Who knew Benedict Arnold was a Wake Forest broadcaster?
Wake Forest football fired radio analyst Tommy Elrod, a former player and assistant coach with the program, on Tuesday after an investigation found he had provided details of the team’s game planning to opposing teams, dating back to 2014.
A scandal that has already made Elrod’s name equivocal with Arnold and Judas Iscariot on the Winston-Salem campus has been nicknamed “WakeyLeaks,” and while it is more than baffling why Elrod undermined the Wake Forest program this severely, this situation is far from over.
A Mole’s Motivation
In the immediate aftermath, the biggest question is, simply, “Why?”
Elrod played quarterback for the Demon Deacons from 1993-97, and became a graduate assistant on coach Jim Grobe’s staff in 2003, working his way up the coaching ladder and becoming quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator.
His tenure on the coaching staff included Wake Forest’s improbable run to the 2006 ACC championship, and Elrod was a key to the relative success of four-year starting quarterbacks Riley Skinner and Tanner Price.
When Grobe resigned after the 2013 season, Dave Clawson was hired as the new head coach, and did not retain Elrod. Elrod’s situation was not unique, as Clawson brought most of his staff from Bowling Green with him to Wake Forest, and only retained two coaches from Grobe’s staff (and none tenured more than two years).
Elrod, however, remained involved in the program as a radio broadcaster, and continued to have access to the teams practices, film, and game plans.
Elrod, a 41-year old Wake Forest lifer, did not necessarily fit the profile of the typical double agent, but must have clearly had some strong motivation. It is possible Elrod was disgruntled about not being retained on Clawson’s staff, even with such personnel moves being normal during a coaching transition.
However, the more likely motive for Elrod’s treachery is money, assuming the possibility exists that other football programs could buy the game plan information Elrod was leaking.
Many who know Elrod are stunned at the revelation of his disloyalty to Wake Forest. In various forms of media, Elrod has been described over the last 24 hours as a family man, active in the Winston-Salem community including charity work. Skinner told ESPN Elrod was a “stand-up character guy.”
How Much Harm Has Been Done?
As an admitted Wake Forest fan, I naturally find Elrod’s alleged actions as senseless and beyond disappointing.
But the frustration of the fan base does not even scratch the surface here, when you consider the hours and hours of hard work done by the coaching staff and especially the student-athletes in game preparation, only to be undermined and cheated out of a fair chance come gameday. Wide receiver Marshall Williams’ reaction on Twitter (below) is likely similar to that of many current and recent Wake Forest players.
(Warning: strong language)
Yo this @WakeFB shit got me on the verge of tears. Man, to put in the work everyday day at practice and to have 1 of you own sell u out.smh
— Marshall Williams Jr (@BULLCITYBOI) December 13, 2016
And beyond any emotional hurt done by the sedition, consider how rough a game football is, and how much knowledge of a team’s game plan could literally cause harm.
For instance, quarterback John Wolford has been sacked 91 times over the last three years, including several instances when he was injured by a sack. How many of Wolford’s injuries might have been caused because the opposing defense knew the play and went after the quarterback? There’s no way to know an exact number, but this shows how wide the scope of this could potentially be.
That said, this case is not over. For one thing, a lawsuit one way or the other between Elrod and the football program is very possible, and Elrod has already hired an attorney.
But beyond that, when an informant provides inside information, someone else is the receiver of such information, and that is where this could get messy.
Wake Forest football is the victim, as one of their own breached the trust he had been given by those within the program. But the opponents who took the information are just as guilty as Elrod, especially if money changed hands.
Any possibility of a cash flow for exclusive intelligence, a possibility which certainly exists here, should be investigated by both the ACC and the NCAA. Wake Forest acted quickly in firing Elrod; hopefully the ACC and/or NCAA will be as efficient in getting to the bottom of this controversy. (The ACC released a statement late Wednesday promising “due diligence” to the case to “protect competitive integrity.”)
One opponent who is almost certainly involved in some way is Louisville. The investigation into a potential data breach within the Wake Forest program began after documents were found at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium the day before the Demon Deacons’ game with Louisville that contained information on plays Wake Forest had not run before.
Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, who is no stranger to controversy, denied any knowledge of the situation at the time, and again on Wednesday, calling it simply a “Wake Forest issue.” But with strong evidence that Elrod was working as an informant from the Wake Forest side, Petrino will have some questions to answer.
Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said Wednesday that while Elrod did speak before the game to offensive coordinator Lonnie Galloway, who coached alongside Elrod at Wake Forest in 2011-12, Louisville used none of that information on their way to a 44-12 win.
In addition to Galloway, Elrod does have connections to other recent Wake Forest opponents. Brian Knorr coached at Wake Forest alongside Elrod, then was Indiana defensive coordinator in 2015 when the teams met. Ray McCartney, another former Wake Forest assistant and Elrod colleague, was the Army defensive line coach in 2014-15, and the Demon Deacons played the Black Knights in both seasons.
So there were easy opportunities for Elrod to contact opposing coaches at at least three schools that Wake Forest has played since 2014, and there could also be more less discernible connections that helped Elrod spread this information.
Likely the only person who knows every detail of Elrod’s subterfuge is Elrod himself, who has remained quiet thus far, erasing his presence on social media and not answering contact requests from the media.
In addition to being fired from his broadcasting position, Elrod is banned from all Wake Forest athletic events and facilities. Elrod voluntarily resigned Monday from his position as director of business management for Verger Investment LLC, a firm created by Wake Forest to manage the university’s investments.
If all of the developments about Elrod are true, he has performed a disgraceful, repugnant, and subversive series of actions that have undermined the capability of the Wake Forest team to have adequate opportunity to compete fairly on the football field.
In other words, Benedict Arnold now has some company in the sports world.
Related: Former Wake Forest Football Assistant Provided Game Plan Information to Opponents (includes text of Wake Forest press release and statements from athletic director Ron Wellman and head football coach Dave Clawson)