A Sales Pitch No One is Buying

Danny Manning has had four seasons to sell his vision of how to lift Wake from the most protracted downturn of our lifetime.

But other than a ballyhooed recruit whose goal is to play college basketball for one season, a junior guard who happens to be the son of the associate head coach, and the director of athletics responsible for hiring Manning in the first place, who of consequence is buying Manning’s pitch?

Bryant Crawford apparently isn’t buying it. Otherwise he wouldn’t be passing up his senior season at Wake for a leap of faith expected to land him on foreign soil playing basketball for whatever the going rate happens to be there.

Doral Moore apparently isn’t either. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have announced last month he’s taking that same leap of faith.

A total of 69 players – 11 from the ACC – were invited to the NBA combine held earlier this month in Chicago. Neither Crawford nor Moore made the list.

Keyshawn Woods obviously is not buying Manning’s pitch. Otherwise he wouldn’t have left for Ohio State as a graduate transfer.

And obviously Donovan Mitchell and Richard Washington are not either. Both had a shot at extended playing time in the ACC next season, and both decided to try their luck elsewhere.

The exodus leaves Manning headed into his fifth season with four scholarship players who have ever suited up for Wake. Add up their points and rebounds, and the quartet averaged, collectively, 5.6 points and 2.6 rebounds for a team that finished 11-20.

Crawford, Moore and Woods were all flawed college players. Otherwise the Deacons wouldn’t have finished 14th in the ACC last season at 4-14.

But Crawford did average 16.9 points, and Moore did average 9.4 rebounds. No remaining Deacon averaged more than 9.1 points or 3 rebounds.

The talent drain would be detrimental to most programs at most any time, but at Wake, at this particular time, it’s devastating. The deepest trough in the program’s history continues to get deeper.

The only good way to judge one era from another is record against conference competition. Before Ron Wellman fired Dino Gaudio after the 2009-10 season, the worst eight-season period of Wake basketball encompassed Carl Tacy’s last three seasons (1982-83 through 1984-85), Bob Staak’s four (1985-86 through 1988-89) and Dave Odom’s first (1989-90). Wake, over those eight seasons, was 32-90 against ACC foes, for a winning percentage of ..262

A new standard has been set, though it’s not one you might expect to read on the school’s website. Over the eight seasons Jeff Bzdelik and Manning have been calling the shots, the Deacons are 39-111 against sister ACC schools.

The winning percentage is .260.

But the biggest problem now facing Wellman and anyone who still cares for Wake basketball is not where the program has been these past eight seasons, but where it is headed.

Odom’s first team was 12-16 and 3-11. But Staak did leave him Derrick McQueen, Chris King and Anthony Tucker, and Odom went out and sold himself and his program well enough to land the greatest recruiting class in school history.

Two from the class, Rodney Rogers and Randolph Childress, are in the Wake Forest Sports Hall of Fame. Two others, Trelonnie Owens and Marc Blucas, were solid ACC starters

So for all the fans and supporters had been through, they were heartened by better times ahead.

Who at Wake today is heartened by what lies ahead?

All coaches have their strengths and weaknesses. But the successful ones are able to sell themselves and their vision, and use that vision to galvanize all the available parts into a cohesive unit sharing one common goal. No coach I ever encountered was better at selling himself and his vision than Skip Prosser, but others, like Odom, are able to do it in other, less overt ways.

But to sell a vision, a coach has to sell himself. When has Danny Manning, fawned over for his basketball abilities since the age of 14, ever had to sell himself?

And to sell a vision, one has to have a one.

Has anyone ever heard Danny Manning articulate his vision of how to lift Wake from the most protracted downturn of our lifetime? I covered Manning for three seasons, and I never heard one. I did hear him say, upon accepting the job, how the program was going to hang its hat on defense, but few teams in the ACC have been as easy to score against than those coached by Manning.

Has Manning articulated a vision to the fan base that I’ve missed? If so, I’m anxious to hear it.

Has Manning articulated a vision to his players?

One would certainly expect so. But whether he has or not, the players have to buy into it.

Instead they keep voting with their feet, and Manning keeps losing.

And so does Wake.

Catching Back Up With Steve Earle

Steve Earle is playing the Stevens Center downtown tonight and this old boy will be in attendance, third row balcony, with my bride Tybee and our long-time compadre Lenox Rawlings.

And as the song goes, if you think I’m happy you’re right.

Steve has meant a lot to me for a long time. We have so much in common other than talent. We both worship the written word. We both can’t help but raise hell over what’s going haywire in this country. And we both play guitar and write songs.

The difference, of course, is that his songs have been heard all over the world. To hear mine you have to make it out to Bethania on a Thursday night.

That, and the fact he’s been married seven times to my one.

Tonight will be the first time I’ve caught a Steve Earle show in about 25 years, dating to a time that I was lucky enough to make Nashville pretty much an annual destination as the Wake beat reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal. Wake played Vandy regularly back then, in both football and basketball, and as a paper we still had the will and resources to follow the Deacons everywhere they hit the gridiron or court.

A man needs a plan, and mine was always to check in the Hampton Inn in West End, across from Centennial Park. Used to cost only a hundred and change to stay there, enough of a bargain to get it past the bean-counters when I turned in my Expense (make that Suspense) Form to be reimbursed.

I knocked all around Nashville in those days, making it out to Green Hills to the Bluebird Cafe whenever I could. Saw some shows well worth seeing, including one with Russell Smith, the songwriter and front man of one of my favorite bands from the 70s, the Amazing Rhythm Aces.

And as an aspiring songwriter, I made the rounds of Music Row dropping off a cassette tape of my latest song to anyone who would deign to accept it.

All these years later, I’m still waiting to hear back.

Ed “Fast Eddie” Hardin, my compadre with the Greensboro News and Record, was along a time or two or three, and, again, as the song goes, we were bad for each other, but good at having fun. Ed sat with me down at Muddy Creek Cafe when I announced my retirement last August, and we recounted the afternoon we spent in Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge that I immortalized in song.

Another time we made our way to the deck out back of Tootsie’s, where we found two characters named Gary Bennett and Chuck Mead who were putting together this band that would eventually become BR-549.

Good times.

One good reason to stay at the aforementioned Hampton was that there was a Longhorn Steakhouse right next door, and, in those days, I was big-time into the Longhorn Steakhouse. And to my great delight, I come to find out that songwriters from nearby Music Row were known to haunt this particular Longhorn Steakhouse, often in the afternoon when they really didn’t have anywhere much else to go.

So one afternoon I stumble in for a late lunch, and I notice two or three ne’er-do-well types sitting down at the other end of the bar. And the jukebox kept playing the same song over and over, something about a Big Dog. Problem was, it really wasn’t that good of a song.

But by sliding closer and closer down the bar, long-neck beer by long-neck beer, I come to find out that one of the songwriters sitting there had written the song, and he was celebrating by playing it on the jukebox at Longhorn Steakhouse all freaking afternoon.

It turns out, though, that he was a really good guy. His name was Michael Grady, and he said he was from Shreveport. He had been in Nashville doing what most songwriters are in Nashville doing, trying like hell to keep a roof over his head and food in his belly.

He patiently answered all the questions I had about how a rube might become Nashville’s next star songwriter. But whatever I asked, his reply was pretty much the same.

Go home. Get the hell out of Nashville. It will only break your heart.

He said it with a smile, but he meant it.

His eyes grew wide, though when I mentioned that Steve Earle was playing in a club downtown off Broad Street, and that I was headed that way after dinner.

“Steve’s in town?’’ he asked. “Didn’t know that. Steve’s a good friend. Could I catch a ride?’’

Driving to the show, he filled me in on Steve’s current state, of which I was only vaguely aware. It wasn’t until later that I found how just how deep an abyss Steve had fallen into, and how he was pretty much on the streets during those days hooked on the customary forms of addictions.

But I wasn’t worried about any of that. I was headed to a Steve Earle concert with a good friend of Steve’s in tow, and I could just see myself heading backstage with Michael Grady and hanging around with one of my favorite songwriters.

Upon arrival at our destination – which if memory hasn’t failed me, was called the 321 Club – I found out how the red-headed stepchild feels when he has taken the belle to the ball.

We get through the door and I look around and Michael Grady is nowhere to be found.

I’d been ditched.

I don’t know if Michael Grady made it backstage or not. I know I didn’t.

Steve was fighting all kinds of demons back then – and, from best I can tell, still is. But I remember he put on a great show. I also remember how he bit off the head of a the poor dude who had the temerity to yell “Play Copperhead Road.’’

Steve was savage, saying something to the effect of “I’ve been doing what I do for 20 years now playing these shows and I think I know more about what to play and when to play it than anybody sitting in the #%&@%* audience.’’

Well then.

Sobriety saved Steve Earle, unlike so many other of my favorite artists over the years. And in the time since he sobered up and got straight, he has given us all so many reasons to be thankful.

I’ve got a big reason to be thankful today. Steve Earle is playing the Stevens Center and I’ll be attendance, third-row balcony with my bride and one of our best friends in the world.

The show is billed, in part, as a commemoration of his Copperhead Road album released 30 years ago.

Just the same, I’ll let somebody else yell for Steve Earle to play the title song.

ACC Coaches Hall of Fame: First Five

Among the lifetime’s worth of lessons I learned from my career as a sportswriter was that greatness doesn’t come in a nice, comfortable, compatible package.

The two greatest coaches I ever encountered – the two who were by far the greatest to ever grace an ACC courtside – were also the most competitive.

And demanding.

And, when confronted with fools they were biologically unequipped to suffer, unfailingly cantankerous.

Covering Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski could be an ordeal. They made sure of it.

When I began this project to identify those coaches for my own personal ACC Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, I harbored no illusions. I knew Krzyzewski and Smith would dwarf the field.

To say Mike Krzyzewski and Dean Smith were the greatest coaches in ACC Basketball history would be like calling the Beatles the greatest band in Rock and Roll or Babe Ruth was the greatest baseball player. Goes without saying.

But to plug their accomplishments into my formula (which will be included at the end of this post) and rank them against all the other 82 men who tried their hand at coaching an ACC basketball team is an eye-opening exercise. K and Dean didn’t just lap the competition, they were in the clubhouse ordering their second round (Krzyzewski his beloved wine and Smith his scotch) before any of the others made the turn.

Barring a cataclysmic announcement no one I know is expecting, Krzyzewski, this fall, will head into his 39th season as Duke’s head coach. Smith coached North Carolina for 36. No other coach in ACC history lasted more than the 22 seasons Gary Williams toughed out at Maryland.

It was an honor and privilege to cover greatness in the form of these two men, but it not always a pleasure. Ask either the wrong question – or sometimes even the right question the wrong way – in a post-game session after a loss or a disappointing win was to invite the most scathing of of retorts.

Neither could take losing, and both were quick to remind that they knew a bit more about basketball and their respective teams than some sportswriter who wouldn’t know a run-and-jump from a pick-and-roll.

They battled each other like Titans from the time Krzyzewski got Duke good enough for the challenge in the mid-80s until Smith coached his last game in 1997. The feud ran as red as the blood trickling down Eric Montross’ face as the made the free throws to beat No. 1 Duke in February of 1992.

That was three seasons after the most contentious ACC Tournament I ever covered, in Atlanta in 1989, when Smith made amends for a mediocre (by his standards) regular season by knocking off Duke for the title. The event will always be remembered for the courtside exchange of Smith telling K not to talk to his players, and K responding with a word that starts with an F and ends with a K that was not – and I shall repeat, was not – firetruck.

The two started life on different paths. Smith was a Kansan raised by educators, K a Chicago native whose parents were as decidedly working class as most immigrants from Eastern Europe. Smith, in political inclination, was a liberal who bravely, and famously, fought for civil rights causes in the 1960s and K, best I can tell, is more of an up-from-his-bootstraps kind of guy.

Being so competitive, they drove each other crazy. After one of the countless sessions in which officials called the two together at mid-court in a desperate attempt to restore order, Krzyzewski returned to his bench and told his assistants “If I ever act like that guy, just shoot me.’’

Yet around adult beverages at the hospitality rooms of ACC Tournaments, we marveled at how completely, over the years, K morphed into Dean.

Both could be bullies.

Both could be so, so petty.

And yet both were far and away better at doing what all the other coaches in the ACC have ever done.

The true test of an individual is the mark they make. Smith and Krzyzewski challenged everyone around them, but they also inspired them and taught them and made them better people.

What they taught one sportswriter was to never ask a question without thinking it through. And they also taught me that greatness doesn’t come in a nice, comfortable, compatible package.

212 pointsGary Williams (Maryland, from 1989-90 through 2010-11).

The first 10 or so seasons Williams was in the conference, I never understood what he was doing still on the bench five minutes into the game. He had already made such a sweating, screaming, cursing spectacle of himself on the sidelines that, in my mind, he should have been tossed.

Yes he was profoundly profane. And yes he was as often as not utterly out of control. But over the years I gained a grudging respect for the guy. He had a biting, irreverent sense of humor that I, in time, warmed to.

People who knew him better than I said “that’s just Gary being Gary.’’ The officials must have felt the same way, or he would have never survived a complete game.

But he was good enough as a coach to last 22 years in the meat-grinder of the ACC. And he was good enough to win it all in 2002.

Yeah, Gary was a load. But show me one great coach who wasn’t.

268 pointsVic Bubas (Duke, 1959-60 through 1968-69).

Dave Odom was 47 when he got his first head coaching job in the ACC. Norm Sloan was 41, Bones McKinney 39.

By the time Bubas was 42, he was through.

Ten years is the blink of an eye in the history of ACC basketball, but what Bubas accomplished in that short span will, hopefully, never be forgotten. In many ways he prodded ACC basketball into the modern era, when the job as head coach became not so much a pursuit as a profession.

Dean Smith said Vic Bubas taught ACC coaches how to recruit. He also taught them much else. For a more comprehensive look at what this remarkable man did, just scroll back to my post of April 17 written a day or two after he died.

482 pointsRoy Williams (North Carolina, 2003-04 through present).

A confession rarely if ever made during my 25 seasons spent as Wake beat reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal. Not only did I attend arch-rival North Carolina, so did my older brother Tom. And so did my younger brother Joe. And so did my wife Tybee. And so did my daughter Rebecca. So did two nephews, Ward and T.J. Collins. And so did a first cousin, Ronnie Clements.

And obviously so did so many of my best friends in the world.

None of them really believe that I don’t bleed Carolina blue after every loss. None of them really believe me when go on and on about how a person can be a sportswriter or a fan, but can’t be both.

But all this connection with the Tar Heels fan base does give me a special insight to what the True Blue think and why.

So I admit I had a good chuckle a couple of years ago when Tom and one of my closest friends, Moose Pulley, mentioned that they’re actually starting to warm up to Roy Williams.

Yes Williams, as head coach at Kansas, did once say he didn’t give a whit (only that’s not exactly what he said) about Carolina.

And all it took was three national championships for T.C. and Moose to get over it and — ever so grudgingly — give Roy his due.

1,018 pointsDean Smith (North Carolina, 1961-62 through 1996-97).

I’ve heard it said that the worst reason to hire anyone for anything is because they happen to be next-in-line when the job comes open. Dean Smith proved otherwise.

It was somewhat of a fluke Dean Smith was ever head coach at North Carolina. When Frank McGuire left Chapel Hill for the NBA in 1961, he left the program in a mess with the NCAA. Smith, then head assistant, helped Chancellor William Aycock answer the NCAA’s charges, and the more Aycock was around Smith, the more impressed he became.

Smith was 39 in his 10th season as the Tar Heels head coach when I showed up as a freshman at Chapel Hill in 1970-71. I worked six years at the local paper, where I became sports editor my last season.

And of course I covered him for 20 more seasons when I left Chapel Hill for Winston.

I’ve regaled friends over the years with too many Dean Smith stories to even get started on telling here. But it’s safe to say it was quite a trip dealing with the distinct dichotomy of greatness.

1,193 pointsMike Krzyzewski (Duke, 1980-81 through present).

Ron Wellman relied on his gut when he hired Jeff Bzdelik, a journeyman who had spent much of his career in the NBA, as head basketball coach at Wake. He relied on his gut when he hired Danny Manning, who had been a college head coach for only two seasons.

Not all decisions made from the gut work out. Most don’t.

But Tom Butters, Duke’s director of athletics, had little else to rely on when he made the greatest hire in the history of ACC basketball, if not in the college game itself.

Krzyzewski, when Butters interviewed him for the job, was coming off a 9-17 season at Army, of all places. He was 32 years old.

I’d always heard that he got the Duke job on the recommendation of Bobby Knight, for whom Krzyzewski had played for at Army. Al Featherston, a good friend and expert on all things Duke basketball, set me straight.

Butters contacted Knight only after he had called Krzyzewski back before boarding the outbound flight at the Raleigh-Durham airport and – pushed hard by Steve Vacendak, a former player who was Butters’ assistant – given Krzyzewski the job.

What Knight told Butters was he didn’t recommend Krzyzewski only because he thought there was no way Butters would ever give a 32-year-old coach coming off a 9-17 season at Army any consideration.

Feather also mentioned another juicy what-if from the story. Krzyzewski had already been offered the head job at Iowa State, but didn’t accept because of the remote possibility he might get involved at Duke.

Just think how much different college basketball might have been.

1 point – ACC wins over .500 (including ACC Tournament).

1 point – NIT win (post 1974).

2 points – NIT win (through 1974).

3 points – ACC Coach of the Year.

4 points – NCAA Tournament win.

5 points – Tie for first in ACC regular season.

5 points – NIT Championship (post 1974).

7 points – first in ACC regular season.

7 points – NIT Championship (through 1974).

7 points – National Coach of the Year.

10 points – ACC Championship (post 1974).

12 points – ACC Championship (through 1974).

15 points – Final four (without winning NCAA Championship).

20 points – National Championship.

ACC Coaches Hall of Fame: Middle Five

The beauty of history is that it provides context.

It’s been just short of 30 years – or roughly a generation – since N.C. State won anything really worth winning in basketball. The Wolfpack, in 1988-89, finished first in the ACC regular season and was top seed in that season’s tournament in Atlanta.

The celebration was over before it ever had a chance to get started. N.C. State became the first top seed to get jettisoned in the first round, when No. 8 seed Maryland routed the Wolfpack 71-49 in what Coach Jim Valvano infamously dubbed “The Nightmare on Peachtree Street.’’

N.C. State won 10 conference games that season. Maryland won one.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything exactly like that,’’ Valvano said afterward. “We went through an entire game without doing the first thing right.’’

The “mastermind” of one of the conference’s most confounding upsets never coached another ACC game. Bob Wade, the Terps’ head coach, collapsed in the victorious locker room and was rushed to the hospital. His assistants, Dr. Ron Bradley and Jeff Adkins, took over the reins the next day and coached the Terps to an 88-58 drubbing by No. 4 seed North Carolina.

Valvano, himself, coached only one more season. A writer named Peter Golenbock hacked out a sloppy, widely-discredited book called “Personal Fouls,’’ chronicling all the misdeeds in the program, and the Poole Commission launched by the UNC system enlisted the help of the SBI to conduct a six-month investigation.

The result was the resignation of Bruce Poulton as chancellor, the removal of Valvano as director of athletics, a two-year probation by the NCAA and a number of self-imposed penalties that proved crippling.

Valvano was replaced by Les Robinson as head coach after the 1989-90 season.

All these years later there are scores of irate Wolfpack fans who will swear on the No. 44 jersey of David Thompson that the program got royally screwed by both the ACC and the NCAA. They’ll admit that Valvano, as an administrator, was a good basketball coach, but will go to their graves convinced that the course correction set in motion by the university was, in fact, a grievous over-correction that doomed a generation to the frustrations of the past three decades.

They make a good case made even better by how rival North Carolina was able to skate past the abyss of its own academic-fraud scandal of recent years.

Wolfpack fans obviously paid the heaviest price, but the ACC, as a conference, has never quite been the same either. Because those who know ACC basketball history know just how good N.C. State was over the first 35 years of the conference.

Back then, the Big Two – Duke and North Carolina – was actually the Big Three. Coming out of the 1988-89 regular season, Wolfpack fans could have argued, convincingly, in my mind, that their basketball heritage was every bit as rich – if not richer – than that of Duke.

The Blue Devils, at the time, had never won any of their five national championships. N.C. State had won two, in 1974 and 1983. And whereas Duke had won eight ACC titles, the Wolfpack had won 10.

I know this stuff partly because I love history, but also because I was there. I was lucky enough to start my career when the best college basketball team in America played for N.C. State. I’ve seen hundreds – make that thousands – of players come through the league in my time but I’ve never seen another the equal of David Thompson.

To know ACC basketball history is to know how glorious the glory years were at N.C. State. And two men most responsible, Everett Case and Norm Sloan, are two of the coaches I’m paying tribute to in my ACC Coaches Hall of Fame.

For anyone new to My Take on Whatever, I devised a formula (which will be reprinted at the end of this post) to identify the greatest coaches in ACC history. I came up with a list of 15, the final five (Dave Odom, Lefty Driesell, Bones McKinney, Valvano and Bobby Cremins) of which I presented last week.

When my busy retirement schedule allows it, I will present the five who compiled the most points in days to come. Today we will honor the middle five, all of them well-deserved legends.

140 pointsNorm Sloan (N.C. State, 1966-67 through 1979-80).

A knock I’ve heard is that if you take away the three years David Thompson was eligible for varsity basketball, then Sloan had a losing record in ACC play. Sure enough, he was 69-73 without King David on the court.

But the Pack was a first-division ACC team under Sloan in 1968, 1969, 1970 and 1972, and pulled off a stunning upset by beating juggernaut South Carolina – which had finished 14-0 in the regular season – for the 1970 ACC Tournament championship. And after Thompson graduated (which superstars actually did back then), the Wolfpack also had winning conference records in 1976 (7-5), 1978 (7-5) and 1980 (9-5).

In Sloan’s best years, the Pack absolutely dominated, running the table with 12-0 regular-season records in 1972-73 and 1973-74 and winning back-to-back ACC titles. Sloan, lest we forget, beat UCLA and then Marquette for the 1974 national championship, and the Pack would have been hard to beat the season before if it had not been on NCAA probation.

140 pointsEverett Case (N.C. State, 1946-47 through 1963-64).

Before you start grumbling about the Gray Fox not being ranked higher, be advised that only his accomplishments in ACC play were taken into consideration. Case dominated the Southern Conference before the formation of the ACC, and if he received credit for his six SouCon titles (not to mention the Wolfpack’s appearance in the 1950 Final Four) then I would be writing about Case as one of the first five.

Sure he had the advantage of all four of his ACC championships being won on his home floor of Reynolds Coliseum, which was the site of the first 13 tournaments because of its cavernous (for the time) seating capacity of 12,400. But to be the best in the early years of the ACC, you had to beat the best.

And the best team, season after season, was the N.C. State Wolfpack coached by Everett Case.

142 pointsTony Bennett (2009-10 through present time).

This whole project began when I got to wondering how Bennett, clearly one of the rising stars in the coaching profession, would compare to other great coaches in ACC history.

The answer?

Obviously quite well.

Yeah, I’m well-aware that Bennett hasn’t quite gotten this NCAA Tournament thing figured out, as we all saw two months ago when his Cavs lost to upstart UMBC to become the first No. 1 seed to ever lose in the first round.

But that didn’t completely erase the luster of an otherwise sparkling season when Virginia, picked by the sportswriters to finish sixth, ran roughshod over the league on the way to a 17-1 regular-season record. For his efforts, Bennett was named ACC Coach of the Year for a third time and National Coach of the Year for a second time.

Bennett, who won’t turn 49 until June 1, appears to have plenty of outstanding seasons ahead of himself and Virginia basketball. So now the question becomes, where will he be ranked when he coaches his last ACC game?

144 pointsTerry Holland (1974-75 through 1989-90).

Holland’s ranking as seventh most successful coach by my formula might have been the biggest surprise of this project. What I remembered best about him was his failure to ever win any title other than that of the NIT during the four years he coached Ralph Sampson.

But it’s easy to forget that he won an ACC title in 1976 before Sampson ever arrived, and he reached the Final Four both with Sampson in 1981 and after Sampson in 1984.

The 1976 ACC title surprised not only North Carolina, the No. 1 seed who lost in the championship, but the sixth-seed Cavaliers as well.

“We all had made plans to go to Florida next week for spring vacation,’’ star Wally Walker said. “But we’ll gladly change that.’’

A coach doesn’t coach anywhere for 16 seasons – which is how long Holland coached at Virginia — unless he knows what he’s doing. Holland also made many friends during his time as one of the true gentlemen of the ACC.

200 points Frank McGuire (North Carolina, 1953-54 through 1960-61; South Carolina, 1964-65 through 1970-71).

Seeings how I don’t remember meeting McGuire, obviously I never did. Knowing what I know about the man, he was bigger than life, and thus not someone anyone could that easily forget.

He would be a legend today if for nothing else than levitating North Carolina to a 32-0 record and a NCAA Championship over Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas in 1957. And if anyone has ever gone out on top it would be McGuire, who won the 1971 ACC title in the last game South Carolina played before departing the conference.

McGuire piled up 153 points at North Carolina, which, as it turns out, would have ranked him the same spot (sixth overall) among my Hall of Fame of ACC Coaches.

Other than the fabled run of 1957, he never did anything worth remembering in the NCAA Tournament.

But he was an unforgettable character of ACC lore who knew people, knew how to recruit and knew how to win. And he also knew enough to such mundane details as Xs and Os to his assistants.

My formula for induction in ACC Coaches Hall of Fame (Cut-off, 100 points).

1 point – ACC wins over .500 (including ACC Tournament).

1 point – NIT win (post 1974).

2 points – NIT win (through 1974).

3 points – ACC Coach of the Year.

4 points – NCAA Tournament win.

5 points – Tie for first in ACC regular season.

5 points – NIT Championship (post 1974).

7 points – first in ACC regular season.

7 points – NIT Championship (through 1974).

7 points – National Coach of the Year.

10 points – ACC Championship (post 1974).

12 points – ACC Championship (through 1974).

15 points – Final four (without winning NCAA Championship).

20 points – National Championship.

ACC Coaches Hall of Fame: Final Five

If being a head basketball coach in the ACC were easy – as I’ve mentioned before – anyone could do it.

To date, 84 coaches have tried. That’s not counting Jeff Capel or Chris Mack, who won’t send their teams at Pitt and Louisville into battle until next season. But it does include the six that coached at South Carolina and the six at Maryland before those schools flew the conference coop.

Of those seven dozen coaches hired by ACC programs, a good number are today little more than footnotes in the conference’s backpages. Did you by any chance know that the league’s first Frank Johnson was actually head coach at South Carolina in the Gamecocks’ first five seasons in the league instead of an All-ACC guard who played for Wake Forest from the late 1970s into the 1980s?

And does the name Evan J. Male – the head guy at Virginia for the first four seasons of the conference – ring a bell for anyone other than those steeped most deeply in Cavalier basketball history?

Counting interims Dwane Morrison at South Carolina, Neill McGeachy and Pete Gaudet at Duke and Dave Padgett at Louisville, eight didn’t survive their first season. Five more couldn’t last more than two.

At the risk of repeating myself, again, if being a head coach in the ACC were easy, anyone could do it.

As a history buff who spent his professional career covering ACC basketball, I got to wondering a month or so ago who has done it the very best. Wanting to take as objective of an approach as possible, I devised a formula that I trotted out here March 20, only to revise and post again on April 23.

The improvements in the formula take into account how critical it was to win the ACC Championship in a day when only the champion advanced to the NCAA Tournament, as well as the considerable loss of luster of the NIT once the NCAA Tournament Field expanded to include multiple teams from the same conference in 1975.

The formula I settled on is as follows:

1 point – ACC wins over .500 (including ACC Tournament).

1 point – NIT win (post 1974).

2 points – NIT win (through 1974).

3 points – ACC Coach of the Year.

4 points – NCAA Tournament win.

5 points – Tie for first in ACC regular season.

5 points – NIT Championship (post 1974).

7 points – first in ACC regular season.

7 points – NIT Championship (through 1974).

7 points – National Coach of the Year.

10 points – ACC Championship (post 1974).

12 points – ACC Championship (through 1974).

15 points – Final four (without winning NCAA Championship).

20 points – National Championship.

So with today’s post, to build the suspense, I’ll reveal the final five, their point totals and a synopsis of how they accumulated the 100 points needed to make the cut. Check this space in days to come for the middle five and the first five.

106 pointsDave Odom (Wake Forest, 1989-90 through 2000-01).

For full disclosure, I’ll admit I was relieved and happy to see Dave make my own personal ACC Coaches Hall of Fame. He’s the coach I got to know best during my career, and a person that I, to this day, consider a good friend.

Besides, when I’m lucky I still see Dave and his wife Lynn around Winston, and I wasn’t looking forward to trying to explain how he got left out.

You may have noticed that the baseline, so to speak, for my formula is how the coach fared in ACC play, against the coaches he was hired to beat. So Dave had some ground to make up, given he was 110-97 (or plus-13) in intra-conference games.

But the back-to-back ACC Championships of 1995 and 1996 obviously helped, as did his 10 victories in NCAA Tournament play.

110 pointsLefty Driesell (Maryland, 1969-70 through 1985-86).

A pretty convincing case could be made that the Ol’ Left-Hander, for all his colorful bombast and longevity, was the most over-rated coach in ACC history. What might sound like heresy in some circles could be explained by the fact he won a total of one ACC championship and never really made much noise in the Dance.

But he did win the NIT championship in 1972, back when doing so was quite an accomplishment. And perhaps no coach in conference history was so penalized by the rule that allowed only one team per conference to play in the NCAA Tournament.

His 1973-74 edition featuring Tom McMillen, John Lucas and Len Elmore was hailed as one of the best teams in the country, which it proved by winning 23 of 28 games and extending eventual champion N.C. State into overtime before losing the ACC Championship 103-100.

113 pointsBones McKinney (Wake Forest, 1957-58 through 1964-65).

The ultimate shooting star in my ACC Coaches Hall of Fame. He lit up the sky before burning out eight years into his run from too many late Saturday nights followed hard by too many early Sunday mornings trying to reach a Baptist pulpit to preach his weekly sermon.

So what would Bones McKinley have accomplished if not for the addictions to pills and alcohol that flushed him from the college coaching ranks at the age of 45. We’ll never know, but what was clear was the man could coach.

Wake had never won an ACC Championship before McKinney won two, in 1961 and 1962. And the Deacons never made a Final Four before or since he piloted his 1962 team featuring Len Chappell, Billy Packer and Dave Wiedeman to Louisville’s Freedom Hall, where they lost to Jerry Lucas and Ohio State.

And against ACC competition, McKinney was 81-49 – despite going 8-20 in his first two seasons after succeeding Murray Greason.

114 points Jim Valvano (N.C. State, 1980-81 through 1989-90).

Could there be an ACC Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame without Jimmy V? Of course not.

Hence the trepidation of what it would mean to my formula when I found that Valvano was 71-69 against the conference in regular-season play and only 9-8 in the ACC Tournament.

But I meant for the formula to be weighted toward the one accomplishment that will be remembered after all the others have been forgotten. So I knew the 20 points he logged for the Wolfpack’s miracle run to the 1983 National Championship would give him a shot.

The ultimate tournament coach, Valvano also followed his ACC title of 1983 – the one he needed to even make the Dance – with another in 1987.

An average at best coach from November through February, Valvano was a grand master in March – compiling a 14-6 record in NCAA Tournament play.

133 pointsBobby Cremins (Georgia Tech, 1981-82 through 1989-90).

Another personal favorite, Cremins had to dig out of what appeared to be a bottomless pit to make my ACC Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame. The Yellow Jackets were historically bad when he took over from the hapless Morrison, and proceeded to win seven and lose 21 in Cremins’ first two seasons.

But the Jackets arrived as conference heavyweights with the 1985 conference championship in Atlanta with one of my all-time favorite ACC teams. And Cremins won another ACC title in 1990 and then another in 1993.

So he would have made the cut even without the 15 points picked up for coaching Georgia Tech to the 1990 Final Four. Another example of good things happening to good people.

From the Foxhole to the NBA

Four of the longest years of my sportswriting career were spent in a foxhole with Jeff Bzdelik.

Bzdelik was the embattled head basketball coach at Wake and I was the embedded reporter writing for the local paper.

It was hard to not have at least a modicum of sympathy for Bzdelik. The in-coming fire from all sectors of the Wake fan base was relentless. Billboards were going up demanding his ouster. There were even efforts to fly a plane over a football game hauling a BUZZ OUT banner, which, as my pal Brett “Freebird” Friedlander chronicled, never got off the ground.

Four years later, the landscape of Wake basketball is still scarred from the conflagration that raged from the time Bzdelik was hired in April of 2010 until he was finally shown the door in May of 2014. Tumultuous only begins to describe what we all – Bzdelik, the team, you the fans and I the local beat guy – went through.

None of which is to suggest the uproar was senseless or wrong. Ron Wellman, the director of athletics, fired a coach, Dino Gaudio, who was 61-31 in favor of one who began his tenure by losing to a Stetson team so bad that the coach was cut loose in mid-season. In his four seasons, Bzdelik went 1-15, 4-12, 6-12 and 6-12 against the ACC coaches he was hired to beat.

But Wellman’s original sin in this matter was not explaining to the Wake fans why Bzdelik was head coach in the first place. The rationale he gave for firing Gaudio was lack of late-season and post-season success, which crumbled as soon as he replaced him with a man who had never won an NCAA Tournament game.

Left to wonder why Wellman really made the move, fans came up with all kinds of theories. In my own mind I’ve concluded that Wellman looked at Gaudio and didn’t see the face he wanted for Wake’s basketball program.

Having lost three irreplaceable sophomores (Jeff Teague, James Johnson and Al-Farouq Aminu) over two seasons to an early exit for the NBA, the Deacons were on a downward slide. That was obvious to anyone looking closely enough.

But where Wellman came up with the idea that Bzdelik was the right man at the right time is a question I’ll be asking myself the rest of my days.

Personally I liked Bzdelik. He was quirky as can be, but if that was a disqualifying factor then the number of people I call close friends could probably be counted on one hand. He was also one of the most bewildered – and bewildering – characters I’ve ever come across. One-on-one he could be pretty good, as least as good as most of the coaches I covered. But put him in front of a media gathering, and he would ramble off into directions no one in the room could follow.

I can only imagine what he was like facing his team in the locker room minutes before sending them onto the floor for a big game, but his record at least suggests that the Deacons found him as incomprehensible as the rest of us did.

We could see the man knows the game of basketball. On the rare occasion Wake could stay in the game until the closing minutes, Bzdelik won his share and perhaps even a few more. But what the Bzdelik experience at Wake confirmed was that there’s far more to running a major college basketball program than expertise at the X’s and O’s.

Being in a foxhole with a guy assures familiarity. And Bzdelik became familiar enough to tell me his troubles, to unload from time to time. He’d tell me `I’m not worried. If they get rid of me today, I could have a job in the NBA tomorrow.’ If he told me that once, he told me at least a half-dozen times.

And, as it turns out, he was right. I’m getting a kick out of watching the Houston Rockets in the NBA playoffs and seeing Bzdelik, forearms on knees, on the bench alongside head coach Mike D’Antoni. Bzdelik is D’Antoni’s defensive guru, and the defensive improvements the Rockets have made since last year is one of the major storylines of Houston’s season.

Different league, different time, different chapter of the Jeff Bzdelik story. I’m happy for my former foxhole mate, glad that he landed on his feet.

So Wellman saw, in Bzdelik, a man with an exceptional basketball mind. But if he had looked closely enough, he would have seen what the rest of us saw – a specialist who was far too limited to ever be the head basketball coach at Wake.