Jim Grobe

‘Embarrassing’ off-field incidents trigger Wake letter to fans

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The month of October hasn’t been kind to the Wake Forest football on or off the field, particularly on the latter front.

A week or so ago, the Demon Deacons announced that six players, including four starters, had been slapped with one-game suspensions, reportedly due to random drug tests that came back dirty.  Over the weekend, two more players were indefinitely suspended following their arrests on marijuana-related charges.

With Wake-and-bake jokes and one-liners flying all across the vast expanses of the Internet, the school decided to take a proactive and very public approach to the numerous situations that have cast a negative light on both the program and the university.

A letter attributed to head coach Jim Grobe and athletic director Ron Wellman was sent out to fans by the school, and the same letter was also distributed to the media via a press release.  Here’s the school’s note to its fans, in its entirety:

As a loyal supporter of our football program, you deserve to know the reasons for the decisions that have been made over the last couple of weeks about some players on our team. The off-the-field incidents have been embarrassing to all of us and it is important that you understand our approach to matters like this. We want you to know that we do not minimize the seriousness of these matters.

Parents understand that children do make mistakes and sometimes do things that are seemingly self-centered or amazingly thoughtless. We can assure you that we never take a young man into our program without recommendations from coaches, teachers, counselors, and school administrators. Recruiting is certainly not an exact science and we diligently try to bring student athletes to Wake Forest who will try their best to do what is right both on and off the field.

Coaches are teachers. Everyone in our program takes that role very seriously. A primary goal is to develop our players for life after school and football. The hardest decisions a coach has to make are those that may sacrifice winning a game in order to teach a player that making good decisions and caring for others are more important. Parents are most heartbroken when their children make foolish decisions but coaches run a close second. We are disappointed in the behavior of a few of our players but feel that our team will grow from the experience. Lost in the distractions of a few are the overwhelming number of players who are working hard to be the best each and every day.

We want to assure you that every decision we make in our football program and throughout our Athletic Department is with the future and well-being of Wake Forest and our student-athletes at heart. Winning is VERY important but it will not be pursued at the expense of our integrity. Our players need a reminder sometimes that their commitment to football extends beyond the practice field. We want our players to look back years from now and know that they were more important to us than winning a football game.

Thank you for all your support and loyalty to our program! We look forward to sharing many wonderful moments with you in the future.

Go Deacs!

Jim Grobe
Ron Wellman

NFL calls, Mich. St.’s Malik McDowell answers

EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 02:  Malik McDowell #4 of the Michigan State Spartans works against Harrison Monk #71 of the Furman Paladins during the first half of a game at Spartan Stadium on September 2, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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When it comes to college players taking the early cannonball leap into the NFL draft pool, there will be at least a couple of surprises and/or headscratchers.  This one would be neither.

In a statement on his personal Twitter account as well as a press release through Michigan State, Malik McDowell confirmed that he will be foregoing his senior season in East Lansing in order to enter the 2017 NFL draft.  While describing it as “very difficult,” it’s been a decision that has been expected.

Despite missing the last three games this season with an injury, McDowell led all Spartans in tackles for loss with seven. The 6-6, 275-pound defensive lineman was named first-team All-Big Ten by The Associated Press and earned second-team honors from the league’s coaches and media.

In 36 career games (23 starts), McDowell has been credited with 24.5 for losses and 7.5 sacks.

He’s currently projected as a likely first-round pick in the draft.  Back in August, McDowell stated he wouldn’t leave early if he wasn’t projected as a top three selection.

“Malik McDowell is an extremely gifted player who has demonstrated the ability and mindset to succeed at the next level,” said MSU head coach Mark Dantonio in a statement. “His pre-draft numbers project him as a likely first-round selection. We are thankful for his contributions to the program that significantly impacted our recent success, culminating with last year’s Big Ten Championship and an appearance in the College Football Playoff. We wish him the best and are excited for the opportunity in the next chapter of his life as he pursues his dream to play in the NFL.”

Baylor announces hiring of Temple’s Matt Rhule

ANNAPOLIS, MD - DECEMBER 03:  Head coach Matt Rhule of the Temple Owls is doused during the closing moments of the Owls 34-10 win over the Navy Midshipmen during the AAC Championship game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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When the college football world settled in for bed Monday night, it was Blake Anderson reportedly negotiating with Baylor to become its next head football coach.  Late the next morning, it’s Temple, not Arkansas State, that will be searching for its own new coach.

Following up on speculation that had been building through the past couple of hours, Matt Rhule has officially been hired by the scandal-plagued to be its permanent replacement for Art Briles.  Rhule will be officially introduced by the university at a Wednesday press conference.

“We could not be more excited to welcome Matt, Julie and their children to the Baylor Family,” a statement from athletic director Mack Rhoades began. “When we set out on our search for a new leader of our football program, we wanted a coach who shared our values, who had demonstrated success, who showed a true commitment to the overall student-athlete and who we believed could lead Baylor to a national championship. We found all of that and more in Matt and I know that he will be a perfect fit with the Baylor Family.”

Rhule just completed his fourth regular season as the head coach at Temple, which ended with the program’s first AAC championship ever and first conference title of any kind in nearly four decades.  The Owls’ 10 wins last season was just the second in school history; the 10 wins this season give them back-to-back double-digit wins for the first time ever.

In a coaching career that began in 1998, Rhule has held just one job west of the Mississippi River — at UCLA in 2001.  He’s never coached in the state of Texas, so he’ll need to fill his staff with assistants familiar with the area, particularly when it comes to recruiting.

“I am truly honored and humbled to join the Baylor Family,” said Rhule, a former Penn State linebacker, “and I can’t thank President [David] Garland and Mack Rhoades enough for this incredible opportunity. Baylor is a tremendous institution with a history of football success and I know the passion that so many have for the Bears will help bring the community together to reach even greater heights. I am excited to get started.”

It’s unclear if Rhule will coach the Owls in the Dec. 27 Military Bowl, although it’s thought he’ll be leaving his current program immediately.

Nebraska officially plucks assistant from Arizona

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 01: The mascot for the Nebraska Cornhuskers waits for the team before the contest against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
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After a handful of days of reports and speculation, Mike Riley has officially made an addition to his Nebraska coaching staff at the expense of Arizona.

In a release, NU confirmed that Donté Williams has been hired to fill the opening on his staff. Williams will fill the void created by the departure of Bruce Read, who was fired as special teams coordinator shortly after the Cornhuskers’ regular-season finale.

“We are confident that Donté Williams will bring great energy and expertise to our defensive coaching staff,” Riley said in a statement. “He has the personality and demeanor that allows him to connect and relate to his players. He will also be a dynamic addition to our staff in terms of recruiting prospective student-athletes to the University of Nebraska.”

Williams’ addition will lead to shifts on the defensive side of Riley’s staff.

It’s expected that Williams will take over as NU’s cornerbacks coach. Corners coach Brian Stewart will shift his focus to safeties, while last year’s safeties coach, defensive coordinator Mark Banker, will focus solely on a defense that was 31st in scoring defense and 21st in total defense in the country this past season.

Adding Williams, though, centers largely on the 34-year-old’s recruiting prowess. In fact, he’s widely considered in the industry to be one of the top five recruiters on the West Coast.

“I am truly blessed that Coach Riley thought highly enough of me to join his staff here at the University of Nebraska,” Williams said. “Everything I have seen in Lincoln has completely raised my expectations of what I know we can accomplish here! I look forward to continuing the success of the Blackshirt defense under Coach Riley and the whole Big Red Family!”

Williams spent the 2016 season as the cornerbacks coach at Arizona. Prior to that, he was a secondary coach at San Jose State from 2013-15, the latter two years spent with the additional title of recruiting coordinator.

His first Power Five job came as a grad assistant at Washington in 2011-12.

Ex-Alabama QB Blake Barnett commits to Arizona State

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05:  Blake Barnett #6 of the Alabama Crimson Tide throws before the Advocare Classic against the Wisconsin Badgers at AT&T Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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After leaving the FBS level in September, a formerly highly-touted quarterback has confirmed he’ll be back next season.

On Twitter late Monday night, Blake Barnett announced that he has committed to continuing his collegiate playing career at Arizona State. The announcement comes a little over three months after Barnett left Alabama.

Because Barnett enrolled at a junior college almost immediately after transferring from Alabama, it’s thought that he’ll be eligible to play for Arizona State after the first month of the 2017 season. He’d then have two full seasons of eligibility remaining after next year.

In late September, reports began to surface that Barnett had decided to leave Alabama.  A short time later, and after Nick Saban expressed hope Barnett would stay, the program confirmed that Barnett had officially withdrawn from school.

Barnett, who started the opener against USC but held on to the job for just two series, was a five-star 2015 recruit who 247Sports.com rated as the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the country.  The California high school product originally committed to Notre Dame in November of 2013 before decommitting from the Irish in June of the following year.

After leaving Alabama, Barnett had drawn the interest of, among others, Cal, Florida, Miami, Michigan State, Oregon, Texas A&M, UCLA and Washington