My Kind of Guy

He’s bald and sports a beard and a belly.

He’s married to a school teacher.

He loves music, enough so that he played in a jazz band  in high school.

He loves history, and enjoys sitting in his recliner and watching it on cable TV. His intellectual curiosity reminds me of another man who coached Wake Forest more than a dozen years ago.

He likes people and isn’t above showing it.

He loves life and all its trappings, and again, isn’t afraid to show it.

He’s not adverse to telling a joke, and knows a good one when he hears it. He’s also not adverse to telling the same joke – if it’s good enough — again, and again, and again.

So I lay down one night, only to wake up to find that Wake Forest has hired my kind of guy to coach its basketball program. Based on the buttoned-up, upper-crust image and identity the school always projected during my 25 or so years as the Deacons’ beat writer for the Winston-Salem Journal, Steve Forbes is among the last people I would have expected to find on John Currie’s list of candidates, much less the one standing behind the podium this morning being introduced as Wake’s next basketball coach.

As stunned as I am at Currie’s decision, I’m even more impressed. Clearly the new director of athletics has ushered in a new era at Wake, one in which appearances and pedigree are nowhere nearly as important as relationships and results.

Sorry Mr. Faulkner, but the past at Wake is finally, at long last, past.

“You can’t be standoffish,’’ Forbes said it this morning’s virtual media conference. “I don’t say no.’’

Exclusion and detachment has been replaced by inclusion and warmth. By the end of his sad, sorely unsuccessful six-season stay at Wake, Danny Manning had been tagged Danny Mannequin. His successor can’t stand still even while standing behind a podium answering questions. He wants to get going. He wants to meet new people. He wants to do what he was hired at Wake to do.

Based on what I’ve read these past few days, and what I saw in this morning’s media conference, John Currie has found and hired the cure to what has ailed Wake basketball over this past lost decade. He has found and hired a coach with a roaring fire in his ample belly. He has hired a coach who hates to lose so bad that he’ll lay awake at night figuring out how not to.

Only in time will we know if his glittering won-loss record at past stops will translate into the kind of success Wake basketball fans once came to expect. But what we already know is that a huge gust of fresh air has whipped through not only the Wake basketball program, but the university as a whole.

And riding that gust is the kind of energy, enthusiasm and hope that has been missing all these years.

Like most of you reading this, I’m excited again for Wake basketball. I’m so excited it makes me wonder – if only for a scant second – if I retired a few seasons too early. What I feel certain about is that two friends who cover Wake daily, Les Johns and Conor O’Neill have a much better beat than they had last week – now that they’re working with a coach who might actually help them do their job.

No, I’m enjoying retirement far too much to contemplate a return, even for the kind of fun I expect to see next year.

But what I will do is extend to Steve Forbes an standing invitation to any Open Mic at Muddy Creek Cafe once the pandemic eases off enough that we can resume. I don’t know what instrument you played in the jazz band Coach, but that hardly matters. And if you’re no Waylon Jennings when it comes to singing, well that’s another similarity we share.

It’s about the making of music among fast friends, something I feel sure you know something about.

Welcome to Winston-Salem, Steve Forbes. About time you got here.

Currie Comes Through

So now that sanity has finally, at long last prevailed at Wake and Danny Manning has been relieved of the duties he spent six interminable years proving he couldn’t fulfill, a question I’ve been mulling for months has been answered.

Just how bad did John Currie want to clean up the mess left by his predecessor, Ron Wellman?

Bad enough, as we found out yesterday, to fire Manning during a pandemic.

And for that, he deserves major props. Good for John Currie, good for the long-suffering fans and even better for the hard-working players who may now, if Currie plays his next hand right, have a chance to actually finish above 10th in the ACC. A new day has dawned, and Currie has shown Wake a way out of the darkness that has enveloped the once-proud program over this lost decade.

But as we all know, a firing – even one as necessary and long-overdue as this one – is only as good as the hiring that follows. To do the job he was hired do do, to pull Wake basketball from the abyss, Currie has to find and hire the right guy.

Or has he already found him? That was on one of the first thoughts that passed through my head upon hearing the news yesterday morning, that it would explain why Currie cut Manning loose on April 24 – and not April 1 or May 15. Yes, Currie did say in yesterday’s media availability that the search is only now beginning. But that’s what a director of athletics has to say to avoid embarrassing both himself and the guy he was cashiering.

(In fact most of what Currie said yesterday was what a man in his situation pretty much has to say – which is as little as possible. I get it. Over my 45 years of sportswriting I asked countless questions I knew there was no way the person could answer. But the questions still have to be asked, just in case clarity and candor might prevail.)

But Currie has had months and months to plot his course of action, and by now has to have a pretty good idea of who he wants and his chances of getting them. Again, my instincts tell me the deal has already gone down, and in a week or so we’ll all find out if I’m right.

The home run hire is obviously John Beilein. He’s a proven coach the fan base could rally around, and he has the kind of name recognition that could attract interest from players exploring greener pastures in the months to come. And if the NCAA does indeed allow players to transfer without penalty, we’ll see more than a few programs go from the outhouse to the penthouse in record time.

John Beilein can coach. I didn’t have to be in Cleveland on March 19, 2005 to know that, but I was there to see his West Virginia squad take out Skip Prosser and Wake in Chris Paul’s final game in gold and black. John Beilein can coach. He’s a proven commodity.

Yeah, I know, he’s an old (67) proven commodity, but Currie’s focus, to my mind, should be on getting Wake out of the ditch it’s currently in, and then concern himself with what happens afterward.

Now is certainly not the time to take another flyer. Wellman took two in a row by hiring Jeff Bzdelik in 2010 and Manning in 2014, and we all know how that worked out.

It’s not that I’m philosophically opposed to a program taking a flyer on a coach. North Carolina took a chance on a relatively unknown assistant who turned out to be Dean Smith. Duke plucked a coach coming off a 9-17 season at Army (of all places) who turned out to be Mike Krzyzewski. And Dave Odom, lest we forget, had a losing record as a head coach before he was hired at Wake by Gene Hooks in 1989, ushering in the longest period of sustained success the program has ever known.

But now is not the time for a gamble. The die-hards who still care about Wake basketball have been through too much already. For Currie to play a hunch — as Wellman did with Bzdelik and Manning – that doesn’t work out would be disastrous and undo all the good he did yesterday.

As for candidates other than Beilein, I’m seeing the same names as you. Wake has done a brutally effective job in the past half-dozen or so years of controlling the message, which is why so few people really know what’s going on in the program. As a small, private school, Wake is well-positioned to avoid transparency, and those days of the program being a reporter’s dream beat are long since gone.

I got to know Pat Kelsey during his stay, and like him. I love his energy and passion. The question there is the same one I have with Wes Miller. How does success at places like Winthrop and UNC Greensboro translate into what he will face going against the likes of Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski, Tony Bennett and Leonard Hamilton?:

I also got to know Russell Turner when he was with Odom in the early 1990s, which, by the way, is when Currie was at Wake as well. Russell is one of my favorite former assistants. He’s smart and driven, and knows what he’s doing. Like another former assistant, Chris Mack, Russell can be a red-ass. That showed up during his unfortunate incident with the player from Oregon during the 2019 NCAA Tournament, for which he apologized repeatedly and profusely. But that said, no one who knows Russell Turner at all would ever recognize him as a bigot.

He just hates to lose, and that rank aversion, on that day, at that moment, got the best of him.

Danny Manning infamously said the day he was introduced as Wake’s coach that his program would be one that hangs its hat on defense. Well Turner’s California-Irvine program has done just that, and the hard-nosed, grind-it-out style of basketball he has fashioned has resulted in five first-place finishes in the Big West and two trips to the NCAA Tournament.

So if you haven’t figured it out by now, in the absence of Beilein, Turner is the man I would want to see standing courtside when next season’s Deacons take the court.

At least it won’t be Danny Manning, which begs one final question.

How bad does a coach have to be to be fired during a pandemic?

Will Insanity Prevail — Again?

Wake will play Pitt Tuesday in the ACC Tournament.

Who cares?

Seriously, who cares?

And for those who do care, I have a second question.

Why?

It’s become painfully obvious in every way that the stewards of the once-proud Wake basketball program – and I’m talking about you Nathan Hatch, Ron Wellman, Mit Shah, Ben Sutton etc., etc. – don’t give a hoot about whether the Deacons win or lose. Or, to be fair, if they do give a hoot, they haven’t, to date, cared enough to do anything about the sad and sorry shape the program is in.

The haven’t cared enough to keep the second decade of the 21st century from descending into the kind of despairing depths never before suffered since Wake played its first ACC game in 1953. In no earlier decade have those who invest their time, money, energy and support into Wake basketball had such a scant, meager return on that investment.

Wake, being a private school, doesn’t have to tell anybody anything. And, under the present regime of Danny Manning, Wake has mastered the art of not telling anybody anything. The problem with not telling even your most ardent fans anything is that the day will arrive when there aren’t any ardent fans who want to know anything about Wake basketball.

Signs are all around us – and I’m thinking here of that night a couple of weeks ago when barely enough fans to fill half of Joel Coliseum showed up to celebrate and honor Dave Odom and his 1995 ACC champions – that that day has already arrived.

But if what we’re all hearing again is correct, that the decision is now being made as to whether to bring Manning back for a seventh year, we should soon know if we are to add another name to that list of folks who don’t care enough about the state of Deacon basketball to do anything about it. Will the name of John Currie be added to the list?

Currie took the director of athletics reins from Wellman in May.  Several folks I know well enough to trust and respect made the point that Currie should be given a year to survey the damage and clean up the hideous mess Wellman made by gutting and filleting Wake basketball and leaving it out in the heat for 10 years to stink to high heaven.

But now that Currie has had that year, he’s seen what any objective and reasonable person had to know no later than three years ago. He has to also know by now that Danny Manning, a coach who in his six seasons in the ACC has finished 11th, 13th, 10th, 14th, 13th and 12th in the standings, is woefully ill-qualified to run an ACC basketball program.

So how many ways does Manning have to prove that, even at the height of 6-10, he’s in way over his head as an ACC coach? One way is by winning all of 30 of the 110 ACC games he’s coached. Another way is compiling a 78-110 overall record, a mark stained by setbacks to Delaware State, Georgia Southern, Liberty, Houston Baptist and Gardner-Webb – not to mention the six-straight losses to perennial power Clemson. Losing to Clemson in basketball six straight times is hard to do, so hard that no Wake coach before Manning managed the feat.

If Manning were running a solid program that graduates its players, at least that would be something to acknowledge and admire. But the program is not solid enough to keep players from exiting in droves, and the one player recruited by Manning to graduate after four years was Mitchell Wilbekin.

Brandon Childress should be the second. That will make two in six seasons.

If Manning were a bonafide ACC coach, Wake wouldn’t be draining so much revenue in an arena that, even on a good night, is half-empty. Good for Conor O’Neill for chronicling the damage done a week or so in the Winston-Salem Journal.

Wellman made three disastrous decisions that doomed the Wake basketball program to its current pitiable state. The first was hiring Jeff Bzdelik to replace Dino Gaudio (he of the 61-31 record at Wake) in a move that was never adequately explained. The second was to hire Danny Manning to replace Bzdelik, even though Manning was thoroughly unproven as a head basketball coach.

But it was Wellman’s third decision that is turning out to be the most catastrophic of all, a decision that has resulted in Manning still drawing a quite hefty paycheck as the Deacons basketball coach despite all his efforts to prove he doesn’t deserve it. Wellman, in all of his infinite wisdom, was somehow convinced to give Manning a long-term, iron-clad contract extension apparently loaded with an extortionate buyout clause that Wake will somehow have to deal with in order to ever get rid of him.

Wellman did so after the 2016-17 season, a campaign in which the Deacons finished 10th in the ACC and slipped into the First Four of the NCAA Tournament, only to be run out of Dayton in the second-half of a 95-88 loss to a mediocre Kansas State team. The Wildcats, lest we forget, shot 70 percent in the second half while pouring 55 points through that sieve known as the Deacons’ defense. The Wildcats, lest we forget, were drubbed 75-61 by Cincinnati in its next game for their 14th loss of the season.

The question has been asked before, and it will be asked as long as I have a laptop.
Who in the world was looking to hire Danny Manning away from Wake in March of 2017? Why did Wellman give him the kind of money that, to date, Wake has been unable to pay? And of all the deceit Wellman spread over his final years as Wake’s director of athletics, none compared to his preposterous claim that the move to bring Manning back for 2019-20 was a “basketball decision.’’

To complete a post filled with questions, I’ll ask one more. If Danny Manning is retained for a seventh season, how can John Currie, now that he has been AD for a year and surveyed the damage, stand before what’s left of the long-suffering Wake fan base and say he cares about Wake basketball? How can he ask for the time, energy, effort, and, most of all, money it takes to support a college basketball program?

If he tries – and from all I can tell, he just might – then his efforts will be as worthless as a ticket to a Wake basketball game.

Nobody will buy it.

Dave Gets His Due

Listen Wake fans and you shall hear, of when finishing fourth in the ACC was a really bad year.

At long last, a banner honoring and celebrating Dave Odom’s coaching career at Wake will be hung from the rafters at Joel Coliseum before tomorrow night’s game against Georgia Tech. At long last.

About time.

Odom, in his 12 seasons at Wake, won 240 games, was named ACC Coach of the Year three times, coached the Deacons into the NCAA Tournament seven-straight times (and eight times overall), beat Duke nine-straight times, (including five-straight at Cameron Indoor Stadium), and won the school’s only two ACC titles – back-to-back no less – since the halcyon days of Bones McKinney, Len Chappell and Billy Packer way back in 1961 and 1962 when players of color needed not apply to conference schools.

And in his off years (at least after needing one 3-11 season to get the program back up and running) he finished no worse than 7-9 in ACC play and was invited to the NIT every time – extending the school’s streak of post-season play to 11-straight seasons. In 2000, a season they finished fifth, his Deacons won the NIT title.

By the end of that season, while it was winning eight of its last nine, Wake was a team that no opponent in college basketball looked forward to playing.

Retired at age 77, Odom, never one to sit around and twiddle his thumbs, is still looking good. And to the win-starved faithful at Wake – what there are left of them – what Dave Odom did for the Black and Gold is looking better and better.

Such is longing for the good old days at a school that, since 2010, has failed to finish above 10th in the expanded ACC. Such is the longing at a school that can’t give away enough tickets to fill up half of Joel Coliseum. Such is the longing at a school that will have to rally to avoid a third-straight 20-loss campaign – which would make it the fourth 20-loss campaign in five seasons.

Such is the longing.

So finally, at long last, Wake Forest will hang a banner of Dave Odom’s likeness above Joel Coliseum this Wednesday while the school also celebrates and honors the ACC champion 1995 squad – my personal favorite during my 25 years of covering the Wake beat for the Winston-Salem Journal. Who will ever forget those three days in early March when the Deacons, riding the legendary, record-breaking performance of senior Randolph Childress, beat arch-rival North Carolina to take home the school’s first conference crown in 33 seasons?

Those of us who were around for the Golden Era of Wake basketball can still remember those days when the Deacons could take on any team in the country, and on the right night, with the right breaks, could win. We can recall when the only excuse coming out of the basketball program was for being invited to the NIT instead of the NCAA. We can recall when NBA teams couldn’t wait for the likes of Rodney Rogers and Tim Duncan to finish their college careers at Wake and go pro.

We can remember the ear-splitting decibel level at packed and pulsating Joel Coliseum while the Deacons were dismantling third-ranked Kansas 84-53 on Dec. 7, 2000.

And yes, we remember Oklahoma State in the Meadowlands in 1995, Kentucky in Minneapolis in 1996, Stanford in Tucson in 1997 and, gulp, Butler in Kansas City in 2001. But hey, even Mike Krzyzewski – to my mind, the greatest college coach ever – had his Lehigh and his Mercer.

The Butler debacle was the last game Dave Odom ever coached at Wake. It should not have been. Dave Odom represented Wake Forest the way it needed and wanted to be represented, and he won. If Ron Wellman had been smarter than he proved to be, he would have never let Dave Odom get away.

Dave Odom, by all rights, should have retired at Wake. Dave Odom, by all rights, should have had his banner in the rafters at Joel Coliseum long before now.

But better late than never.

As the song sung by the late-great Otis Redding reminded us so well, you don’t miss your water til your well runs dry.

And the well, in case you haven’t noticed, is bone dry. And it’s destined to stay that way until John Currie, Wellman’s successor, goes out and finds a coach up to the task of winning in the ACC.

It’s destined to stay that way until Currie finds a coach like Dave Odom.

A Prediction from Nostracountrydanus

Say you had a spare $100 burning a hole in your pocket, and were bent on placing a wager on the near future of Wake athletics.

Say you were presented with three scenarios, and by picking the right one you win the bet.

Scenario one – Both Dave Clawson and Danny Manning will be coaching at Wake next season.

Scenario two – One of the two will be at Wake, the other will be gone. You don’t even have to distinguish which is which.

Scenario three – Neither Dave Clawson nor Danny Manning will be coaching at Wake next season.

Recently eight folks with deep and long-lasting ties to Wake athletics had lunch in Winston-Salem, as they do every week the opportunity presents itself. Knowing the perfect focus group when I recognize one, I asked one of the attendees to present the three scenarios, and take a show of hands.

The vote was 1-7-0.

One said both Clawson and Manning will be back.

Seven predicted one would be gone, one would be back.

None predicted both will be gone.

Obviously no one knows what will happen tomorrow, much less in six months from now. No one can see through the murky future into events not yet transpired.

And not to come off as some ultra-prescient seer, a regular Nostracountrydanus so to speak, but here on this date, Nov. 18, 2019, I’m ready to buck what appears to be the conventional wisdom. It’s my bet – and obviously you can save this post and flog me with it if I’m wrong – that neither Clawson nor Manning will be at Wake next season.

Go ahead. I’m retired. My livelihood doesn’t depend on what or how much I know.

And I’ll admit right off the top that I’m no expert on the current state of Wake athletics. I retired two years ago, and haven’t attended a football or basketball game – let alone a practice – since.

Instead, my opinion is based on what I know of Wake athletics from the 40 years I covered it with the Winston-Salem Journal, and of the coaches I covered in my final four years on the beat.

Already I can hear the argument of how much has changed at Wake in the past few years – what with the television money rolling in — and how the facilities have been dramatically upgraded and how now head coaches at the school can live quite nicely on multi-million dollar contracts. There has been a dramatic change in Wake athletics in the 21st century, and it’s been almost all for the good. All that I will readily concede.

You could also make the point that this exercise is really about Clawson’s future at Wake. All Danny Manning has proven in his five-plus seasons as Wake’s head basketball coach (105-124) is that he is no ACC head basketball coach, and he’s proven it in every way, shape or form imaginable.

As if we needed more evidence we got it last night, when Wake lost at Charlotte by giving up one uncontested layup after another and not even bothering to foul during the final 7 ½ seconds of a two-point game.

And all that took place directly under the nose of the new athletics director, John Currie, sitting oh so conspicuously next to the bench taking copious notes. The message appeared loud and clear to me.

OK everybody, I know we’ve got a problem in basketball. Don’t worry, guys, I’m on it. Just give me time to clean up the mess I was left with and you’ll get your new coach.’’

So that leaves the question of why I suspect Clawson is in his final season at Wake.

It’s not because I have any problem with Wake being good in football. In fact, having covered a program that could make a legitimate claim as having the worst 20th century of any major college school, I think what Clawson has accomplished is an amazing, and highly entertaining development.

The one factor I feel that wasn’t taken into account among the focus group referenced earlier is ambition. Every coach I ever covered was an ambitious sort. I read few if any to be as ambitious as Dave Clawson.

For the record I got along pretty well with Clawson during my four years on the beat, and I trust he would tell you the same. I certainly admire and respect what he has done. He’s one hell of a college football coach. Getting last season’s team to a bowl, and winning it, might have been the most impressive accomplishment I’ve witnessed in all these seasons of observing Wake athletics.

But he also has a high opinion of himself, one he has earned and has ever right to have. And he can’t stand losing.

I thought about him on Saturday night as he was riding back from the 52-3 blowout at Clemson, where he played without two players the Deacons just knew they couldn’t play without this season – Justin Strnad and Sage Surratt. For 40 years I heard how miniscule the margin of error is at Wake, especially in November after the inevitable injuries have taken toll.

Still, knowing as much as I know of Clawson, I know how badly he hates losing to anybody 52-3. He also remembers better than you or I that it was 63-3 last season. And he knows that if he’s back next season, he’d better be ready for more of the same.

I also thought about Clawson in the final moments of the home game against Florida State – a game the Deacons actually won – when there were fewer Wake students in the stands than we get on a regular night at Open Mic. He’s smart enough to choose his words carefully, but if you don’t think fan support – or lack thereof – is used against Wake in the cut-throat recruiting battles then you don’t know anything about college athletics.

Clawson, to my mind, is destined to coach for a national championship. My bet is that it’s in his mind as well. And if so, can he expect to do it at Wake?

None of which is to say I’m convinced Clawson is desperate to leave. He shouldn’t be., He has it pretty good, a sweet payday with his family close at hand, and without the kind of pressure the coaches at larger, more established programs face.

He could stay at Wake until they get around to erecting his statue outside the stadium. At Wake, he has it made.

Opportunity, of course, is the unknown factor, and whether the director of athletics at an established power program could face the wrath of hiring a coach who has lost his last two games to Clemson by a combined scored of 115-6.

But what else I know about Dave Clawson is that nobody is better at selling himself. He sold himself when he targeted Wake as the school to lift him out of the Mid-American Conference, and my bet is that if he gets the interview at a next target school, he’ll successfully sell himself again.

He’s 52. I don’t have to look it up because we share the same birthday and I’m 15 years older.

By the time he’s 67, he won’t be sitting at a laptop predicting what someone else is going to do with his life. He’ll be making college football history.

And he won’t be doing it at Wake.

Again, this is written on Nov. 18, 2019. Save the post and flog me if I’m wrong.

I’m retired.

I can take it.

A New Man at QB for Wake

Every time I watch Jamie Newman lead Wake to another football victory, I think of Tyler Brosius.

More to the point, I think of a conversation I had with Jim Grobe about Tyler Brosius.

Brosius, as recruiting aficionados will recall, was a quarterback from Tuscola High School in Waynesville who played briefly at N.C. State about 10 years ago – before he embarked on a pro baseball career as a pitcher in the Braves’ farm system.

Brosius had committed to N.C. State by the time I made a trip back home to Franklin. My brother Joe had already decided we had to travel to Waynesville, about 35 miles away, to see Franklin High play Tuscola High in the first round of the state playoffs.

So I told Grobe, then head coach at Wake, that I was going to watch the Wolfpack’s prize recruit play and that I would return with a scouting report. Jim laughed, and said that would be great.

Well Brosius was good, good enough to lead the Mountaineers to victory over our Panthers. But I saw something else about him that I couldn’t resist teasing Grobe about.

“Well I saw Brosius play,’’ I informed Grobe at our weekly gathering to eat chicken and talk football.’’

“Oh that’s right,’’ Grobe replied. “What did you think?

“Well Jim, I just couldn’t see him playing quarterback for Wake,’’ I said.

“You couldn’t?,’’ Grobe wondered. “Why not.’’

“Well because he’s 6-3 and 230 pounds,’’ I cracked. “I’ve never seen a 6-3, 230-pound quarterback play for Wake Forest.’’

Grobe, as always, got the joke. And as usual, he loved it.

Fast forward through Riley Skinner, Tanner Price, John Wolford and, yes, Sam Hartman, and today Wake finally has, in the 6-4, 230-pound Newman, a prototypical modern college quarterback. And as good as Skinner, Price, Wolford and Hartman were/are, it’s Newman’s size and physicality that has made a huge difference in the Deacons’ run of eight victories in the nine games Newman has started.

Against Boston College, in the Deacons’ last game, I saw Newman’s size and physicality as the difference. On a day his passing wasn’t as sharp as usual, and the receivers weren’t as sure-handed as usual, I don’t think Wake would have pulled it out without Neman bullying his way to 102 yards on 23 carries.

I can be excused for not seeing Newman’s full potential during my final days as a sportswriter. I know that to be true because neither did Dave Clawson. Otherwise Newman, and not Hartman, would have been starting the first nine games of 2018.

Now that’s not to say Hartman was a slouch in those nine games. I thought he was impressive, especially for a first-year freshman.

But my goodness, in looking at the stats Newman has racked up in five games this season (117 completions on 168 attempts for 1521 yards, 14 touchdowns against three interceptions, to go with 262 yards on 78 carries) and it becomes immediately apparent that Wake has never seen a quarterback like him before.

The true believers, the ones who see Wake beating Clemson to take the ACC title and Newman walking off with a Heisman Trophy, will tell you it’s a new day at Wake and that the Deacon football program today should not be compared to anything that came before.

Their strongest point in that argument is a 6-4, 230-pound quarterback named Jamie Newman.

Regulars to Mytakeonwhatever.com will notice that I haven’t been writing much about Wake sports recently. And there’s a reason for that, other than laziness.

Two years have passed since I covered Wake sports. I don’t have the kind of inside information I had as beat guy for the Winston-Salem Journal. I still talk with folks in the know from time to time, but I’m as far removed as most of those reading this. So I certainly don’t want to pass myself off as an expert.

That’s not to say I won’t from time to time observe for consumption the obvious, such as Dave Clawson is one hell of a football coach, and that Danny Manning has categorically failed in his five years of trying to prove he’s an ACC basketball coach.

So it’s not like I’ll be shy in spouting what I do know, such as maybe a historical context, from time to time. But for the day-to-day info, you’ve probably figured out by now you should rely instead on guys like Les and Conor, the guys who are there day-to-day.

Insanity Prevails

Thursday night, as many of you reading this know, is my night to howl at the moon.

It’s not that I stay down at Muddy Creek Cafe until the wee hours, making music the way it’s meant to be made among friends at our weekly Open Mic. At 66 I’m too old for that.

No, the problem – if you want to call it that – is that I return home from such joyful musical camaraderie so jacked up that it takes me hours to wind down. And if it wasn’t for good ol’ Bud Light, I’d probably see every Friday sunrise of the year.

Last night I was actually pretty good to myself. I settled in around 3, only to wake up around 10 this morning from the strangest dream, a dream in which the untenable was deemed tenable, the unfathomable was all too fathomable and the insane was being packaged and peddled as perfectly sane.

I woke up from a dream in which the Wake basketball coach nobody wants is still coaching basketball Wake – and will be for the foreseeable future.

Surely it was dream.

Only the barrage of messages on my cell phone proved otherwise.

All along I pondered just to how much would Ron Wellman and the powers that be at Wake be willing to subject anyone and everyone who ever cared one whit about Deacon basketball.

All along, I assured myself that surely Ron Wellman and the powers that be at Wake had seen what we all have seen over the past five years, that Danny Manning is hopelessly over-matched as a head ACC basketball coach.

All along, I assured myself that Ron Wellman would at least attempt to clean up the hot steaming mess he created with his last two basketball hires before he rides off into the sunset come May 1.

All along, I told myself time and again that surely Ron Wellman would not hang a 6-10 albatross around the neck of his successor John Currie, and ensure that Currie’s first basketball season would be chest deep in a raging river in rancor, bile and acrimony.

All along, I just knew in my heart, Wake would have to cut ties with Manning. All along I knew there was no way he could be retained.

And all along I was wrong.

Wellman, ducking the question about the buyout, had the brass to stand up before the assembled media and proclaim that the call to retain Danny Manning as head basketball coach at Wake was “strictly a basketball decision.’’

This was coming, lest we forget, from the man who stood before us all to say he was firing a coach with a 61-31 record because of his inability to win in late-season and post-season play. This was coming, lest we forget, from the man who told us that only weeks before hiring a coach who had never won an NCAA Tournament game.

As I once heard my friend Dave Odom say about a completely unrelated topic, I may have been born at night. But it wasn’t last night.

Don’t you get tired of being played for a fool?

No, there’s only one explanation that Danny Manning is still the basketball coach at Wake, and will be for the foreseeable future.

It’s certainly not Manning’s won-loss record of 65-93, and worse yet, 25-71 against the ACC coaches he was hired to beat.

It’s certainly not the ACC regular-season finishes of 11th, 13th, 10th, 14th and 13th.

It’s certainly not Manning’s record of 1-5 in the ACC Tournament.

It’s certainly not Manning’s 0-1 record in NCAA Tournament, or the way the team that beat Wake – Kansas State — set a season record for shooting percentage from the floor in a 95-88 First Four beat-down.

It’s certainly not any bond or connection the aloof Manning has established with the fan base or media over his first five seasons.

It’s certainly not the inability to graduate more than one player recruited by Manning over his first five years.

And it’s certainly not the mass exodus of 18 players voting with their feet by departing the program with eligibility remaining. (As an aside on this point, I find it particularly sidesplitting that Wellman, in today’s media conference, opined that something just has to be done about the attrition and how it takes seasoned, veteran players for a program such as Wake to win in ACC basketball. The lament was not unlike a person complaining of an ACL tear after his leg has been amputated at the thigh).

No, there’s one explanation and one explanation only that makes sense as to why Danny Manning is being retained as head basketball coach at Wake.

Ron Wellman, early in the 2017-18 season, signed Manning to a contract extension that contained a buyout so exorbitant that the school, two 20-loss seasons later, couldn’t see its way to pay. And this is not only on Wellman, but on anyone and everyone who approved the contract extension early in the 2017-18 season.

Think for just one second about what Manning had proven when the extension was offered and signed. At that point Manning was 83-86 as a head college basketball coach and had managed only two cameos in the NCAA Tournament. Yes, he had secured a recruiting class that some were saying would turn the program’s fortunes around, but, again, lest we forget, some were saying the same about the recruiting class of J.T. Terrell, Travis McKie, Tony Chenault, Carson Desrosiers and Melvin Tabb back in 2010 and the one of Devin Thomas, Codi Miller-McIntyre, Tyler Cavanaugh, Madison Jones, Aaron Rountree, Arnaud Adala Moto and Andre Washington in 2013.

No, on the day the contract extension was announced, Nov. 25, 2017, Manning was 2-4 in the new season having already lost to Georgia Southern, Liberty and Drake. He had proven nothing – other than he was hopelessly over-matched as an ACC coach. There was no college program in the country that wanted to hire Danny Manning away. And there were precious few people at Wake the least bit concerned that some school might.

And that’s when Ron Wellman locked Danny Manning to an extension that two 20-loss seasons later, the school couldn’t find a way to pay itself out from under. And because of that Wellman and the powers that be (and I’m talking here about Nathan Hatch and the board of trustees and one particular well-heeled alum who has his name on the brand-spanking new building) have resigned anyone and everyone who ever cared about Wake basketball to at least one more season of hopeless misery and rank despair.

I always thought the hiring of Jeff Bzdelik as head coach was the dumbest decision by a man I had always considered to be smart. No longer.

Retaining Danny Manning is the dumbest decision of my lifetime of covering basketball.

And I hate that for Ron, a man with whom I built a strong and at times really warm relationship during my days on the beat, and who now will be doomed to Wake basketball infamy.

I hate it for the new guy, John Currie, whose honeymoon as Wake’s new director of athletics is doomed before it even begins.

I hate it for any player playing basketball at Wake who still harbors the fantasy of ever playing in the NCAA Tournament or finishing better than 10th in the ACC standings.

I even hate it for Danny Manning, the coach nobody wants who will be coaching Wake next year. With every loss, of games and/or personnel, Manning will sink ever deeper in the pit of ignominy.

But most of all I hate it for you folks reading this, who apparently are the only people on the planet who still care a whit for basketball as played at Wake.

I woke up from last night’s revelry to a truly sad day at Wake, a day when insanity did indeed prevail.