Orange Bowl: Coach Grobe Press Conference

Quotes from Coach Jim Grobe the day before the Deacs face Louisville in the Orange Bowl.

Q. When you go into a game like this, do you feel like you have to keep it in the 20s, the 30s? Do you have any set way you look at a game, what kind of a tempo or high scoring you want to get into?
COACH JIM GROBE: Our thoughts more than anything are trying to get into the fourth quarter with a chance, whether it's low scoring or high scoring, just to be within striking distance when we hit the fourth quarter. I think with Louisville being as explosive as they are offensively, your worry is that you get too far behind without enough time to catch up. So I think trying to limit home run plays, big plays, those kind of things, are your main concern, and you'd just like to see yourself heading into the fourth quarter with a chance.

Q. Talk a little bit about the sense of anticipation now that you're so close.
COACH JIM GROBE: Well, it's really crunch time now. Five days ago we were all laughing and giggling and enjoying the experience, but I think the players and the coaches are starting to sense that it's time to play football. I think our guys have had a good time. I think our coaches and our families have had a nice time. But I know from a coaching standpoint, and I sense the same thing from the players, the guys are looking forward to playing a football game.

Q. With the game so late tomorrow, can you just kind of talk about what you all will do through the day tomorrow and how you'll spend all that time and keep the players busy and I guess out of the sun?
COACH JIM GROBE: Yeah, that would be bad. I remember one year -- the year before I got to the Air Force Academy, maybe even a couple years before I got there, they were playing in Hawaii and got a bunch of guys sunburned and they couldn't play because they couldn't put their shoulder pads on. So we wouldn't want that to happen. But for us, again, just like Bowl preparation, late kickoff is an issue. We really don't want our kids laying in the hotel bed all day. So we get them up, have meetings in the morning. We'll have some form of walk-through tomorrow, whether it's at the hotel or at a practice site off the grounds. But just basically try to keep them focused on playing football. I think sometimes if you're not careful, you spend too much time trying to get them get their legs back letting them lay around the hotel and stay off their feet, and they go brain dead. So we're trying to do a little bit of both, let them get plenty of rest but make sure that they stay focused on their assignments.

Q. Aside from the football, there's been a lot of talk about you guys' academics and how important that is. Is it easy for you to stress that when it comes to recruiting kids? Is that part of the big selling point with Wake Forest? How does that kind of play into your overall aspect of getting players to come to Wake Forest, the academic side?
COACH JIM GROBE: Well, I think that players are interested in academics, but I think parents are very concerned about academics. We've never had an issue selling Wake Forest to parents. I don't know that we've ever lost a parent in recruiting. Sometimes we've lost a player that wants a bigger stadium or maybe thinks that his opportunities to play in a big Bowl game are better at other schools. But academics are typically important to players and parents alike, and our goal is to find the right kid for Wake Forest. I think if you bring the wrong kid, he's miserable because if you don't have a commitment to get a good education, Wake Forest is, quite frankly, not the right place for you. It's a hard job for us to go find not only a kid that's got good character and can do the work academically, but then you've got to find a kid that can win in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which is not easy. I have to give credit to my staff. It took us a couple years to really figure out what that meant, but I think right now we've got a pretty good beat on it. So our goal is to find a kid that wants to get a great education but lays awake at night dreaming about winning football games.

Q. Your red shirting policy is well-known. Can you talk about when you identify a player as a kid you might want to red shirt and how early in the process that is, maybe even in recruiting, and is it tough to recruit a kid sometimes when you tell him he might not be playing that first year? Have you lost some kids because of that?
COACH JIM GROBE: I don't think there's any question. Most kids want to play right away. They want to play as soon as they possibly can. I just try to put myself in that position. I'd want to play as quickly as I possibly could. The thing that we try to tell the players, we want to do what's best for them and what's best for our program, and quite frankly the challenges involved in your first year in college make it hard to be an impact player as a freshman. We feel like you've got a much better chance at being an impact player in your fifth year. We don't mind playing freshmen. We played Chris Barclay, he ended up gaining, I think, a little over 700 yards as a true freshman, we played Ryan Plackemeier, who if he had had a couple more punts he would have led the ACC as a freshman if not the next three years. We played Jeremy Thompson as a true freshman, and he ended up starting for us at the end of the year. So my commitment to the players is to not only do what's best for the program but do what's best for them. I tell the coaches all the time, if we can't get 20 or 30 snaps out of these guys on offense or defense, not just covering kickoffs and being on the field goal team, that we don't want to use a year's eligibility. And that's not a science, but that's kind of our ballpark is 20 or 30 snaps a game for a true freshman. I think the way we try to determine that is not when we're recruiting a kid or based on what we've seen on film; it really is based on a couple of factors. First of all, how good they look in August. If they come in and just light up August practices, it's just a slam dunk, this guy is ready to play, then we don't have a problem with it. Then I think another factor is what position they happen to be playing. Quite frankly, some true freshmen end up on the field by default. That's what happened with Chris Barclay. We didn't want to play Chris but we had a problem with Terrence Williams injury wise, and so he got pushed into the mix quicker than we really wanted him to. Same thing with Ryan Plackemeier, he didn't start out as our punter the first couple of games but we just weren't getting the job done punting-wise so we had to use him. So I think necessity is a big part of him and then certainly not wanting to waste a year's eligibility. We want our kids to have the four best years of football they can possibly have, and if the first year is part of that scenario then we don't have a problem with it.

Q. At what point this year did you realize that this could be a special season for Wake Forest?
COACH JIM GROBE: You know, for me personally, our players and coaches may have a different perspective, but I thought when we beat Boston College that that gave us a chance to dream a little bit and maybe have a special season. I thought Boston College was a really, really good football team. I thought we were very fortunate to beat those guys. And once we beat them, then I thought we might be a pretty good football team ourselves...

Q. Your offensive line has been a bit of a work in progress all year. Is Arby Jones full speed now? Will he start at left tackle and move Ellis back to right, and if so, what's your feeling about your offensive line at this point?
COACH JIM GROBE: Well, I think that Arby has been full speed for a while now. I think he's playing good. He's back I would say to 100 percent. But what's happening in the transition is that there's a couple freshmen offensive linemen, Joe Birdsong and Jeff Griffin have gotten a lot of snaps and they've started playing better. What's really good for us is to probably never have Steve Vallos off the field, whether it's right tackle or left tackle, give Arby as many snaps as we possibly can but not be afraid to play Jeff Griffin and Joe Birdsong. A big part for us is just keeping those guys fresh. I think Lobo, even if he feels like Steve needs a break, we'll pull Steve out and let Jeff play in there. We feel pretty good about those young offensive linemen. While Arby was down they got enough experience that they're good enough to help us win right now. Kind of up to Lobo, but I think all four of those kids -- Steve is the bell cow of the group, but the other three will play a lot.

Q. Can you just talk a little bit about your concerns with Louisville either offensively, defensively, whatever it might be?
COACH JIM GROBE: I have too many concerns to talk about this morning, they're so good. Everything that you hear revolves around Brian Brohm and their offense, but they're a really good defensive football team, one of the better ones we think we've faced, and they don't get as much publicity because of the great things that they do on the offensive side of the ball, have a great kicker and good special teams. Offensively the scariest thing for us is their big play capability. You can be going along playing pretty good defense and all of a sudden they've got a bunch of points on the board. So we've got to play four full quarters and we've got to find a way offensively to make some 1st downs against these guys. I think we need to play good defense, but part of playing good defense is not to have to live on the field all day. We've got to try to find a way to make some good 1st downs, and I think in our kicking game we've got a pretty good kicker in Sam Swank, and Sam punts for us, also. So our kicking game has been pretty good throughout the year, and I think that's going to be real important tomorrow. But in every area we certainly have concerns. Our coaches have had some sleepless nights here lately.

Q. I know you've done some recruiting in Pahokee. If you could talk about what that means to Alphonso Smith and the Pahokee guys being in this setting for the past week?
COACH JIM GROBE: I think it means a lot. One of the things that helped us in recruiting those guys was the idea that we would play Florida State and we would play Miami while they were in school. They knew that they were going to have a chance to come back to Florida and play. I think that was a big part of their decision to come to Wake Forest. I think certainly their priorities were education and playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but the idea that they could come back to Florida and play football was important, and so I think it's very important for them to have an opportunity to come and play in the Orange Bowl. I know they'll have a lot of family and friends here to see them play. My concern is that they keep playing good football. Sometimes you can get so keyed up because you're back close to home that you forget to play good football. That's a concern you always have, I think, when you've got local kids coming back home. I know they're really excited and enjoying being back in south Florida.

Q. Doing this at a small school population-wise, has that been a more difficult challenge as a rebuilding job, and if so, in what ways?
COACH JIM GROBE: Initially your biggest problem at a small school is you just don't have a huge fan base out of the student body. I would doubt that there are many schools where their students support the athletic programs as well as we do at Wake Forest, but if we have all of our undergraduate students come to a football game, that's 4,000. You know, it presents a problem maybe on Saturday where you're not having 20,000 students in the stadium. But I think from the standpoint of recruiting, it's an advantage to us. You know, moms and dads like the idea that the kids' class size will be an average of 10 or 11 to 1. It's a safe environment, we're not in a big city, so to speak; being a private school the kids get a lot of individual attention from an academic standpoint. They don't get lost. You may walk on our campus and you may just as well see our players walking with the students they've gotten to know in their classes because of class size as well as you might see them walking with other football players. It's a special place. On one hand, the size may hurt us a little bit on Saturday afternoon, but the benefits far outweigh that in that your kid -- everybody is going to know who you are and you're going to have friends that go beyond the football team. You're not going to be in that little clique. You're going to really develop some lifetime friends from the student body that doesn't always happen a lot of places.

Q. You guys had a month to think about this game now. Ohio State will probably have about a month and a half off. Are they stringing these Bowl games along way too far in between your last game and when you play the Bowl game that you look so much forward to?
COACH JIM GROBE: I think there are advantages to playing later. I think one of the nice things for us, our kids had a chance to go home for Christmas. I've been to a lot of Bowl games where we're practicing right through Christmas on the road, and I think that's sometimes tough for players to do. You know, there are advantages both ways. I think you worry -- if you're playing really good -- I thought we played good in November, and of course in the ACC Championship game, and I think when you're playing good, it's a little bit like an open date. If you're playing really well, you hate to have an open date. So I think you worry as a coach if your team is playing pretty good football about taking a month off and coming back and doing it again because you're never really sure what team is going to show up. So it's a concern on our part. The advantage is that you should be a little healthier. By the time we finished the game in Jacksonville, the championship game against Georgia Tech, I know that we had a lot of guys that were hanging on at the end just trying to win a football game, and the time off has really helped them. A lot of those bumps and bruises that we had at the end of the season have healed up and I would say we're not completely full speed at every position, but we're better off than we were in the Georgia Tech game.

Q. You just talked a little bit about the uniqueness of recruiting to a small school, and in one of your previous stops you were recruiting to a military academy, which is a pretty unique situation, too. I was wondering if the two have any sort of similarities or what you might have learned recruiting to Air Force that you now can use in recruiting to Wake Forest?
COACH JIM GROBE: They're very similar. I think academically especially, you've got to have a good student. At Air Force the difference was we were a national recruiter. We literally recruited the entire country, where at Wake Forest we're more localized. We recruit really hard in North Carolina. When we can't fit our needs in North Carolina, we head south. Georgia has been a great state for us, Florida has been a great state for us, but we're more regional in recruiting. I think from the standpoint of the military, it was hard there trying to find a kid that you felt like could come in and handle basic training and finding a kid that was motivated to have a commitment to the military when he got out of school. Those were some of the problems that we had at Air Force that we don't have to deal with at Wake Forest. I think the military throws a completely different slant to recruiting, whereas at Wake Forest our key is character, a kid that can do the work academically, and then certainly finding a player that's good enough to win games for you in a pretty good conference.

Q. You talked about having maybe 4,000 students at most at a home football game. Can you talk a little bit about the gratification that you feel for the way the community has supported Wake Forest and that Winston-Salem, maybe the surrounding area, or maybe North Carolina fans, NC State fans and Wake Forest used to be more of an afterthought and now the snowball effect that's just been rolling?
COACH JIM GROBE: I've always felt like from a fan perspective if we wanted the support that we needed, we needed to do our part, and that's win football games. For the last couple years we've been a pretty good football team playing in a brutal conference. I think in the Atlantic Coast Conference you can be a pretty good football team. I really think our last three years when we were 5 and 7, 4 and 7, 4 and 7, we were a pretty good football team playing a tough schedule. And I knew from a fan perspective, though, no matter who we were playing against, if we couldn't win more games we weren't going to have the following that we needed. But you know what's been pretty cool, the students have pretty much been there every Saturday. Our students have really done a great job supporting our football team, especially this year. From the first game through the last home game we had great attendance out of our students. A lot of our students traveled. A lot of our students went to Maryland game, a lot of the students went to the championship game. So we've had great student support. What's been really gratifying is to see the fans get excited about football from about the middle of the season on. I thought we had really good support at Ole Miss, and then we won, which helps when you do that, and then of course at Florida State we really had a great contingent. We really knew they were there, and at Maryland it was outstanding. We really felt like when our kids came out of the locker room they were really fired up that we had so many Wake people there. They were very well supported at the championship game, and I think it's just caught on. It's been very gratifying. I think our fans have always supported us, but I think it's gone beyond what we dreamed, I think, and that's a great tribute to our players. Our players have made the fans want to be around to see them play football, and that's what we've wanted for a long time.

Q. Along those lines, have you run into more fans the last couple days in and around the team hotel, in and around town, and if so, what are they saying, and has anyone tried to buy official Wake Forest Orange Bowl merchandise off of you?
COACH JIM GROBE: They actually haven't tried to purchase anything from me so far, but yesterday was pretty impressive. Things have been a little quiet for a while, and yesterday a lot of our fans rolled into town. The hotel was packed, and pretty much everywhere we go now, the Wake fans are around. It's certainly heated up right now, but I haven't gotten into the apparel business yet. So far I haven't sold any tee shirts. I'm not even sure I'm allowed to do that. We've got the availability. I can send them in the right direction (laughter).

Q. How important is this game towards kind of validating your season and providing forward momentum going into next year?
COACH JIM GROBE: Well, I think it's big. We're certainly proud to be ACC champions, and that's something that people can't take away from the kids or the coaching staff or our school. But this is something that every kid dreams about, every coach dreams about, playing in the Orange Bowl. So as excited as we are to be here, I think playing well in the game is really, really important, and you probably can't even gauge what a win would be for our program in this game. We know we've got our work cut out for us, we're playing a great team, one of the best coached teams that we've seen on film, certainly very talented, but hopefully we can come out tomorrow night and play really, really good football. I think that's important to our coaches, I think it's important to our players. We're excited to be here, but we want to play well, too.

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