By the time I retired from writing for daily newspapers in August of 2017, I had long since concluded that no story should ever be written about any coach in any sport at any time in the history of that sport without at least a fleeting reference the Grand Disclaimer of All-Time.
A coach who wins often enough can do no wrong.
A coach who loses often enough can do no right.
If Wake was 75-58– and more to the point, 52-20 in ACC play – over Danny Manning’s four-plus seasons as head coach, it would matter little that Manning was hired after a run of six good weeks during his second season at Tulsa.
It would matter little that because of his guarded, some might say aloof nature, he has forged little to no connection with the media or fanbase.
It would matter little that he has yet to answer (that I’ve heard) any question asked him with any specificity or detail.
It would matter little that Manning at least appears to lack the fire in the belly of a Chris Mack or a Buzz Williams or a Jeff Capel or a Roy Williams or a Mike Kzyzewski or a Kevin Keatts or, for that matter, most any of his of his fellow coaching brethren.
And I don’t even think it would matter all that much that five players with eligibility remaining voted with their feet, by departing the program in search of greener pastures since last season.
But the cold hard facts of life for that ever-dwindling core of Wake fans who have yet to give up on the program are that Manning is not 74-56 and 20-52 in ACC play over his four-plus seasons as Wake’s head coach.
Manning, instead is, 58-75 and 20-52.
And because he loses and loses often, all the above questions and criticisms do matter, and they matter greatly.
And what matters even more is that in Manning’s fifth season as head coach his team is losing at home to one of the worst teams in all of college basketball, Houston Baptist. What matters even more is that in Manning’s fifth season as head coach, his team is extended into the final minute to beat another of the worst teams in college basketball, Western Carolina.
Again, at home.
What matters even more is that during a three-day period when the rest of the ACC is either coming off, playing or getting ready to play games in the vaunted ACC/Big Ten Challenge on packages televised across the globe, Wake is playing at home against Western Carolina in front of 3,500 gluttons for punishment.
As my man Evan Lepler mentioned during the play-by-play streaming on ACCN Extra, Wake was in exile from the ACC last night. Pitt, the only team picked to finish below Wake this season, was making a damn good showing in a 69-68 loss at 14th-ranked Iowa. N.C. State gave Wisconsin all it wanted at one of the toughest places to win in all of college basketball, the notorious Kohl Center. And Louisville was giving ACC foes a glimpse of what to expect under Mack by knocking off No. 9 Michigan State.
All while, once again, Wake is barely beating Western Carolina at home in front of 3,500 gluttons for punishment.
Has there ever been a time when Wake’s ties to the ACC – at least in the flagship sport of basketball – felt more tenuous?
Looking for some explanation, some reasonable alibi or justification for what I had just watched on ACCN streaming, I checked out Manning’s post-game address on Les Johns’ Demon Deacon Digest. Since retirement I’ve gotten really good at wasting time.
Asked if he was surprised to to find himself in a game late after leading 21-3 early, Manning’s answer was “that’s college basketball.’’
Well that’s not college basketball as played at SMU, which beat Western Carolina by 33. That’s not college basketball as played by Jacksonville State, which beat Western Carolina by 31. That’s not college basketball as played at Arizona, which beat Houston Baptist by 30. That’s not college basketball as played at Wisconsin, which beat Houston Baptist by 37.
But it is college basketball as played at Wake in Danny Manning’s fifth season as head coach.
The one rationalization Manning was quick to mention was the inexperience of his fifth team at Wake Forest.
“We’re a young team,’’ he said. And then he repeated it.
What he didn’t mention is that Bryant Crawford, Doral Moore and Keyshawn Woods had, among them, played a combined 247 games at Wake, and all had eligibility remaining. All were bragged on time and again by Manning during their career at Wake, and yet all chose to play this season elsewhere – Crawford in Israel, Moore in the G-Leage and Woods as a highly effective grad transfer at Ohio State.
Yes Wake is young, again. And there’s a reason Wake is young, again.
But is there any reason Danny Manning is still head basketball coach at Wake Forest?
If so, I’d love to hear it.