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.

CDC: A Lifetime in the Making

While trudging – and I do mean trudging – through a Florida airport, I took a tumble.

The fall was a hard one, hard enough to tear a couple of tendons in my bicep as well as my rotator cuff.

The date is easy enough to run down. I know it was Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016 the morning after I had watched Wake Forest lose at Florida State for the 14th time out of the 16 football trips I made to Florida’s state capital as the Deacons’ beat reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal. This time I was flying out of Jacksonville because the Tallahassee airport had left me stranded too many times and the Tallahassee hotels always shook you down so bad on football weekends.

Going on three years later, I can see what a fortuitous fall it turned out to be. I was 64 at the time, and, though I tried hard not to let it affect my performance, I was done with being a sportswriter. The industry was imploding under my trudging feet and I was so dog tired of the travel. And since my junior year of college, 1973, writing sports was all I had ever done for gainful employment.

Workman’s Comp handled the bills, and for all the pain of the resulting surgery, it was probably less than what I would have endured covering another season of Danny Manning coaching Wake’s basketball team.

Here’s where the hero of the story emerges. After I had recovered enough to return to work, my brother Joe asked if Workman’s Comp had settled my claim. I didn’t know what he was talking about.

Joe just happens to be a lawyer well-versed in Workman’s Comp litigation. And without his expertise, I wouldn’t have realized that I had money coming in the form of what is called a Clincher Agreement – struck to prevent any further claims on my part should the surgery not be successful.

Like manna from heaven, I received a goodly chunk of change I never even knew I had coming.

So lo and behold, I finally had the kind of money (and eventually, upon retirement in August of 2017, the time) needed to fulfill a lifelong dream. Since taking up guitar at age 16, I have written songs. In fact I learned guitar so I could write songs. Here was my opportunity to get in a studio and record my original songs, and do it right.

The key was finding the right studio and right engineer, and through the sage advice of my long-time buddy and bassist John “Hootie” Hoots, I was led to Geoff Weber.

Geoff, a fairly recent Wake grad who works at Salem Music, turned out to be the next hero of the story. Not only is he a sharp, even-keeled guy who knows his stuff, he also happens to be an ace musician (bass, keyboards) who plays in a hot-as-fire local band, Bad Cameo.

He even enlisted his band mates, Will Huesman (guitar), Lando Pieroni (guitar and banjo) and Dan Mead (drums), to contribute their considerable skills to the project.

It all took about a year. There was no deadline, and I wasn’t paying Geoff the entire amount of my insurance claim. I am, after all, married with bills to pay. And there was also so much I had to learn about the recording process besides just showing up at the studio with songs written and arranged.

For one, I had to learn to play with a metronome to make sure we were on time. On time and in turn became our motto.

Along the way, other buddies rallied to my cause. Jeff Shu, long-time member of the par excellence Honky Tonk band, The Bo-Stevens, brought his pedal steel to the studio. Bubba Spear, a pal I’ve played music with for years, brought his harmonica. And Hootie, of course, brought his bass. We weren’t doing this without Hootie.

By the time we got down to production, I needed a cover. I had this wonderful photo taken by a good friend named Mike Anderson from a gig I did at Second and Green, and my daughter Rebecca took time from her day job with Eversource Energy in Boston to handle the graphics and design.

So it’s with great pride that I announce the result, titled CDC: A Lifetime in the Making. As of yesterday, it became available on Spotify, Itunes, Apple Music, and pretty much all the other streaming sites I never even knew existed.

Feeling really good about what we got down. And we’re putting together a band called the Whippersnappers (because the members of Bad Cameo who will be included are all young enough to be my sons, if not grandsons).

And on Sunday, Nov. 3, at 5 p.m., Country Dan Collins and the Whippersnappers will play the CD front to back at the CD Release Show scheduled for my favorite haunt in its final days, the Muddy Creek Music Hall. Hope you circle the date on your calendar because I know it’s going to be worth the trip to Bethania and the $10 cover.

In my dreams, the CD will launch a new career as America’s next great songwriter. But, truth be told, I’ve already thanked my lucky stars so many times over for the opportunity to spend a year doing what I’ve always wanted to do.

And if the CD doesn’t sell anymore than my last great dream gone poof – The ACC Basketball Book of Fame published by Blair Publishing in Winston to far less-than-overwhelming reward – then that won’t hurt my feelings a bit.

Because, thanks to a fall, and the advice of a brother who happens to be a lawyer, it’s already been paid for.

One Door Closes. . .

About a month or so ago I was swamped with sympathy.

The sentiment was appreciated, as misplaced as it might have been.

News broke that the Bethania Mill and annex housing Muddy Creek Cafe and Music Hall had been sold, spelling the impending end of the Open Mics we’ve been staging there since our launch in June 2014. And indeed the five-plus years we’ve spent in Bethania making music the way it’s meant to be made among fast friends has been one of the favorite chapters of my life.

But it got so I couldn’t show my old bearded face anywhere in this town that someone didn’t say “Oh sorry to hear about Muddy Creek. What a shame. I know how much it means to you. How you holding up?’’

Truth is, strange as it might seem, I was holding up right well. The news hadn’t really rocked me the way most folks seemed to think it would, for at least two reasons.

The first is that everything in life runs its course. Everything begins and everything ends. I felt the same way when the first bar where I began to play music, The Rubber Soul on Burke Street, closed its doors around 2005. And I felt that way when our run of 4 ½ years of Open Mic at the late, great Garage finally wound down to a close in early 2014.

I’ve been told five years is an eternity for an Open Mic scene, and I can testify that’s true. There have been signs that we’d done what we set out to do in Bethania and, in fact, had done it over and over again. We’re still filling up the sign-up sheet and we’re still having great fun, but I’ve played more than 200 three-song sets at the Cafe and all the regulars who have made the scene what it is have pretty much heard all I had to say or sing.

The other reason I didn’t despair over the news was that I suspected Shana Whitehead, the owner of Muddy Creek Cafe, and Bill Heath, the musical mover and shaker of the operation, would have something else in mind to move the kind of energy around this town it takes to get folks up off their behinds and out the door.. Bill had been giving me hints that another idea or 20 were bouncing around their fertile imaginations.

And sure enough, just last week the glad news broke that the Muddy Creek is moving its scene to another Moravian site in Forsyth County, venerable Old Salem. Come late November a new Muddy Creek scene will be up and running in the space formerly occupied by Flour Box Tea Room and Cafe, beneath T. Bagge Merchant at 626 South Main.

Bill, knowing a good thing when he builds one, has been adamant from the start that he wants a Thursday night Open Mic to anchor their weekly schedule, and I’m proud to say he wants this old boy to do in Salem what we’ve been doing these past five years in Bethania.

So I’ll be ram-rodding the Open Mics at Old Salem, and I could hardly be more excited.

It’ll be a new scene, a new chapter, a new canvas on which to paint. There will be new ears to play to, and hopefully catch.

My great hope is that we can coerce all the regulars who have kept Bethania roaring down to Old Salem to continue doing what they’ve been doing so well. And I also suspect that we’ll get the influx of a new and more diverse crowd, it being a downtown venue more accustomed to a younger and slightly more, shall we say, energetic clientele.

Salem College is down there, and The School of the Arts is a spud’s throw away. I love old folks. I should, being one myself. But it’s the young folks who can turn a scene into a happening, and it’s the young folks who, with the right breaks and right ability, might even turn what we all love doing at a Thursday night Open Mic into a bonafide career.

So look out downtown, Country Dan’s Open Mic at Muddy Creek is headed your way.

And I’m bringing reinforcements.

Look Who’s Back

Every day for the past few months I’ve awakened to the thought “You know I really should get back to my blog.’’

But then it didn’t take me all of my 67 years to realize that one of the most pointless words of the English language is should.

It’s at best a half-promise that may or may not be honored, at worst a reminder of what we really wanted to do but, for whatever reason, never got around to.

Well, today, Sept. 17, 2019, is the day that boredom finally drove me back to my laptop to pick up where I left off back in March, when insanity did indeed prevail and Danny Manning was retained to coach a sixth season at Wake Forest.

If anyone other than the man who made the announcement has publicly endorsed that decision, would someone please direct me to the statement or quote I obviously missed. And in that the man who did make the announcement, Ron Wellman, has now, like me, retired, the absence of any such bravery would mean that there’s no one currently at Wake Forest – other than maybe members of the basketball staff itself — who has voiced support for Manning remaining as head basketball coach.

The only conclusion I can reach is that no one wants to take the heat emitting from the dumpster fire Manning has kept ablaze. I wish Wellman’s successor, John Currie, luck. Even with Dave Clawson’s football team off to a 3-0 start replete with a stirring victory over arch-rival North Carolina , Currie is going to need all the luck he can get to survive the basketball season unscathed.

But I didn’t pick the blog back up to use as a cudgel to whack Wellman and Manning again, and I didn’t go on my hiatus simply because Wake didn’t heed my advice (as well as that of the rest of the known world) and hire a basketball coach who could possibly win in the ACC.

I feel good about myself, but not that good.

The prevailing reason I took a break is that this became a little bit too much like work. I got to feeling a bit compelled to keep the blog current, and I didn’t retire from 45 years spent as a working sportswriter (I know, I know, a contradiction of terms) just to chain myself to a commitment I wasn’t even getting paid to fulfill.

But I did miss it some because I do love to write. And I did really get off on the connection I made to many of you who found your way to My Take on Whatever.

So MTOW is back to catch everyone up on what’s been going on these past six months and alert folks to what’s in store for the foreseeable future.

The big news at the Collins Hacienda is that my bride, Tybee Leigh Terry Collins, finally in June joined her slug-a-bed husband in retirement. Guilt only begins to describe how I felt when she was still working after I wasn’t. An elementary school teacher these past 40 years, she was as done with what she had been doing as I was when I turned in my laptop to the Winston-Salem Journal in August of 2017. And dragging herself out of bed at 5:15 and out the door at 6:30 while her husband just snored away had to be purgatory.

We’ve made up for lost time, though, by reveling in retirement, enjoying our Thursday nights at Open Mic at Muddy Creek, taking afternoon naps when the mood arises, and getting the hacienda in at least some semblance of order. Then, a couple of weeks ago, we embarked with Tybee’s irrepressible sister Kim Hawks on an odyssey that included a memorable day spent in Memphis (Sun Studio, Stax Studio, Beale Street for drinks and dinner) and four unforgettable days in Dallas with our son Nate, his bride Laura and our three-and-a-half year-old angel of a grand-daughter, Isla.

We rented a car and I drove the entire two-thousand (and then some) miles. But I would – and will – do it again in a heartbeat to be able to reconnect with Nate and get to know better his beautiful (in every way) family.

My family.

Our family.

All that said, most of my last six months have been spent in a recording studio FINALLY putting down some of the songs I have spent a half-century writing. As I mentioned last spring, I’ve been working with a young (to me, almost everyone is young) Wake graduate named Geoff Weber arranging and recording 12 original songs for a CD to be titled CDC: A Lifetime in the Making.

Not only is Geoff a supremely talented engineer and musician, he plays in a band, Bad Cameo with some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever had the good fortune to know. So I enlisted guitarists Will Huesman and Lando Pieroni and drumer Dan Mead to back me on this project, while also drafting fast friends Jeff Shu (pedal steel), Dennis “Bubba” Speer (harmonica) and John “Hootie” Hoots (bass) to contribute their considerable talents to the project.

The CD should (there’s that word again) be out in early October, in plenty of time for the CD Release Show we have tentatively set for Sunday, Nov. 3, at the Muddy Creek Music Hall.

I’ll keep everyone apprised.

Thanks for remembering My Take on Whatever. The only thing worse than being gone is being forgotten.

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.

Will Sanity Prevail at Wake?

If sanity prevails, and Danny Manning really did coach his last game at Wake yesterday, future generations might wonder how a chapter of Deacon history that began with such fanfare and promise ended in such utter despair and failure.

The raw numbers of Manning’s five years are pretty raw indeed.

Overall record: 65-93.

Record against ACC competition: 25-71.

Regular-season finishes: 11th, 13th, 10th, 14th, 13th.

Record in ACC Tournament: 1-5.

Record in NCAA Tournament: 0-1.

Freshmen recruited by Manning who graduated: 1.

Scholarship players who departed with eligibility remaining: 18 (so far).

As if all that wasn’t damning enough, a better, more graphic indication of the abysmal brand of basketball played under Manning could be gleaned from video of yesterday’s 79-71 loss to Miami in the first round of the ACC Tournament.

I would instruct the curious to roll the tape to the 12:35 mark of the first half. The Deacons have scored eight straight to lead 16-9. Miami is reeling, having turned the ball over on four of five previous possessions. The Hurricanes’ spark plug guard, Chris Lykes, has two fouls. What Wake following there is at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center is making its presence felt.

Miami’s Jim Larranaga, out of desperation, calls time.

Now that’s the moment a good team, or even a mediocre team playing well, takes the game by the throat. Everything is going its way. The opponent has been playing short-handed all season en route to a 5-13 conference record. Larranaga is debating on whether to bench Lykes or roll the dice. The Canes, who have lost four of their last six, are discombobulated.

Anyone who expected such a result knows nothing about Wake basketball as played for Danny Manning.

What actually happens is the Deacons come out of the timeout and spill their lead down the nearest drain. Isaiah Mucius, playing like the freshman he is, turns the ball over. Jaylen Hoard, playing like the freshman he is, turns the ball over. Hoard turns the ball over again.

It’s oft been said there are no freshmen in college basketball come March.

It’s also oft been said that there is an exception to every rule.

Down at the other end, D.J. Vasiljevic pours in five quick points, hitting a jumper off an offensive rebound and nailing a 3-pointer from the right corner when Hoard loses track of him in the Wake zone.

And like that, the moment is gone and Wake is in a dogfight the rest of the way – a dogfight it would lose in most familiar fashion.

Miami, a team that has worn down all season because of lack of numbers, crossed midcourt with the ball 35 times in the second half. The Canes scored on 22 of those possessions.

Danny Manning was schooled by experienced, accomplished ACC coaches from the day he arrived at Wake, and he was schooled by an experienced, accomplished ACC coach in his final game.

Larranaga, the guy who has won 645 games over 33 seasons as a Division I head coach, knew what his team had to do. He told the Canes to drive the ball to the hoop.

Manning, the guy who has won 168 games over seven seasons as a Division I head coach, had no idea how to stop Miami. The Canes gutted the Wake defense in the second half like so many teams have done before over Manning’s five seasons.

That hat that Manning proclaimed he would hang his program on was once again stomped into the hardwood. Looking back, maybe the hat Manning had in mind was a beanie, with a propeller on top.

A long-time compadre, Ed Hardin of the Greensboro New and Record, asked what is on the mind of everybody and anybody who ever cared about Wake basketball after yesterday’s loss.

Did Manning expect to be back for a sixth season?

“That’s my hope,’’ Manning replied. “That’s always the hope. You know, I feel I’ll be back.

“You know, I’ll look at the scorecard, the score sheet, and everyone that scored is an underclassman. We had some guys that grew a significant amount this year in terms of their growth from the start to the finish, and that’s how we want to build it.’’

And like that the great excuse for this season – youth – has been given as a reason for Manning to get another season.

Wellman told reporters he’ll will go through the standard evaluation process and meet with Manning now that the season has ended, like he does with every coach at Wake. I can’t imagine we’ll hear anything until after the ACC Tournament concludes on Saturday.

But as I’ve written before, and may even write again before next week, the retirement of Ron Wellman and hiring of John Currie makes absolutely no sense if Wake intends to retain Danny Manning as head basketball coach.

No sense whatsoever.

It was Wellman who made a mess of the Wake basketball program, and it’s up to him to clean it up.

If Manning is head basketball coach next season, John Currie’s first season as director of athletics will be miserable, one mired in vitriol, rancor and full-fledge rebellion.

Does Ron Wellman really have the nerve, much less the indecency, to hang a 6-10 albatross around his successor’s neck?

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.

Zion: Could the Best Know What’s Best?

So the question being bandied about the blogosphere these days is whether Zion Williamson should return from a mild knee sprain to play again for Duke?

I’m seeing it here, and here and here.

It’s a question I’ll answer with a few questions of my own.

Question 1: Why should anyone other than Zion and his family even be asking the question?

Question 2: What’s it to those asking the question?

Question 3: Are they so certain they know what’s best for Zion that they’re telling him how to spend the next two months which could potentially be the best two months of his life?

Question 4: Are they so convinced that the NCAA is a corrupt body that exploits “student-athletes” for power and greed that they’re calling on Zion Williamson to expose that corruption and greed?

Question 5: And even if the NCAA is a corrupt body that exploits “student-athletes” for power and greed, why is it up to Zion Williamson to fight a fight he’d rather not fight?

Question 6: Just what do they know about Zion Williamson’s relationship with his teammates or the bonds they’ve formed over the past nine months?

Question 7: Is it possible that in Zion’s mind, the risk of injury is worth a solid crack at a national championship?

Question 8: Is it possible that Coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke training staff actually do have Zion Williamson’s best interests in mind?

Question 9: Would it not be folly for a man of Mike Kzyzewski’s accomplishments and stature to push his own self interests over those of a player with Zion Williamson’s promise and ability?

Question 10: Could Mike Krzyzewski — already a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and considered by many to be the greatest coach in the history of college basketball – really need a sixth national championship that badly?

Question 11: What will Zion Williamson do the next two months if he doesn’t play basketball for Duke?

Question 12: Is there any chance that Zion Williamson will not play basketball at any gym in the the world between now and the June 20th NBA draft?

Question 13: Could it be that playing pickup games in local gyms might be a bigger risk to Zion Williamson’s future NBA earnings than playing the next two months for Duke?

Question 14: Is there enough bubble wrap in the world to cover Zion Williamson’s 6-7, 284-pound frame between now and the June 20th NBA draft?

Question 15: Has the game of college basketball been so degraded that players with NBA potential should weigh throughout their freshman season whether to keep playing or not?

Question 16: Is there anyone remaining outside the NBA Player Association who thinks a player should be 19 to be eligible for the draft?

Question 17: Is Charles Barkley right for wondering when was it that everything in our society boiled down to how much money there might be to be made?

Question 18: Is Charles Barkley right for saying that a basketball player plays basketball because that what basketball players do?

Question 19: Is there anyone maintaining that Zion Williamson shouldn’t play again because they don’t want their own preferred team to have to play against him anymore?

Question 20: Why should anyone other than Zion Williamson and his family even be asking the question?

Regard

There was a stretch there about 15 or so years ago when I was the envy of every beat guy in the ACC footprint.

From Syracuse down to Miami, I’d run into sportswriters who couldn’t believe how good I had it. In football season, I got to work with Jim Grobe, in basketball Skip Prosser.

Besides being smart men really good at what they did, there was another quality that set them apart from the rank-and-file coaches plying their trade in the ACC. Both Jim and Skip had a huge regard for the people they were around. They made sure they knew your name. They made you feel like you were somebody.

I can’t remember ever walking away from either Jim or Skip without a smile on my face, and another story to tell my friends.

And what would turn my sports writing brothers and sisters an even deeper shade of green was to remind them that before Skip came along in 2001, I had the unparalleled pleasure of covering Dave Odom for a dozen unforgettable seasons.

If there was ever a better basketball coach to deal with than Dave Odom, I didn’t come across them in my 45 years of chasing that bouncing ball.

And it wasn’t just that Dave, Skip and Jim would all allow me to attend practices in a time that most practices from Syracuse to Miami were shuttered and locked down. Not only was I invited, I was made most welcome. If I’d miss a day or two, they’d wonder where the hell I’d been.

And because of this arrangement I got to know Dave, Skip and Jim. Beyond that, I got to know their assistant coaches and their staff right on down to the managers.

Most important, I got to know their players.

To my mind, I never wrote better because I had so much to write. And I have to think that the real winners were the readers of the Winston-Salem Journal, as well as the football and basketball programs at Wake.

I always thought it was such a sensible approach at Wake, a small private school wedged in the shadow of larger and more prominent institutions that was always struggling for oxygen on the sports pages and sports casts from the Triad to the Triangle.

Which is why I once asked Ron Wellman, Wake’s director of athletics, if a coach’s ability to relate to the media and the fans was taken into account when he went searching for someone to lead his football and basketball programs.

“It’s not the first consideration,’’ Wellman replied. “The first consideration is that we find a coach who can win.

“But it is a consideration.’’

Watching Wake once again assume the fetal position at Florida State last night – while giving up baskets on 21 of the Seminoles’ final 29 possessions to get undressed 88-66 – reminded me for not the first time how right a man can be at one stage of his tenure and how wrong at another.

In his last two cracks at hiring a basketball coach, Wellman landed coaches who whiffed so wildly on both of his criteria. Neither Jeff Bzdelik nor Danny Manning could/can win, and neither showed any real regard for those around them.

The difference is I got to know Jeff, and actually got to like him. His inability to connect with the media and the fans, in my mind, had more to do with his innate awkwardness and conspicuous lack of social skills. But we had a number of really pleasant one-on-one conversations, particularly when talking about such subjects as music and family.

I wish I could say I got to know Danny in the three seasons I covered him, but, alas, I can’t. And in talking with others around the department, I’m convinced the problem was not mine.

The best word I can use to describe Danny Manning is private. I could go with aloof, or remote, or maybe even standoffish. But what I read most is indifference. He comes across as indifferent to the wants and needs of those around him.

The day he arrived he pulled the shutters down around his program and made it as clear as a sunny Valentine’s Day that there was a line that was not to be crossed.

Now don’t get me wrong. Dave and Jim and Skip had their lines that were not to be crossed as well. But theirs seemed to be established for the good of their programs while Danny’s line seems to be for the good of Danny Manning.

Most of you folks reading this are fans of Wake. You tell me. Do you feel any connection with Danny Manning, anything close to the connection you felt with Skip or Jim or Dave?

The results, as I see them, are at least three-fold.

The coverage of Wake is not as good as it was in my day. That’s not to say that today’s beat guys, Conor O’Neill of the Journal and Les Johns of Demon Deacon Digest, aren’t as good at what they do as I was. It’s just that they’ve not been given the same chance to cover Wake basketball that I was during my heyday.

The atmosphere at home games at Joel Coliseum is not anywhere near as festive, raucous and lively as it used to be. The crowds have actually been surprisingly generous for a program in such dire straits, but people who go regularly tell me there’s no real enthusiasm or energy in the place.

And if Danny had the ability to connect with people, do you really think the revolving door would be spinning from recruits leaving the program with eligibility remaining?

I burst out laughing every time I hear the default excuse of how Manning’s fifth team at Wake is so young – and that’s why the Deacons are currently 2-9 and sinking fast through the ACC standings. Well when eight of the first ten players you recruit either bail or get kicked off the team, well yeah, you’re going to be young.

In his five seasons as Wake, Danny has coached one senior that he recruited as a freshman, that being Mitchell Wilbekin. If he sticks around to play for his father, Randolph, Brandon Childress next season will be the second.

No one can blame Danny for John Collins leaving for NBA stardom after his sophomore year. I’ll give him that. And the argument can also be made that Dinos Mitoglou did all right for himself by returning to Greece to play pro ball after his junior season.

But that hardly explains the spinning turnstile of Cornelius Hudson, Doral Moore, Bryant Crawford, Donovan Mitchell, Samuel Japhet-Mathias and Rich Washington. Nor does it even take into account Melo Eggleston, a member of the 2018 class who left after one season, or Jamie Lewis, a 2019 recruit already gone.

Mike Brey is a coach so many ACC sportswriters got to know back in the day he was an assistant at Duke, and the universal opinion is that Mike is a good guy. He’s struggling this season, his 19th as head coach at Notre Dame. But in watching the Irish beat Georgia Tech 69-59 Sunday night, I was struck by how the two announcers calling the game, Anish Shroff and Cory Alexander, couldn’t say enough good things about Mike Brey – no matter how hard they tried.

They went on and on about how Mike had pulled struggling T.J. Gibbs aside for some personal time shooting baskets together in the gym in an effort to get Gibbs back on stride. They had all these wonderful things to say about a coach who entered the game with a 2-8 record.

You just know that when Anish and Cory showed up at South Bend, that Mike welcomed them with open arms and showed them the kind of regard he shows everybody. He made them feel like somebody. I can remember what a good feeling that is.

Notre Dame, like Wake, is going to be good in basketball only if it can recruit the right players and keep them around long enough for them to develop into top-tier ACC talent. And in the five years Danny Manning has coached one senior he recruited as a freshman, Mike Brey has coached four – Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell, Martinas Geben and Rex Pflueger, all of whom got inexorably better during their careers at Notre Dame.

That’s not even counting Nikolo Djogo, a red-shirt junior who, like Pflueger, is in his fourth season in the program.

None of us should ever forget the Grand Caveat of Coaching. The coach who wins often enough can do no wrong and the coach who loses often enough can do no right. But when you’re at Wake, and even Notre Dame, you’re not going to win enough every season. No coach ever has.

That’s why it’s so important for the Wakes and Notre Dames of the sporting world to find a coach who can connect with the fans, the players and the media, the guy with a capacity to show regard for someone besides themselves.

The time will come when either Wellman or his replacement will be on the market looking for a new basketball coach.

If it is indeed Wellman, do you think he will remember a lesson once learned but forgotten? For the sake of the fans, for Conor O’Neill and Les Johns and for the players who sign at Wake hoping to play not just in the ACC but in the NCAA Tournament as well, I can only hope so.

Regard. It’s an important word in life. Those who show it benefit and thrive, those who don’t suffer the consequences of a world of one.

Living the Dream of Wall-to-Wall ACC Basketball

A problem with covering ACC basketball for a living is you don’t get to see all the ACC basketball you want to see.

The paradox has to do with the time required to cover an ACC basketball game. While others are watching all those great games on television, the beat guy is getting to his assigned game, preparing for the game, watching the game, and then conducting the interviews and gathering the material required to write about it.

So often I’d leave the hacienda at 9:30 for a noon home game, and when all was said and done, come dragging back in around dinner time. And if the game was on the road – say in Charlottesville or Atlanta or Tallahassee or Boston — then my entire weekend would be consumed with the logistics of getting there, covering the game and getting home.

To find out what transpired elsewhere in the footprint, I’d have to rely on reading the accounts written by others, or talking to friends fortunate enough to see the games.

All of which is why I’ve never watched as much ACC basketball as I have since retiring from the Winston-Salem Journal 18 months ago. That’s also why I’m loving pretty much every minute of it, especially on days such as we had this past Saturday.

I climb out of bed warning my bride Tybee that it’s going to be wall-to-wall basketball. How she puts up with me, I’ll never know.

Nor will I cease to be ever grateful.

But what a slice of heaven this past Saturday proved to be, watching ACC basketball from the tip of North Carolina’s noon game against Miami to the conclusion of Duke’s at Virginia at around 8. Retirement truly has its rewards.

Having spent my career in Chapel Hill and Winston-Salem, I’m drawn more to the Big Four schools. And on this occasion, I was actually happy that Wake had the day off. The Deacons of this day and time, sadly, are rarely worth watching.

But the three Big-Four games played Saturday were classics, with the Tar Heels outlasting in overtime an inspired Hurricanes team playing out of its mind, the Wolfpack gutting out a game at Pitt it absolutely could not afford to lose and the Blue Devils hitting enough 3-pointers to hold off the Hoos in what I always considered the ACC’s most fabulous show place, John Paul Jones Arena.

My only real chore of the day was figuring out what window to run out and procure dinner from a near-by restaurant. I chose the first half of the four o’clock Louisville at Florida State tilt and got back (with take-out lasagna in tow) in plenty of time to see the second half and overtime of the Seminoles’ hard-fought victory over Chris Mack’s high-flying Cardinals.

Conclusions drawn from this wall-to-wall ACC basketball were four-fold.

With Coby White playing like a 6-5 Phil Ford, the Tar Heels are one team no one wants to face come NCAA Tournament time.

State still appears to be running on fumes, though one has to give Jeff Capel and the Panthers plenty of credit for giving the Pack all it could handle.

The Duke freshmen, particularly R.J. Barrett, were highly inspired and motivated by the front-row presence of LeBron James and (to a lesser-degree) Rajon Rondo and wanted to give those guys a sneak peek of what to expect in the NBA come next season.

The best play-by-play/color man combo calling ACC basketball these days, by far, is that of Evan Lepler and Dave Odom.

Here’s where I admit I’m not the most objective critic to be found. Both Evan and Dave are good friends.

I’ve known Dave well since he became Wake’s head basketball coach in 1989 and he always treated me the way any beat guy would love to be treated. And I’ve known Evan since his under-graduate days at Wake going on 15 years ago, and have followed his career with great interest.

It’s been really cool this season to see Evan getting more and more high-profile games. He’s earned those opportunities, and, to my mind, he continues to make the most of them. He’s a bright guy quick to learn, and you can just sense him gaining confidence and polish with every game he calls.

I expect Evan Lepler to be on the ACC scene for years to come, and all of us ACC fans will continue to be all the more fortunate for it.

And Dave Odom has forgotten more basketball than most of us will ever know. He’s also the ultimate people-person, and his love and appreciation for the game he devoted a life to comes across so loud and so clear.

Dave, like Evan, is a bright guy quick to learn. And Dave’s great challenge as a commentator was not in knowing what to say, but learning when to not say anything.

Anyone who knows Dave knows he’s a talker. Any sportswriter who was ever around during Dave’s time will recount the time Dave took 10 minutes to answer a question that another coach would have dispensed with in 15 seconds.

And that’s why every sportswriter I ever met loved Dave Odom. He held us in high regard, and the feeling was mutual.

Dave is also a naturally funny guy prone to say things as only he can say him. To me, that’s a plus in this new pursuit of him.

There’s a natural rhythm in every good play-by-play/color man team, and Dave, as he gains experience, is learning not to step on the comments of his teammate. But I also noticed a natural rapport between Evan and Dave, which warms the heart of a good friend of both.

Like when Dave observed player taking a flop in an attempt to draw a charge and giving up a basket.

Odom: “A lingering question with contact is when do you fall back and give up a shot – not that time.’’

To which Evan responded: “And that’s a question that will linger forever.’’

But my favorite moment of the whole day was a line by Dave that had me laughing out loud. Now Dave is an old-school guy. So I was hardly surprised to find he’s not a fan of the infestation of the Euro-step in modern basketball – which would have been called walking during Dave’s days of coaching high school basketball in Goldsboro and Durham and would still be today if called correctly.

“That Euro-step all these guys are working on – that needs to be left in Europe.’’

What could be better than watching ACC basketball with two great friends like Evan Lepler and Dave Odom? If I find out, I’ll let you know.

But don’t expect an answer anytime soon.