In time, Caldwell believes, Wake will have a winner

September 25, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

Wake Forest coach Jim Caldwell is a man of beliefs. Be careful what you think, he warns, "because life is shaped by your thoughts."

He thought he would be a head football coach one day, and he is. Now he thinks he is going to build a winning program at the Winston-Salem, N.C., school.

It is hard to argue with Caldwell, who has beaten the odds to become the first black head football coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Caldwell, Temple's Ron Dickerson and Eastern Michigan's Ron Cooper are the only black head football coaches Division I-A.

"I admit I was aware of the historical significance when I took this job, but not to the extent that everyone else was and is," said Caldwell, 39, whose Demon Deacons were 2-9 in 1993, his first season at Wake Forest, and are 1-3 after yesterday's 31-7 loss to Maryland. "Every time I sit down for an interview, those questions come over and over again.

"There is historical significance and I do take on that responsibility. Being in the spotlight, being singled out, it goes with the territory."

Caldwell spent his apprenticeship in programs run by then-Northwestern coach Dennis Green, Colorado's Bill McCartney, Louisville's Howard Schnellenberger and, for the seven years before taking this job, with Penn State's Joe Paterno.

All but Green, who is now coach of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings, has claimed a national championship.

"I can say that no special effort has been made to make sure things go right for Jim Caldwell," Caldwell said of his time at Wake. "I can also say that there has not been even one instant that wasn't positive."

He's out in the community and he's visiting high schools all over the East, trying to change perceptions.

"When we walked into some of those high schools and told them what player we were interested in, they tried to direct us to other players," Caldwell said. "It wasn't a racial thing. It was simply that the perception of Wake Forest and football was such that those coaches felt their players deserved to be in programs better than ours.

"We're changing that. . . . We had a fine recruiting year."

Caldwell is not looking for a quick fix at Wake.

"We're going to take our time and do it right," he said. "I have five years. I think we can build a fine program in that time.

"I want this to be a program like Penn State's, where a down year is 9-3."

Penn State has had one losing season in 55 years. Wake Forest has had nine winning years since 1953.

"My plan is to retire here," Caldwell said. "When I do, I plan to retire from a program that is known as a consistent winner. It'll take time, but we're going to get there."

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