Wake Forest struggled in football for much of the second half of the 20th century. This is largely because it is the third-smallest school in FBS in terms of undergraduate enrollment (behind only Rice and Tulsa). It is also by far the smallest school playing in a BCS conference. However, since the start of the 21st century, the Deacons have been mostly competitive.
W. C. Riddick, first coach of Wake Forest football
Wake Forest first fielded a football team in 1888, coached by W. C. Dowd and W. C. Riddick. That team played only one game, and went 1–0, a victory against North Carolina in the first-ever collegiate football game played in the state of North Carolina.
Peahead Walker came to the Demon Deacons from Elon and was Wake Forest's head football coach for fourteen seasons, compiling a record of 77–51–6. He tied with Jim Grobe as the winningest head football coach in Demon Deacon football history. He led the Deacons to two bowl games, a win over South Carolina in the inaugural Gator Bowl in 1946 and a loss to Baylor in the 1949 Dixie Bowl. He resigned after the 1950 season and was inducted into the Wake Forest Athletics Hall of Fame in 1971.
Tom Rogers led the Demon Deacons from 1951-1955, succeeding Walker. Rogers yearly records at Wake Forest were 6–4, 5–4–1, 3–6–1, 4–7–1 and 5–4–1. He was replaced as head coach after five seasons.
Paul Amen, who succeeded Rogers, came to Wake Forest from his post as an assistant at Army and also struggled but managed to go 6–4 in his final season, his only winning record. He coached the Demon Deacons from 1956-1959. Amen's 1957 posted a winless 0–10 record. He was selected in 1956 and 1959 as ACC Coach of the Year, however, Amen retired after four seasons.
Billy Hildebrand was promoted from defensive line coach to head coach following the retirement of Amen. Hildebrand, like his predecessors, struggled to find much success. His best season came in 1961 in which the Demon Deacons posted a 4–6 record. After four seasons and a 7–33 overall record, Hildebrand was fired.
Bill Tate was hired as the Demon Deacons head football coach in January 1964. Tate coached the Demon Deacons for five seasons. From 1964-1968, Wake Forest posted a 17–32–1 record and steadily declined year-by-year, going from 5–5 in Tate's first year worsening each year to 2–7–1 in his last. Tate won ACC Coach of the Year honors in 1964 but was fired after failing to post a winning record in any of his five seasons.
Cal Stoll was hired as Wake Forest's head coach away from Michigan State, where he served as an assistant. Stoll was able to have success with the Deacons, posting a 3–7 record his first year then back-to-back 6–5 records in his last two. Stoll left Wake Forest to take the head coach position at his alma mater Minnesota after initially declining the job. His final record was 15–17 and included Wake Forest's first ACC championship in 1970. Stoll won ACC Coach of the Year honors in 1970.
Chuck Mills was hired away from Utah State and served as the Demon Deacons head football coach for five seasons, compiling an 11–43–1 record before he was fired due to the team's continued lackluster on-the-field performance.
John Mackovic re-energized the Wake Forest football program, turning the program around from 1–10 to 8–4 in one year, for which Mackovic won ACC Coach of the Year honors. His teams were aggressive and fast. Mackovic won the Walter Camp Coach of the Year Award in 1979. Following the 1980 season, Mackovic left Wake Forest to take an assistant coaching position with the NFL's Dallas Cowboys. Mackovic's final record at Wake Forest is 14–20.
Under head coach Al Groh, the Demon Deacons compiled a 26–40 record. Groh's best season was a 6–5 1984 season. and Groh resigned after the 1986 season to take an assistant coaching position with the Atlanta Falcons.
Bill Dooley, brother of former Georgia head football coach Vince Dooley and uncle of former Tennessee head football coach Derek Dooley, came to Wake Forest after a brief retirement from coaching. He previously was head football coach at Virginia Tech. He led the Demon Deacons to one bowl game, the 1992 Independence Bowl, which Wake Forest won, capping off an 8–4 season in which they finished ranked #25 in both the AP and Coaches Polls, respectively. Dooley re-retired after that game. Dooley's six seasons in Winston-Salem are tied for fourth for longest tenure and his 29 wins are third in most wins in Wake Forest history. He had three winning seasons at Wake Forest, 7–4 in 1987, 6–4–1 in 1988, and the 8–4 1992 team. Dooley's final record is 29–36–2.
Jim Caldwell came to Wake Forest from his post as quarterbacks coach at Penn State. Caldwell was the first African American head football coach in Wake Forest football history. Caldwell's Demon Deacons were known to pass the ball well, but struggled to run the ball, with one season the leading rusher only gaining a total of 300 yards for the entire season. Wake Forest struggled in Caldwell's eight-year tenure, posting only one winning season (a 7–5 1999 season, capped with a win in the 1999 Aloha Bowl). Caldwell was fired after the 2000 season. His final record at Wake Forest is 26–63.
After that 2006 season, Grobe's teams weren't able to match that level of success, winning six or more games just three times in the next seven years. Grobe resigned as head coach after the 2013 season with a 77–82 overall record.
Wake Forest has played in ten bowls in its history and owns a 6–4 record in those games. For the 2006 season, the school earned a bid to its first ever BCS game, with an Orange Bowl match-up against Louisville. Wake also had played in the 1982 Mirage Bowl in Tokyo, Japan against Clemson. However, because this game was played during the regular season, the NCAA does not recognize it as an official bowl game. Wake also competed in the 1951, 1953, 1954 Tobacco Bowl in Richmond, Virginia. According to the NCAA, it doesn't count as an official bowl game since this game isn't a postseason bowl.
Wake Forest is referred to as being a part of "Tobacco Road" or the Big Four, terms that refer to the four North Carolina schools that compete heatedly against each other within the ACC. Wake Forest swept the series with its Tobacco Road rivals in 1924, 1951, 1970, 1984, 1987, 2006, and 2007.
Wake Forest also plays out-of-conference foe Vanderbilt on a regular basis. They had a contract through 2013 to play during the final "rivalry week" of the regular season after the 2014 & 2015 games were cancelled.
Clark Gaines - Former NFLrunning back, holds NFL record for most receptions in a game by a running back (3rd most receptions in a game among all players), and was the first undrafted rookie to rush for over 500 yards in a rookie season; currently serves as Assistant Executive Director of the NFL Players Association.
Gerry Huth - Former NFLoffensive guard who won 2 NFL championships (1 with the NY Giants in 1956, and the other with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1960)