Jim Grobe And Skip Prosser Shine In Rookie Coaching Campaigns

May 6, 2002


By Stan Cotten

It is certainly true that there's only one chance to make a good first impression. Wake Forest fans can now collectively exhale as winter has melted into spring and the rookie seasons for football coach Jim Grobe and basketball coach Skip Prosser have come and gone.

And gone well.

For a Division-I school in one of the elite conferences to have to replace the coaches of the two franchise sports in one season would make many administrators think about retirement. This is where Ron Wellman deserves his due. He did his job well, finding two men who not only mesh perfectly with the fabric that is Wake Forest - but two men who simply refused to lose.

All we have to go by now are the one-year resumes of Grobe and Prosser as Demon Deacons. And we really shouldn't be surprised at what each pulled off during his respective season. Each man's history gave hints. Then, they both got to campus.

Grobe said publicly more than once that the Deacons would be better than most people thought. And Prosser matter-of-factly told a late summer gathering of the Deacon Club, in response to a media poll, that "we will not finish fifth, I promise you that." But we all know in today's landscape of college athletics - it's "what have you won for me lately."

Any coach at this level faces enormous pressure to succeed. But top that off with a move from a mid-major school to an ACC institution, and the stakes become very high. It is in that context that I think both Grobe and Prosser did extremely well.

After my first chat with Jim Grobe on the football practice field, the first of many, it was clear to me that this was a man who let his coaches coach. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why they coach so hard and, apparently, so well. They were giving back to the one who had given to them.

Make no mistake, though. Grobe was still coaching. Several times he paused to make a note only to continue the conversation. He drew me in and made me feel like I had known him for some time. I think he has that effect on everybody he meets.

All the Deacs did under Grobe was make one of the biggest turnarounds in school history. The 6-5 record was the proof the masses sought. He was only the eighth first-year coach at Wake to win in his initial year on the sidelines. Grobe's Deacs proved to be a gritty bunch. They won four games on the road, including victories at Virginia and North Carolina. Four of the five losses came by the flimsy total of just 22 points, and all five losses were to bowl-bound teams, including BCS representative Maryland. Nine of 11 games were decided by 10 points or less.

The verdict? Grobe would give Wake a chance to win. Optimism in the camp is high.

Skip Prosser inherited a tough situation. He followed longtime coach Dave Odom who guided the Deacs to some of their most productive seasons ever, including back-to-back ACC titles in the mid-90's. After a trip to the NCAA Tournament and the loss of three seniors, Wake was tabbed by the aforementioned media poll to finish fifth in the ACC in Prosser's first season. After Prosser promised the Deacon Club that was not going to happen, he delivered. And how.

The Deacs played for the Preseason NIT title, won for only the second time in their history at North Carolina's Dean Smith Center, had eventual national champion Maryland beat at College Park before a fluke ending, entered the ACC Tournament as the No. 3 seed and received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Not bad for a "rookie."

When Prosser guided the Demon Deacons back to the NCAA Tournament, he became the first coach in NCAA history to take three teams to the Tournament in his first season at each school (Loyola, Xavier, Wake Forest). Only three coaches in the history of the ACC (49 years) won more league games that did Prosser in his first season in Winston-Salem (9). And, in producing a winning record in his first season with the Deacs, Prosser accomplished what no other coach in Deacon history had done since 1927.

I was privileged to take Coach Prosser to lunch during his first few weeks in town, and, like Grobe, he proved approachable and engaging to those of us at the table. It was evident that he would be easy to work with. And fun. His quick wit and sense of humor are endearing qualities.

I remember, too, the first Prosser practice I attended in the new Miller Center. Let's just say it was intense. And there was no standing around. I got tired just watching them after about 30 minutes. I decided the Deacs were in good hands. They would be OK.

And Wake Forest is better than OK with Grobe and Prosser on the watch. These are two men who will never embarrass the institution. They will win more than they lose. And when they lose, they will lose with class.

But regardless of how many times the score winds up in their favor during their tenures at Wake Forest, Jim Grobe and Skip Prosser will be remembered as winners.

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