A Bright New Day for Wake Hoops

The position of head basketball coach at Wake became a better job Sunday than it was Saturday.

Overnight, with the announcement that John Currie is replacing a retiring Ron Wellman as director of athletics, it became a much different, much, much better job.

Let’s just imagine that you’re one of the nation’s hottest candidates for a Power Five Conference – no, go a step further and make it an ACC job – and you get a call from an athletics director to gauge your interest in coaching at his program.

And let’s just say the call comes from a 70-year-old A.D. who has over the past nine years been attempting – quite unsuccessfully, mind you – to quell a fan insurrection over the plummeting fortunes of his program resulting from two historically disastrous coaching hires.

You know you’re going to walk into the biggest mess said basketball program has ever seen and you have to wonder how long the man hiring you will even be on the job.

Thanks, but no thanks.

Now let’s say the call comes from a bright, charismatic 47-year-old A.D. who has just been hired to put his stamp on the program. And let’s say said A.D. has already displayed enough prescience to hire Bruce Pearl (who for all his baggage did average 24 victories a season at UT and coach his team into the NCAA Tournament all six seasons) at one school and Bruce Weber (currently 147-87 at Kansas State) at another.

You just have to know how hungry the school is to again have a winning basketball program and you know there are rich alumni willing to spend big bucks. If they have enough money to build a glittering 21st-century building, they have enough to finance a winning basketball program.

And you know just how important it is for the A.D. to make the right hire, and that he’s going to do whatever he can to give you the resources and support needed to get the job done right.

You know you and your A.D. are going to be in this thing together.

He’ll be your guy, and you’ll be his.

That’s a call I have to guess that pretty much everyone not named Krzyzewski, Williams, Boeheim or Bennett is going to at least return.

A new day dawned Sunday on Wake basketball, a bright, new day replete with all the hope that has been for the most part missing over the last long demoralizing nine seasons. And, personally, I’m so happy for a beleaguered fan base that has been subjected to so much heartbreak and humiliation since April of 2010 when Ron Wellman hired Jeff Bzdelik as head basketball coach at Wake.

All of this presupposes, of course, that Wake will have a new head basketball coach along with a new A.D. And I doubt much will be said about that at today’s media conference called to introduce the guy coming in, Currie, and say good things about the guy leaving Wellman.

And that’s entirely proper. Wellman, despite botching the last two basketball hires, did a laudable and in some ways amazing job during his 27 years as Wake’s director of athletics. That might be akin to saying that despite that little Vietnam issue, Lyndon Baines Johnson was a hell of a president. But being director of athletics at by far the smallest school in the ACC is a hard job, and over the first two-thirds of his run, Ron Wellman was a hell of an A.D.

He deserves his due. I say we all be big and remember Jim Grobe and Dave Clawson and NCAA titles in field hockey, soccer and tennis.

All that said, without a change in basketball, the hiring of John Currie as A.D. makes absolutely no sense. Surely Nathan Hatch and Mit Shah and Ben Sutton and the others calling the shots these days at Wake are too smart to even contemplate retaining Danny Manning as head basketball coach.

If John Currie accepted the job knowing he would be saddled with Danny Manning as his basketball coach, he’s not as smart as I’ve been told he is.

First off, Manning has been an abysmal failure. Anyone can see that the definition of failure is to be 4-12 in your conference (with eight of the 12 losses by at least 20 points) in your fifth season at the helm and being destined to finish in the bottom third of the league all five seasons.

To saddle the new guy with this kind of proven ineptitude would be the height of folly, almost as silly as replacing a coach with a 61-31 record with an infamously inarticulate career NBA assistant with a 111-105 record over seven seasons as a college head coach.

The one person who didn’t have cause to celebrate Sunday’s announcement was Danny Manning. The ground beneath him and his staff shook violently.

For human nature is such that any manager hired for any position is going to want to put their stamp on things. He or she are going to want their people in the most important positions.

I’ve seen it my whole life. I certainly saw it when Dave Odom preceded Ron Wellman at Wake.

The two co-existed for 10 years – during which Dave won two ACC championships and played in post-season every year — and I’m convinced that each respected the other.

But there was an uneasiness in the relationship. Ron wanted his guy to be the face of the department’s most high profile program, and Dave, who was hired by Gene Hooks, was never going to be Ron’s guy. Both men knew it.

And I’ll be forever convinced that was a prevailing reason contract negotiations broke down during the 2000-2001 season and Dave felt compelled to make the jump to safer ground in South Carolina.

Now instead of saddling Currie with Manning, let him make his mark. Wake hired him to call the shots. Let him start with what will almost certainly be the biggest decision of his entire tenure at the school.

This is not John Currie’s Super Bowl or World Series. Those games are played at the end of the season. This is John Currie’s Daytona 500, for NASCAR is the one sport that presents its biggest event at the start of a new season.

You don’t think John Currie knows how important it’s going to be to hire the right guy to coach at Wake starting next season? You don’t think he’s going to put all the knowledge, energy and contacts he’s accumulated in his 27 years in college athletics into hiring the right guy to coach at Wake next season?

A new day dawned on Wake basketball Sunday, a bright new day replete with all the hope that has been missing from the nightmare of the last nine seasons.

Good for Wake. Good for anyone who still cares about Wake basketball.

9 thoughts on “A Bright New Day for Wake Hoops

  1. What’s this strange feeling? I think it’s… hope?
    It’s been so long that I can’t be sure, but I think it actually is a little bit of hope.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Dan. I am looking forward to reading more about John Currie in the next few weeks from you.

    There is great hope and enthusiasm from the disaffected Wake base with this news. My Deacon friends are very excited, hopeful, and interested once again. Wellman’s retirement and the bright prospects for future Men’s Basketball has the WFU alumni in my circle buzzing far more than any Championship over recent years (as nice as they might be). basketball and football are what we really care about. You understand that and I appreciate your coverage of “the situation” the last decade. Thanks.

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  3. Been dark for so long that the light is overwhelming. Country, HOPE you are right on…Don’t like four letter words but WTH!

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  4. You nailed it again, Dan. Five years late on Wellman “retiring” but better late than never. Cronyism U finally got rid of Wellman. Would love to know what it finally took to force him to retire. Currie seems to be sharp and personable, two traits Wellman lacks. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

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