answer. She's a great football wife. She is very competitive and expects us to win every game. It's tough in my house when we don't play well.


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