Hiring or firing coaches was never my job during my many seasons as the Wake beat reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal, so I’m certainly not looking to take on that responsibility now that I’ve retired.
And as well as I got to know Ron Wellman during my 26 years covering the Deacons to the exclusion of pretty much else during football or basketball season, he never asked me for advice on that subject.
Nor should he have.
So if Wellman wants to retain Danny Manning for a fifth season as head basketball coach – as, from every indication I’ve seen or heard, he plans to do – then no skin off my teeth. That’s Wellman’s call as director of athletics, and he’ll succeed or fail with it.
What I did do – what I felt compelled to do – was to assess the performance of the coaches Wellman entrusted his programs to. If a beat guy can’t or won’t analyze what’s going on with his beat, then there’s no need for a beat guy.
As I write this on April 19, 2018, no one knows who will trot on the court wearing Wake’s uniforms when the season begins next November.
Manning confirmed to my compadre Les Johns of Demon Deacon Digest what we all had to know, that’s he’s actively recruiting at least one graduate transfer to come aboard for next season.
And of the players we do expect to take the court next season, the five incoming freshmen, Jaylen Hoard, Isaiah Mucius, Sharone Wright, Jr., Jamie Lewis and Christian Lorng have never played a game of college basketball.
It’s a highly ranked class, and Hoard, a five-star recruit from France, really opened some eyes with 15 points and 11 rebounds in the recent 2018 Nike Hoops Summit. Even so, how good these freshmen turn out to be — and/or how fast they get their games up to major-college speed — remains to be seen.
So we might not know who will be playing for Wake, or even how well they can play. But we do know who won’t be taking the floor for the Black and Gold in 2018-19, a list that was expanded this past week when center Doral Moore announced he would forego his senior season with the intention of playing professional basketball next season for somebody somewhere.
And it’s a list that gets even longer if guard Bryant Crawford, the other junior who decided to test the professional waters, decides to hire an agent and thus move along with his career. Neither Crawford nor Moore are expected to be drafted in the NBA in June, which would suggest they’re either getting bad advice or just done with playing for Manning and Wake.
Others we know who won’t be playing for Wake next season are Donovan Mitchell, Richard Washington and Samuel Japhet-Mathias. Mitchell and Washington are transferring and Japhet-Mathias was dismissed from the team in early February for “not meeting the program’s expectations.’’
The exodus of Moore, Mitchell, Washington and Japhet-Mathias means that of the 14 freshman Danny Manning has recruited to Wake since taking over before the 2014-15 season, only five remain. And those five include Crawford, who could be gone before I finish writing this post.
The others are Brandon Childress, Chaundee Brown, Olivier Sarr and Melo Eggleston. Childress averaged 9.1 points and 3.6 assists last season, Brown averaged 7.6 points and 3 rebounds, Sarr averaged 3.2 points and 3 rebounds and Eggleston played a total of 19 minutes in ACC games.
Meanwhile, there’s the question of just what Manning has been able to accomplish on the court during his four seasons as head coach.
I’ll concede he assumed the reins of a program in turmoil after four disastrous seasons under Jeff Bzdelik, and I fully recognize that Wake is far from the only college basketball team to experience rampant attrition in this fly-by-night era of the game.
But the bottom line is still the bottom line, and in his four seasons at Wake, Manning has won 54 games and lost 72 and finished 12th, 14th, 10th and 14th in the ACC regular season. By comparison, his predecessor, Bzdelik, won 51 and lost 76 and finished 12th, ninth, ninth and 11th.
The most pertinent stat, to me, though, his how well did these coaches do against the coaches they were hired to beat. Manning, in four seasons, is 21-56 against ACC competition.
So even when he had John Collins and Dinos Mitoglou and Doral Moore and transfers like Mitchell, Washington and Cornelius Hudson and Rondale Watson, Manning never finished above 10th in the ACC.
Wake fans have gone through so much since Bzdelik was hired before the 2010-11 seasons, and as the beat guy for the local paper, I feel I’ve gone through it with them. There are knuckleheads in every crowd, but I’ve found most of the Wake fanbase to be as patient, understanding and reasonable as any fan could be expected to be.
My sense is that most would be fine with Manning as head coach – even with the 21-56 record against peers – if they had a reason to believe the program was headed in the right direction.
My first question, then, would be this: Given the attrition and uncertainty going into Manning’s fifth season, does anyone really know in which direction the program is headed?
I also feel pretty strongly that if the fans knew for a certain that Manning’s fate would be determined by what happens next season, then a large majority would be down with that. My own personal opinion is that after four seasons, we can pretty much tell if the coach is the right man for the job. But if we can’t tell after five seasons, then when?
Again, I got to know Ron Wellman well in my years on the beat, and what I do know is that he does care about those who care about Wake athletics. The depths to which the once proud program has fallen under his watch has to tear him up inside.
Which leads me to the second question: What, if anything, is he willing to do about it?
Hope may spring eternal in poetry, but in college basketball there comes a time to fish or cut bait.