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The coach is right where he wants to be.
Maybe it's the easy camaraderie of the locker room. Perhaps it's those endless hours when a football field becomes an oblong chessboard, when quarterbacks turn into kings and safeties become pawns.
Or it could just be the dress code.
It's easy to imagine Dave Clawson, Tennessee's offensive coordinator for the better part of eight months, in a smart pinstripe suit behind a massive desk in some New York City skyscraper. That's certainly the path most of his college classmates took.
But most days, he's on a football field, dressed in an orange pullover and shorts with a whistle and a laminated practice script draped around his neck.
As Clawson tells it, his coaching career didn't have the meticulous planning that goes into one of his practices. Football doesn't usually favor those who take the long view, anyhow.
If there's a secret to the 41-year-old Clawson's journey to Tennessee, it's his ability to focus on the short term.
It's how the self-described gym rat from a small Upstate New York town on the Canadian border hung with his classmates at one of the nation's most elite liberal arts colleges.
By focusing on the little things that help a football team win, the competitive, self-effacing coach rose through the ranks from his first job at Albany to head coach at Richmond, having success at every stop along the way.
And ultimately, it's how Clawson wound up in a second-floor office with a top-tier football program in Tennessee.
Public To Private
Until Dave Clawson arrived here in January, the closest a Williams College alumnus got to the SEC was Arthur Levitt. And that was as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Known as one of the "Little Three," the small school in northwest Massachusetts boasts an endowment of nearly $1.9 billion, a reputation as the nation's best liberal arts college and a list of alumni comparable to Harvard, Yale, Princeton or any other school for that matter.
Over the years, Williams has graduated diplomats, politicians, writers, lawyers, doctors, CEOs and America's 20th president. New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner went there. So did former Major League Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent.
"And then a football coach," Clawson jokes. "They're not putting me in the front of the alumni network magazine."
Much as he'd like to say the litany of achievers led him to Williams, Clawson's reasoning was a lot less complex.
As a three-sport athlete from Lewiston-Porter High School in Lewiston, N.Y., he simply wanted to keep playing ball. Williams just happened to be the only school that would let him play both football and basketball.
A product of public schools, Clawson was tossed into the deep end of the academic pool, competing against students with private school pedigrees and professors who demanded the best.
"It's kind of like if you play football against a guy that's faster than you …" Clawson said. "You're in the classroom competing against someone that maybe because they went to some New England prep school had that training. Your paper's being graded by the same professor, and you want to try and do better than them in that, too."
When it came time to choose a career, most of his classmates took the usual Williams path. But Clawson's competitive drive made it too tough for him to walk away from the sport he played in sandlots a kid.
The game of football - and the pure elation of victory and even the gut churning of a tough loss - simply couldn't be found anywhere else.
"Guys were going off to law school and med school and going down to Wall Street," Clawson says. "When I initially thought about a career, doing that stuff had zero appeal. I wanted to stay involved in sports."
So 20 years ago, he took a graduate assistant job at Albany, not far from his hometown of about 16,000 on the Niagara River.
And he began working the short-term plan, focusing on the little things.
He learned that at Williams, too.
QB to DB to OC
Aside from a chance to play two sports at Division III Williams, Clawson also was promised a spot on the depth chart at quarterback.
But the future offensive coordinator's collegiate career under center lasted all of about 24 hours.
"After throwing three passes, I was lining up in a different position the next practice," Clawson says. "Obviously I didn't throw it too well those three passes."
So Clawson became a defensive back, where he soaked up every detail he could from Williams' defensive-minded head coach, former NFL defensive back Dick Farley.
"I taught the kids the game here and then let them play it," says Farley, now semi-retired. "I'm not big on calling everything for the kids. David's always been a student of the game."
Clawson studied film for the nuances and embraced the X's and O's. His game of football lived in the small tells of an offense, from the way a receiver held his hands to the slight discrepancies in the way a fullback lined up.
Clawson also became a student of Farley, who he credits as being one his biggest influences.
For all his bluster on the practice field, Farley cared for his players. But he also was brutally honest.
"He'd say, 'If you can't play here, you can't play anywhere. There's no Division IV,' " Clawson says. "It was refreshing. You may not always like what he said. You may not always like the way he said it, but you never ever questioned the truthfulness of it."
That approach is something Clawson adopted as he moved up the ladder - from his first graduate assistant job at Albany, to stops at Buffalo, Lehigh and Villanova and later as coach at Division I-AA Fordham and Richmond - and developed a reputation for turning losing programs into successful ones.
Clawson incorporated Farley's straightforward nature but tailored his approach based on a player's personality.
"He definitely told it like it was," says Kevin Eakin, a two-time All-Patriot League quarterback under Clawson at Fordham. "I wouldn't call him brutally honest. But he is very, very honest.
"He knows the exact buttons to push. He would always throw his SAT out in front of ours, as a joke, just to let us know who was smarter. He will yell, but that's not him. He's not a yeller. He pushes the right buttons to get a point across."
'Football and Family'
Turns out, Dave Clawson is a pretty boring guy away from the football field. For hobbies, he's got football, family and little else.
"I do two things: I coach and I spend time with my family," Clawson said.
Tennessee women's swimming coach Matt Kredich got to know Clawson when the two were at Richmond. Clawson occupied the office across the hall from Kredich, and the two became good friends in large part because of their families. They're close in age and coach much the same way.
"Instead of an old-school football coach, you look at him and talk to him and think he's a real student of the sport," says Kredich. "He's got a lot going on in his head. He was a real contrast. We just kind of connected."
When Kredich visited one of the Spiders' practices, he couldn't help but be impressed by Clawson's efficiency and demeanor.
"He didn't yell at them," Kredich says. "He just talked to them and got them really excited about the mental and strategic side of football. Not just the testosterone-laden, beat-your-opponent-into-submission side of it, but the value of excellent practice."
UT wide receivers coach Latrell Scott, who came with Clawson from Richmond, says practice and preparation is where Clawson shines. That, and Saturday afternoons running an offense.
"I expect Dave to call a big play at the right time," says Scott, who counts Clawson as one of his closest friends in coaching. "Dave's a master play-caller. When he gets into a rhythm, it's fun to watch. It's almost like he's on the headset with the defense."
But when he's not scheming for an upcoming opponent, adding a new wrinkle to his offense or on the road recruiting, he's spending what little time he has left with his wife, Catherine, and their two children.
"He has his job and he's got his family, and he pours whatever he can into both those things," Kredich says. "He's not somebody who has a lot of free time."
He does, however, have a pretty good sense of humor. And a little bit of clairvoyance.
When Kredich left Richmond three years ago to become coach of the Lady Vols, Clawson teased Kredich before he left for Knoxville.
"When I left, I swear he told me if Coach (Phillip) Fulmer ever needs an offensive coordinator to give me a call," Kredich said. "When (former UT offensive coordinator David) Cutcliffe left, I thought it would be really cool to have Dave here."
Finding a Fit
Soon enough, Dave Clawson was in Knoxville.
On the first Sunday in January, Clawson was in town to interview with Fulmer. But the recommendation that landed him on Tennessee's radar came from Boston College athletic director and former UT graduate assistant coach Gene DeFilippo, not Kredich.
Clawson was back in Richmond by Monday evening. He returned Saturday morning to be introduced as offensive coordinator, the first hire from outside Fulmer's staff in his 17 years as head coach.
"When Dave came in, I had a great feeling about him," Fulmer said. "Once he was here, I was even more impressed."
Richmond deputy athletic director David Walsh, was equally impressed during Clawson's four years at Richmond. He also knew the day would eventually come when a school like Tennessee would be impressed, too.
"It was just a matter of time," says Walsh, who oversees the day-to-day football and basketball operations at Richmond. "He's just a super bright person. Obviously he had success as a coach, but he's such a well-rounded person that you knew it wasn't going to be too long until something came along that was too good to pass up."
Before January, a few other BCS schools had approached Clawson about staff openings. But something felt right about Tennessee, even though he spent fewer than 24 hours on campus for his interview.
His wife quickly became an expert on Knoxville and decided it would be a good place to raise a family. Professionally, two factors swayed Clawson: the SEC and Fulmer.
"To be able to compete against national champions and coaches that have won national championships excited me," he said. "Number two, it was the opportunity to work for Coach Fulmer. Anybody in the business who worked for him just talked about his integrity and the type of person he was and the values he held. That stuff is really important to me because I'm not just a coach. I'm a husband and a father. You want to work for good people."
Since then, it's been nothing but work. First came recruiting, then installing his offense during spring practice and now refining it in preseason camp.
But in eight days, Clawson's Tennessee tenure begins in earnest.
When the curtain rises on Clawson's first season with the Vols in a nationally televised game at UCLA next Monday night, the small-town, small-school coach will make his big-time debut.
The game just so happens to be in the Rose Bowl, one of college football's sacred venues. That its 91,000 seats could hold the entire population of Clawson's hometown five times over doesn't seem to faze Clawson.
"I'm human," he said. "I mean, obviously it's going to be very exciting. There's going to be a ton of people watching, but factoring those things in in no way helps me do my job or helps our team get ready for what we need to do.
"The bottom line is this is a profession that you have to be productive. Once the games start, we need to win football games and we need to move the football and we need to be productive as an offense."
It's still about the short term. Big crowd or small, big school or small, Clawson remains focused on the little things.
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.