Dino Gaudio, I’m happy to see, is back doing what he did the first 30 years of his professional career.
Gaudio is back in the coaching game, having been hired this week by Louisville as an assistant to Chris Mack, a fellow protege of the late, great Skip Prosser.
Gaudio has spent the last eight seasons in a form of exile. But the truth as to why Gaudio was cashiered a Wake in 2010, and compelled to seek employment as a television analyst, has never been told.
The truth hurts, or so the cliché goes. And for Ron Wellman, the director of athletics at Wake, to come clean on why he fired Gaudio just six months after granting him an contract extension, may have indeed harmed both Gaudio and Wake.
But I’ve had plenty of time and reason to wonder how that pain would have compared to what those still invested in the fortunes of Wake basketball have endured while suffering through one of the deepest and most prolonged downturns in the program’s once-proud history.
My greatest regret is that my role, as beat reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal, was to report the real reason Wellman cashiered Gaudio back in the spring of 2010. And I tried. Heaven knows I tried.
I asked Wellman repeatedly, in as many ways as I could come up with. And though I was told not to even bother asking Gaudio, I put in repeated calls to him as well.
Gaudio was always good to me during his nine seasons as an assistant or head coach at Wake. We always got along. So we have talked since he was let go.
But he steadfastly declined to address the reasons why he was fired.
The obvious conclusion was that the two parties reached some form of a non-disclosure agreement, which, again, they saw as protecting the interests of each side.
But what about the interests of those Wake fans who woke up one day to learn that Jeff Bzdelik was the new coach – and had no earthly idea why? And what about the interests of those same fans forced to deal with the historical repercussions of a 105-148 record over the past eight seasons?
If Wellman had given no reason at all for the decision, there would have been an outcry. He needed some explanation for firing a man who had won 61 of 92 games as Wake’s head coach. Unfortunately, the one he publicly proclaimed simply didn’t hold water.
Oh what tangled webs we weave, and all that.
Wellman’s stated rationale was Gaudio’s lack of late-season and post-season success. And it didn’t really sound that bad at the time to those who had watched the Deacons lose three straight ACC Tournament games and flounder in NCAA play. I will always contend that the victory over Texas in the 2010 NCAA Tournament was one of the most forgotten wins in the program’s history, but it couldn’t totally mitigate the 15-point loss to 12th seed Cleveland State in 2009 or the horrendous 90-60 pounding by Kentucky just two days after Ish Smith’s miracle shot extended the 2010 campaign.
I learned so much working alongside long-time compadre Lenox Rawlings, who taught me it’s never about who you fire, but it’s always about who you hire. Duke could get away with firing Mike Krzyzewski tomorrow if it could somehow, someway, hire a coach who could do a better job.
So Wellman’s most grievous mistake was hiring Bzdelik to replace Gaudio. Not only did it undercut Wellman’s rationale for firing Gaudio, in that his replacement had never won an NCAA Tournament game, but it would by 2014 rank right up with with Bob Wade and Sidney Lowe and Kevin Stallings as among the worst hires in the history of ACC basketball.
What really bothered me was that in the absence of a plausible explanation for Wellman to fire Gaudio sprouted all these alternate reasons. Some, I’ve come to learn, made sense. Others, sadly, were small and tawdry and unfounded enough to reflect the worst of us as human beings.
I’ve always despised whisper campaigns, so in the absence of an on-the-record explanation from Wellman or Gaudio, I reported none of what I heard.
People who were working at Wake at the time told me that Gaudio wasn’t always the easiest person to get along with, that he could be caustic and demanding. But if that were a reason for firing a coach then who, I wonder, would be left to do the job?
I’ve also been told on good authority that there was somewhat of a philosophical difference of opinion that had developed between the two men.
Gaudio ascribed to the belief espoused time and again by Prosser, that the college team with the most NBA players usually wins. So he was more aggressive about going after the lottery-level talent that often comes with a certain kind of baggage.
Wellman, on the other hand, had apparently become convinced by the success of Butler, Gonzaga and other programs that a college team could excel without compromising what he saw as the values and standards of the university it represented.
If that had been the basis Wellman gave back in 2010 for firing Gaudio, he would have certainly caught some flak from certain corners. But it would have least been a reason that made sense to some, that he could stand by and defend.
By trotting out a justification that collapsed the moment Bzdelik was hired as head coach, Wellman did a grave injustice to every fan who has ever cared for Wake basketball. But the greatest injustice was done to Bzdelik, who never had a chance in the waters so contaminated by the manner in which his hiring came about.
Now would Bzdelik have succeeded under less-toxic circumstances? I think we all, by now, know the answer to that. But the consequent uproar wouldn’t have been as immediate or as rancorous, and the repercussions might not have been as long-lasting.
The Wake job was far more attractive to prospective candidates in 2010, than it was four disastrous years later. If Wake’s 51-76 record under Bzdelik hadn’t inspired the most acrimonious fan revolt of my long career as a sportswriter, then Wellman might have been able to land a more proven commodity than a former All-American with a scant two years experience as a college head coach.
Dino Gaudio, I’m happy to see, is back doing what he did the first 30 years of his professional career. That much has, at least, been put right.
Now, eight long, trying seasons later, it remains up to Wellman, or someone, to finally clean up the mess left at Wake.