So little has gone right for Wake Forest in basketball since Skip Prosser died.
And what has gone right, hasn’t gone right for long.
Over the 10 seasons since Prosser collapsed and died after his afternoon jog around a campus track, the Deacons have surfaced in the NCAA Tournament three times, twice in 2009 and 2010 with Dino Gaudio as head coach and last March in Danny Manning’s third season at the helm.
All three appearances have been little more than cameos – though I will reiterate that the victory over Texas in the first round of 2010 in New Orleans is one of the most forgotten victories in the history of the program.
The sordid recent past is a big reason the start to this season has been such a kick in the teeth to one of the longest-suffering fan bases in the ACC.
Granted, there was ample reason to expect a rough season in 2017-18 after the off-season losses of cousin John Collins to the NBA and Dinos Mitoglou to a pro team back home in Greece.
But the pratfall with which the Deacons began the season – with home losses to Georgia Southern and Liberty followed by setbacks in Lynchburg to Drake and Houston – suggests that the light then fan base thought it saw at the end of the tunnel last March was just another UFO sighting over Joel Coliseum.
Now, with his coach 2-4 in his fourth season, Athletics Director Ron Wellman has made the curious decision to announce an extension to Manning’s contract.
Length and terms of the extension were not released, as they never are at Wake. As a private school, Wake is not legally obligated to inform those who care about the program just what is being done to alleviate their pain.
Besides, by keeping his cards close to his vest, Wellman can play them when and how he wants. If he decides to award a coach an extension in October and then cut the same coach loose six months later – as he did with Gaudio – then it’s up to reporters such as I was at the time to ask him what that was all about.
And if Wellman chooses not to answer, then, as the director of athletics of a private school, that’s his legal prerogative.
But when his stated basis for firing Gaudio (lack of post-season and late-season success) falls apart with the hiring of Jeff Bzdelik, a coach with even less late February and March success than Gaudio, then everyone has to know there’s far more to the story than is being told.
In short, Gaudio was fired because he wasn’t the man Wellman and his inner circle of advisers wanted as head basketball coach of Wake Forest.
And the only reasonable explanation for why Bzdelik was brought aboard and kept for four season under the most intense outcry from the fan base I experienced in 40 seasons as a sportswriter is that Bzdelik – he of the 51-76 record – remained Wellman’s man until Wellman could stand up against the tempest no longer.
Now Wellman has stepped up to say that Manning is still his man. The holiday weekend announcement released by the media relations department made mention of last season’s appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the development of Collins and Mitoglou and the promise of a 2018 recruiting class ranked on the cusp of the Top 10 in the country.
The release didn’t mention Manning’s records of 45-57 overall or 16-38 in ACC play, nor did it mention losing to such luminaries as Georgia Southern and Liberty in front of a few thousand die-hards at Joel Coliseum.
In reading this, I can see how people might get the impression I’m not a big fan of Ron Wellman. Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth.
In the 25 years we worked together, I grew to admire, respect and enjoy the company of the man even when I was questioning and doubting his administration of the Wake athletics program. And I’ve gone on record many times to say that Ron Wellman is a smart man. Wake doesn’t win an ACC football championship and a national soccer title and develop its facilities to its current state without a smart man running the show.
All of which is why the hiring of Jeff Bzdelik and keeping him as coach for four seasons was the dumbest move by a smart man I can ever name.
Now, in the face of a disastrous start of Manning’s fourth season – and I keep making that point, that the losses to Georgia Southern, Liberty and Drake didn’t come in a coach’s first, second or even third season – Wellman steps back out in the line of fire to announce a contract extension.
My advice to anyone who still cares about the fortunes of Wake basketball is that unless you’re a lawyer who helped dictate the terms of the extension, then pay no attention to the latest announcement.
It means nothing. And if you don’t believe me, ask Dino Gaudio.
You can find him courtside as a basketball analyst eight seasons after he coached his last game.