WINSTON-SALEM – Nobody led tiny Wake Forest to more wins than Jim Grobe.
But when the losses started to pile up, the veteran coach figured it was time to give someone else a chance.
Grobe announced his resignation Monday after 13 years coaching the Demon Deacons, saying the move is “something that (has) been in my head now for a couple of years.”
“This is not a knee-jerk reaction,” Grobe said. “These last couple years, the losses that we’ve had ... start to beat you up a little bit. I got to the point where I just felt like we were working as hard as we possibly could, and we weren’t getting it done.”
The 61-year-old Grobe has a career record of 110-115-1 in a combined 19 years at Wake Forest and Ohio. He was 77-82 with the Demon Deacons and shares the program record for coaching victories with D.C. “Peahead” Walker.
“This is a sad day for Wake Forest football,” athletics director Ron Wellman said.
Grobe said he told Wellman during their regular Monday morning meeting that he was resigning. The coach said nobody tried to talk him out of his decision, and when asked if the decision caught him by surprise, Wellman said “not totally.”
“When Jim makes a decision, it’s final,” Wellman said. “There was no wavering at all. He had made his mind up, and I felt that that would be disrespectful to him if I tried to talk him out of doing something that he obviously does not want to continue doing – at this point, anyway.”
The unquestioned highlight of Grobe’s career came in 2006.
He was named the AP national coach of the year after leading Wake Forest to its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship since 1970, winning a school-record 11 games and earning a berth in the Orange Bowl. That was the second of his five bowl games with the school, and the first of three straight from 2006-08 – the only time the Demon Deacons have reached the postseason in three straight years.
But it was tough to sustain that level of success at a school that has the smallest enrollment of any member of one of the six major BCS conferences. Since winning the 2008 EagleBank Bowl, the Demon Deacons were a combined 23-38 and 14-28 in ACC play.
“I’ve never thought about another job, really. I’ve turned some down in the past,” Grobe said. “But these last couple of years ... have just been all-consuming, just trying to find a way to win football games. I haven’t thought anything about (another job). I guess I need to start.”
The Demon Deacons capped off their fifth straight losing season last weekend with a 23-21 defeat at Vanderbilt. Wake Forest ended the season with five losses in a row.
“I don’t think this is anything that happened overnight,” Grobe said. “I just feel like we’re at a position right now where it needs to be a new energy or focus. Maybe the best way to put it is a refocus for the school and the program.”
Wake Forest finished 113th or worse nationally in four of the five main offensive stat categories, and its offense effectively disappeared once receiver Michael Campanaro broke his collarbone in a loss at Syracuse on Nov. 2.
The Demon Deacons managed just one touchdown in a span of 10 quarters coinciding with that injury, and those struggles undercut a defense that held nine of 12 opponents to 24 or fewer points.
In what turned out to be Grobe’s final home game, Wake Forest gave No. 20 Duke a scare before losing 28-21. Grobe’s successor faces a tough challenge because most of the key players from this year’s team, including quarterback Tanner Price, running back Josh Harris, nose tackle Nikita Whitlock and Campanaro, were seniors.
Wellman said he always keeps a short list of possible replacements but has no timetable to find a new coach and said he’s not limiting himself to any particular set of qualities.
“If you asked me what my druthers would be, certainly (a) head coach who (has) had private-school experience and great success,” Wellman said. “That would not be earth-shattering news to anyone that those three factors are important to us. That doesn’t mean that we won’t consider other people. We will. But that’s where we would start.”