Forbes’ Fire in the Belly

Even before Steve Forbes first won an ACC game, I was sold.

The long lost decade of Wake Forest basketball is coming to a merciful – and long overdue – end.

Even before Steve Forbes first won an ACC game, his Deacons were a handful for pretty much every team they played – the obvious exception being Georgia Tech. Even while losing their first six conference games, the Deacons reminded me of bubble gum stuck to a Nike.

You can take a butter knife and dig at that bubble gum, by gum, but it’s all but impossible to carve away.

The Deacons play hard. They play tough. And, most of all, they are tenacious.

And sitting on the couch of my locked-down Oldtown hacienda, I’ve been loving it.

Those faithful fans who have stuck with Wake Forest deserve better than they got over the past 10 seasons. The once proud basketball tradition was shredded by one losing season after another, but what was most depressing was a sense that nothing was changing.

To ever crawl out of the wilderness, the Deacons needed a real coach.

And in Steve Forbes, they have one.

Unlike his two most recent predecessors, Forbes has personality. And as the likes of Jim Valvano and Skip Prosser have taught us, personality can go a long ways toward building support and passion for a program.

But the biggest difference among Forbes and his two most recent predecessors is his hunger. He wins as a coach because he can’t afford to lose. He has no comfortable seat on an NBA bench or a mic in an ESPN studio to fall back on.

All successful coaches are hungry. Mike Krzyzewski, the most successful coach in college basketball history, arrived in the ACC as hungry as any coach I’ve ever covered – with the possible exception being his fellow Hall-of-Famer, Dean Smith.

To find a good college basketball coach, look for the fire in the belly.

And if you’re looking for a coach at Wake Forest, where nothing is guaranteed, that fire had best be raging.

The fire was raging in Forbes’ belly when he decided, as a Sports Information Director at his alma mater Southern Arkansas University, that he wanted to coach. It was raging ever hotter as he clawed his way up the ranks of the profession as an assistant at Southwestern Community College, Barton Community College, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, Texas A&M and Tennessee.

And when he suffered a fall from grace that would have extinguished the flame in most of us – the firing from Tennessee when head coach Bruce Pearl was busted by the NCAA for recruiting violations – Forbes simply rolled up his sleeve and started over at Northwest Florida State.

Do you reckon any of the two most recent Wake coaches have ever heard of Northwest Florida State? If so, that makes one of us.

Undaunted Forbes made enough of a name in two seasons as an assistant at Wichita State to get a crack at a head coaching job at East Tennessee State. With failuire, once again, no option, Forbes won 130 of 173 games and two conference championships in his five seasons in the backwater of Johnson City, Tennessee.

Still he arrived at Wake with something to prove. A man like Steve Forbes of Lone Tree, Iowa, will always have something to prove – to himself if nobody else.

Even before he assembled and kept together a competitive team during a pandemic, even before he beat Pitt and Boston College, even before his Deacons took a powerful Florida State team to overtime, Steve Forbes had proven to me that he’s the right man for the job.

I’ve loved the way he threw the greenest of rookies Carter Whitt into the fire almost as soon as he arrived on campus from high school. Nobody but the Deacons expect anything from the Deacons this season, so I figured the experience would do the kid a world of good.

And judging from Whitt’s most recent performances – including his nine-assist, three-turnover game at Florida State — I was right.

I loved the way he dealt with the selfishness he saw in the debacle at Notre Dame, which he rightly ascribed to the results of the “disease of me.’’ You have to wonder how a coach deals with a player such as Ismael Massoud, who two games after lighting up Pittsburgh for 31 points, played 12 minutes without scoring against Miami. You have to wonder how a coach deals with a Jahcobi Neath, whose hopes of being a major player this season have been largely usurped by transfer Daivien Williamson and Whitt,

And I especially loved his final comment after the victory over Boston College, when a reporter urged Forbes to “enjoy that beer.’’

“Oh it won’t be one,’’ Forbe deadpanned. “I can promise you that.’’

Finally after a decade no one will ever want to remember, Wake has a coach after my own heart – not to mention my own taste buds and my own belly.

11 thoughts on “Forbes’ Fire in the Belly

  1. Great article! Always loved reading your take after all the games! Keep them coming! I love Coach Forbes’ style of coaching. Nice to have a coach into the game and expressing emotion!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dan- as always I enjoyed your “take” on WF basketball. It’s been a long 10 years but now there is something to be proud of again with Wake basketball. They play hard, are competitive and never give up! As Coach Forbes said, “he was hired to fix that losing is okay” (after the ND debacle), and he has fixed that mentality to the most extent and he will win consistently in the near future.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Forbes is a stone cold competitor, teacher and motivator. In time, he’ll also be called a big time winner. Thank goodness for the chubby bespectacled bald guy from Lone Tree, Iowa, and for John Currie’s home run hire! GO DEACS!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good article Dan! After what you and I sat through for 10 years, it feels good to see Wake get a coach with “fire in his belly”. Hope you and family are well

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dan, I agree with your assessment of Forbes…great hire, like the guy. I think Wake will be good at some point…but they’ve followed up that one missed free throw from winning at FSU performance with pretty much total stink bombs at home against Duke, NC State and as I wrote this note, losing 29-15 at half at home against Clemson! I didn’t expect very much from this team, especially after losing out on most of the preseason schedule due to the pandemic. But I’m not sure they’re going to win another game. It’s going to take Forbes a couple/few years to get this program winning consistently again. After the last decade of misery…yes, we’ve FINALLY got the right guy as head coach…but Rome wasn’t built in a day!


  6. Dan, Are you still convinced Forbes is the guy after the 3 most recent disasters at home? Has this team given up on this season? I realize it’s gonna take time to rebuild this train wreck we call Wake b-ball but I was hoping for a little better record at this point. He needs tough physical players and I think he’s got very few of them this year.


    1. Hey Mark. Great hearing from you. I agree with you. Forbes faced a massive rebuild from not two, not five, not eight, but 10 years of total irrelevance in the ACC. When I wrote for the paper, my rule of thumb was to give every new coach at least a year or two to show what they can do. It was pretty obvious two years into the past two tenures that Wake had the wrong guy at the helm. Despite what we’ve seen in the past couple of weeks, I still think Forbes is a much better hire than the past two. I base that on his track record, personality, energy and willingness to engage those who love Wake basketball. The jarring losses may, in time, help serve his purposes, by driving home the point of how hard it is to win the ACC and how much work and commitment it takes. If by late February next season Wake is still getting trampled by Duke, State and Clemson in succession I might reassess my opinion. But we’ll see, and we’ll see together.


      1. Seems like a decent enough coach. Except lots of transfers and no recruits. Bummer that Coach Miller passed on Wake.


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