Heaven Must Have a Beach

My hometown of Franklin, N.C. is a good 100 miles west of the continental divide, which means the rivers and streams there flow not toward the Atlantic, but instead toward the Mississippi River basin and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.

North Carolina is a long state. So is neighboring Tennessee. It’s always amazed me that one can start out on the coast and reach the Mississippi while traversing just two states.

A quick check with Google Earth informs me that there’s 363.3 miles – many of them mountainous and snaky – between Franklin and Myrtle Beach. All of which might explain how I was 14 years old before I ever laid eyes on the ocean.

My brother Tom, being two years older, got there before me. He returned with this sorrowful story how he bolted out of the car as soon as it reached the ocean, rushed into the breakers, and came up without his glasses. Being as blind as I am, he spent the entire week stumbling around in the fog and haze of acute near-sightedness.

Other than that, he had the time of his life.

My first beach trip was with the Methodist Youth Fellowship. I’ll have to check the statute of limitations before I reveal all that happened on that church-sponsored trip, but let’s just say I’m eternally grateful my mother never found out just what a numbskull I proved myself to be at 14 and away at the beach.

Or at least I never found out that she found out, which, truth be told, was just as good.

What I came to find much later, after I’d migrated to Chapel Hill for the next chapter of my life, was that many people living in North Carolina – especially those living east of Greensboro – consider it a birthright to get at least a week every summer at the beach. One of those was Tybee, who turned out to be my bride.

Tybee was raised in Raleigh, and some of her happiest childhood memories were made when her parents, Herman and Becca, loaded their four children in the car for their cherished week at the beach. They often camped, and she recalls her family walking the path from the campground to the beach at night.

Because she was the littlest, and because of a debilitating case of ostraconophobia, (fear of crabs), she just had to be carried.

So it was only after I was 27, and Tybee and I got together, that I was able to experience the beach through the eyes of someone who knew the ocean and loved it. Most everybody likes the ocean, but nobody I know loves it as much as Tybee.

In time I became comfortable among the sand and wind and heat, and I started looking forward with increasing excitement toward our sojourns to the coast.

There’s never been a better big brother than Tom, who has pulled his numbskull of a little brother out of more crises than said numbskull little brother cares to recount. But let’s just say he’s always looked out for me throughout my life.

Tom also married a beach bunny in Jenny, who actually spent part of her childhood in Myrtle Beach. So there was great joy throughout the Collins clan when Tom and Jenny bought a house at Myrtle Beach, and absolutely insisted that Tybee and I and our family make it down for at least a couple of weeks a summer.

Did I mention how there has never been a better big brother?

We’re midway through our first of two weeks down here. These days it’s just Tybee and me (Nate is in Dallas, Rebecca in Boston) but we’re making do quite fine.

I’m really not that crazy about Myrtle Beach Proper, if there really is such a place, but the fine home of Tom and Jenny is more than 50 blocks to the north where the streets are quiet and the beach – four blocks away– is practically private. What we found early is that there’s a golf cart culture in these communities, and we just park the car and drive Whitey the Golf Cart everywhere.

About the only time we drive into Myrtle Beach Proper is on Thursday, when there’s a weekly Open Mic at this really special Faith-based place called Fresh Brewed Coffee House. Because Fresh Brewed, unlike Muddy Creek Cafe, specializes in caffeine and does not sell beer, it takes an adjustment on my part to not be at my usual level of libation when I break out Buckshot for my set.

But the folks are friendly as can be, the Open Mic is well-run, and I’ve really enjoyed playing there.

Our schedule is our own, and for Tybee, that means logging as much TBT (Tybee Beach Time) as she can possibly pack in. It’s not unusual for the two of us to make it down to the shore by 10, set up our umbrella and chairs and for Tybee to still be completely content until I drive Whitey back down there at around 7 or 7:30 to bring her back to the hacienda for a shower and dinner.

Today she has to cut her TBT short because she wants to make the Open Mic with me. I know I’m asking a lot, but her willingness to do so must mean she really does care about me.

Happy Birthday, Frances Cooper Collins

Early one morning in June,

With the Mountain Laurel in bloom,

The Bluecoats came.

And they weren’t a’knocking.

Frances Cooper Collins was born on July 4, 1925 in Cherokee, N.C., the third of nine children of Zolley Arnold and Amandaville Myrtle Keener Cooper.

Zolley was a carpenter/handyman who worked for the Cherokee Boarding School and Myrtle, as she was commonly known, had her hands full keeping house and raising nine kids through the Great Depresssion.

Frances, our mother, taught us – and by us I mean my sister Sara Sue, brothers Tom and Joe and me – pretty much everything we know.

But one thing she made absolutely certain she taught us was to curse the ground that Andrew Jackson ever set foot on.

They drug us out of our doors,

Said `You don’t live here no more,’

Herded us up like cattle,

And put us in the stockade.

Frances was a righteous woman who raised us in the First United Methodist Church, but she converted to the Church of Latter Day Saints after all her children had flown the coop. I couldn’t resist chiding her about how she drug me out of bed all those Sunday mornings to worship at a church that she, herself, abandoned, but Frances Cooper Collins did not find her religion to be a laughing matter.

But for a righteous woman, Frances sure could hold a grudge. And her most celebrated and dead-set grudge dated all the way back to the 1830s. For if you know your American history, then you’ll know that no one on earth was more responsible than the aforementioned Andrew Jackson for removing her people out of their idyllic ancestral homeland in the mountains of North Carolina and moving them off to this far away place called Oklahoma.

The Cherokee knew nothing about Oklahoma, and so many of them didn’t want to go to Oklahoma. But thanks largely to Jackson, they had no say in the matter.

Our people argued our case and won,

In the marble halls of Washington,

John Marshall said it was our land,

Like it had been all through the years.

Though born almost 100 years after this sorrowful chapter of our nation’s history, Frances wasn’t one to let such a grievous matter drop. So throughout our childhood, the name Andrew Jackson couldn’t be mentioned without our mother reminding anyone within earshot what a lowlife and scoundrel our seventh president truly was.

We’d chuckle over how worked up Frances could get, but only when she wasn’t looking. Like her religion, the removal of her people was no laughing matter to Frances Cooper Collins

Old Hickory was having none of it,

Said `You’ve made your law, now let’s see you enforce it,’

So the Cherokee marched the Trail of Tears.

The Coopers are known for their strong blood because almost all of Frances’ brothers and sisters have lived, or did live, into their 80s or 90s. But Frances was the unlucky one; she died of leukemia in 1989.

I am grateful she lived long enough to know Nate, our son born in 1986. But it’s always caused an ache in my heart she didn’t know Rebecca, born in 1990. Rebecca reminds me of Frances in so many ways. The two would have made quite a team.

The mud had frozen hard,

In the stockade yard,

When, by the point of a bayonet,

Our march began.

Given how deep the villainy of Andrew Jackson had been seared into my consciousness, I felt a real responsibility to make sure that grudge didn’t simply wither away in time. Frances’ grudge was way too good a grudge for that.

So throughout Nate and Rebecca’s childhood, I made sure they knew just who Andrew Jackson was, what he had done to my mother’s people, and just what their Maw Collins felt about it.

By foot, by horse and by boat,

Only the lucky wore coats,

It was more than any woman, child or man

Should ever have to stand.

But no matter how hard and adamantly I railed, my sermons just weren’t seeming to take. I’d go on and on about what a wretched, good-for-nothing, incorrigible piece of human excrement Andew Jackson was for what he did to the native Americans, and I never could detect the least bit of rancor or enmity on their part.

I was looking for froth, serious froth, and I never even saw so much as a fleck on Nate or Rebecca’s lips.

Eventually I began to despair that I was letting my mother down for not extending a perfectly good grudge past my own generation. So what, in such a sad conundrum, is a man to do?

Well, I reasoned, he could always write a song. And after reading one of the saddest stories I’ve ever read, that of a child survivor the genocide named Samuel Cloud, that’s exactly what I did.

I wrote it for my mother.

Happy Birthday Frances Cooper Collins.

Beside my mother I’d lie,

Until the night my mother died,

The night I learned how to cry,

On the Trail of Tears. – Trail of Tears by Dan Collins

A Difference Between Danny and Dave

One advantage to coaching football at Wake is that it doesn’t take long for the cream of the crop to rise to the top.

And by top, I mean the best that’s ever been.

Ever since Peahead Walker left over a contract squabble for an assistant’s position at Yale (of all places) and, shortly thereafter, Wake and six sister schools left the Southern Conference to form the ACC, there has been all of one Deacons coach who has managed to produce three winning seasons in a row.

He’s Jim Grobe, of course, who is also the only Wake coach since Peahead to coach the Deacons to more than one bowl game.

All of which reinforces a point I made repeatedly during my 25 seasons on the Deacon beat for the Winston-Salem Journal. All schools have bad years. Some have bad decades. But Wake can lay a compelling claim to having the worst century of any program in major-college football.

My go-to evidence comes from what Grobe inherited when he took over as head coach in 2001. At that time, all the traditional schools of the ACC had, over the course of their histories, won at least 50 percent of their football games.

Wake, conversely, had won 39 percent.

And what other program was bad enough to inspire a lament for losers by a classic rock band? Take it away, Steely Dan. . .

They got a name for the winners in the world,

I want a name when I lose,

They call Alabama the Crimson Tide,

Call me the Deacon Blues.

With a winning season in 2018 – which, to me sitting here on June 28 appears imminently do-able — Dave Clawson will join Grobe and Peahead on one of the shortest of college football’s short lists. He’ll do something that, until Grobe came along, just wasn’t done.

And, in my mind, he’ll deserve a statue at BB&T Field, right next to the one of Grobe that should already be smiling down on us.

Even during the first two ground-laying seasons of 3-9 and 3-9, I had a sense that Ron Wellman, the director of athletics, had made a second straight hire for the ages. Being around Clawson, and getting to know him, I could see he was bright as hell, driven, organized and extremely, extremely adverse to losing.

There is also a quality of Clawson that I wish I saw more from the other major-sport coach who was hired at Wake in 2014. Dave is personable.

There may be those who have followed me from the Journal to here who have concluded that I don’t like Danny Manning, Wake’s basketball coach. I like Danny fine. He’s an impressive man who has never done anything that has ever gotten back to me to embarrass himself, his family or Wake Forest University. Best I can tell, he has strong positive values and cares about the players he coaches.

I just wish I could have gotten to know him better. Of all the adjectives I might use to describe Manning, there’s guarded, reticent and, on certain days at certain times, aloof. But notice that personable is not among them.

It’s easy to see why Manning is not one to give much of himself away. A rising basketball star by the time he was 14, Danny Manning obviously had to ask a great deal of himself. But he never had to ask much from anybody else. He never had to sell himself.

But from the time Dave Clawson graduated from Williams College in 1989 and took his first assistant’s job at Albany, he has been selling himself – and doing it well. I don’t mean this as a knock. It’s who he is and it has served him well during his rise through the ranks.

One example was how he picked up early in our relationship how much I love music and how much it means to me. So he just happened to mention his ritual of slapping on the headphones and listening to classic rock from the 1980s whenever he piloted his riding lawnmower around his yard.

I had to admit that I was never much of a classic rock from the 1980s kind of guy, but we did find common ground in such artists as Elvis Costello and the Talking Heads. And I found this facet of his personality interesting, and got a couple of blogs out of it.

So I had to grin a little recently when I came across this glowing article on Clawson in Sports Illustrated. Andy Staples, the author, picked up on the fact that Clawson is a foodie, and quite a devoted foodie at that, and wrote a nice piece that gave the readers a better take on just who this Dave Clawson fellow is.

You reckon Dave made sure Staples knew just what kind of foodie he is? I do, and I don’t blame him one bit. Again, I’m not knocking Dave for his willingness, if not eagerness, to sell himself. It’s helped get him where he is today, and it’s helped get him one winning season away from joining the best that’s ever been at Wake.

It should go without saying that if Danny Manning were winning championships at Wake, or for that matter, finishing above 10th in the ACC, then it wouldn’t matter one whit how personable he might be.

But it’s my take that one major-sport coach at Wake is willing, perhaps even anxious to sell himself and he’s winning. There’s another who, publicly at least, would rather keep himself to himself and he’s not winning.

See a correlation?

I do.

Joke’s On Me

Frank: It isn’t right for a college to buy football players.

Wagstaff: It isn’t, eh? Well, I’ll nip that in the bud. How about coming along and having a nip yourself?

Frank: Anything further, Father?

Wagstaff: Anything further, Father? That can’t be right. Isn’t it ‘Anything Father, further?’ The idea! I married your mother because I wanted children. Imagine my disappointment when you arrived. – HORSE FEATHERS, starring the Marx Brothers.

Humor is a funny thing. You either get the joke or you don’t.

Which is why I rarely watch contemporary sitcoms. From time to time I’ll give one a try, but humor requires a latitude I just can’t make myself extend to what I’m watching on today’s television.

If you enjoy Modern Family or The Big Bang or Bob’s Burgers, I envy you. I love a good belly laugh as much as the next mark, but, to me, nothing I’m seeing on the tube these days is even chuckle-worthy, much less chortle inducing.

Mulling my obvious and sad defect, it occurred to me that a person’s sense of humor can reveal much about the person. What it reveals first and foremost is the person’s age. Humor changes generation by generation, as I learned while raising kids. A joke or scene that wold have me rolling of the floor so often produced little more than a roll of the eyes from Nate or Rebecca.

We did find common ground, thankfully, with such treasures as Ghost Busters and Animal House and early episodes of The Simpsons, but the act of renting a movie could be fraught with peril.

What does my sense of humor say about me? Again, the first thing it says is I’m old. I try not to be a crusty old curmudgeon (could there be any other kind) but the effort from time to time overwhelms me.

From my aged beef point of view, the greatest comedy ever made is Blazing Saddles. I’ve watched it hundreds of times and I swear I still come unhinged every time Mongo tells us all he’s only a pawn in game of life. Or when Taggart confronts the William J. Le Petomane Toll Booth in the middle of the desert. Or when Lily Von Shtupp, asks Sheriff Bart “Tell me schatze, is it twue what they say about the way you people are. . . gifted?’’

The tragedy of this comedy, however, is that it could never be made today – which a part of me doesn’t understand. Sure I recognize that it’s outrageously politically incorrect, and I do recognize the need in these politically charged times to show all people of all persuasions the proper respect they deserve.

But in Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks, bless his delightfully demented soul, wielded satire laced with a certain word that is jarring to today’s sensibilities to absolutely shred bigotry in all its unsightly forms. He left no doubt with this classic just how stupid stupid can be.

So obviously I lean toward the absurd and I appreciate a good social commentary. But I also get off on word play, and total, unadulterated chaos. Which is where the Marx Brothers come in.

I love the Marx Brothers. We watched Horse Feathers just last night (a perfectly precedent statement on the unholy marriage between big-time football and institutions of higher learning) and I reveled in every pun and pratfall. Groucho can have me in stitches just by walking in a room.

While reflecting on just what my sense of humor says about me, I decided to draft a baseball team of my favorite comedians. Every time I did, I remembered a favorite I had left out, but eventually I came up with the following lineup. I’d be curious to hear from you on just who and what tickles your own personal funny bone.

Batting order
1. Richard Pryor CF
2. Charlie Chaplin SS
3. George Carlin 3B
4. John Belushi C
5. Robin Williams 1B
6. Bill Hicks DH
7. Eddie Murphy RF
8. Dan Aykroyd LF
9. Harpo Marx 2B

1. Groucho Marx
2. Steven Wright
3. Gilda Radner
4. Chico Marx
5. Andy Kaufman

Long relief – Lilly Tomlin
Set-up – Andy Kaufman
Set-up – Chris Rock
Closer – Steve Martin

Battling the Beast

So to those who might wonder why a man who is retired would need a vacation, an explanation is perhaps in order for the weeks since I last posted on MTOW.

Generally I resist making a public to-do about my health, knowing that so many – especially anyone as old as I – have problems far more pressing than mine. And as I’ve often acknowledged, I’m healthier at 65 than I deserve to be given my lifelong, headlong pursuit of the fruit off the vine.

Whatever pain and discomfort I might feel these days, I can honestly say I came by honestly.

But the reason I haven’t been writing is that I’m wrestling with this beast in my chest that rears up from time to time and lays me low for days at a time. It’s industrial-strength indigestion, gerd, acid reflux, a problem I’ve battled most of my life that has been getting the best of me these past few weeks.

The first time it hit me full-force, I was convinced it was the big one – the heart attack all people of my age of considerable girth who have lived life to the marrow all but come to expect. Turns out, it was a gas bubble burning a hole in my chest for a good 30-45 minutes before I was able to douse it with antacids and deep belches induced by carbonated soft drinks.

And yes, I’ve had the endoscopy, and yes I’ve had the colonoscopy, and yes I’m taking two different acid blockers and yes I’m sleeping these days with my head elevated. The endoscopy revealed Barrett’s syndrome, which my specialist assured me is usually only fatal when it deteriorates into something worse.

Two of the people I’m closest to have successfully battled esophagus cancer, so I’ve been getting the best of advice from the best of people.

One of the survivors mentioned, tactfully, that one prudent course of action would be to lose weight. So that’s been my overriding goal of the summer, to shed some of these pounds I’ve accumulated over the years.

My new scales bought just for the occasion revealed I’m down about 15 pounds, which is a good start, but hardly the target I’m shooting for.

A great advantage of retirement is that you can set up your days as you wish, without regard for assignments or deadlines. All my life I’ve heard how much wiser it is flip the normal routine, and eat your biggest meal at mid-day and then graze and nibble in the evening. So over the past week to 10 days, that’s what I’ve been doing.

If the coffee I’m tentatively sipping as I write this doesn’t rear up on me, then I can report that the beast, for the past few days, has been held at bay. I’m not ready to celebrate but I am, as the politicians say, cautiously optimistic.

But if you know me, you’ll know that I’ll find a way to have fun regardless of the circumstances. I know very little about soccer – my high school tucked deep in the mountains of North Carolina didn’t offer the sport – but I am really getting off of the color, pageantry and drama of the World Cup. (And yes I’m definitely in high dungeon over Sweden not getting a penalty kick against Germany). There’s something way cool about a world expending its excess energy on rooting for a favorite sports team instead of the killing of fellow human beings.

I would be mentioning how much I’ve enjoyed watching my favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, if it weren’t for the horrendous slump that has befallen Joe and the Boys. Sure the Reds were hot, but yesterday’s loss in the fourth and final game of the sweep was as brutal as I’ve endured this season.

My bride Tybee is a teacher, and thus on vacation herself for the summer. We’re watching a lot TV of the best kind, the fourth season of The Wire (best drama series I’ve ever seen) and the early seasons of Downton Abbey. Tybee never started Downton Abby and I was ready to start again from scratch.

And in case you’re wondering, yes I have been able to muster up enough energy to make it down to Muddy Creek Cafe on Thursday nights for our weekly Open Mics. We had our fourth anniversary earlier this month, and the recent shows have been as memorable as any we’ve ever enjoyed.

The difference is I used to return to the hacienda and keep the good times roaring until the wee hours of the morning. Now I come home and go to bed.

All of which is to say that I’ve felt remiss for leaving my blog unattended these past few weeks and there’s few things in the world I hate worse than to be remiss. So there you have it, and hopefully, if the beast can be kept at bay, I’ll be back in days to come with My Take on Whatever.

Wake Left Outside Looking In

The program with the second-best record in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge wasn’t invited to participate in next season’s ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Word came down late last week that Wake will be left out when teams from the two power conferences square off again in the fall. The ACC has 15 teams, and the Big Ten only 14, so one team from the ACC had to be excluded.

And for the second time in the past six seasons, the program excluded was Wake.

The news got me to thinking about better times, when some of Wake’s best non-conference victories I ever saw came in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The ACC leads the challenge 12 victories to five (with two ties) in no small part because of the Deacons.

Other than Duke, which has won 17 and lost only two, no team has risen to the occasion more often than Wake. The Deacons have won 12 of 17, for a winning percentage of .706 that easily eclipses that of fellow-Big Four rivals North Carolina (.526) and N.C. State (.389).

I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a more impressive non-conference Wake victory than on Dec. 4, 2002, when the Deacons walked into Wisconsin’s Kohl Center – where we had all been told no road team ever wins – and walked out with a 90-80 victory.

The performance signaled that Skip Prosser and company had more in store for the ACC that season than most people expected from a team that featured senior Josh Howard, sophomores Vytas Danelius, Jamaal Levy and Taron Downey and freshmen Justin Gray and Eric Williams.

Picked to finish sixth, the Deacons actually finished alone in first in the regular season for the first time since 1962.

Wake, along the way, also won at Michigan in 2000, at Iowa in 2007, at Nebraska in 2011 and at Rutgers in 2015.

The Deacons were actually 5-0 in the Challenge before traveling to Illinois as the top-ranked team in the nation (remember, we’re talking about better times) in 2004, where they lost to the fifth-ranked Illini 91-73. They then won three more in a row (making them 8-1) before losing at Purdue in 2009.

Even Jeff Bzdelik, at 2-1, had a winning record in the Challenge, though his one loss will be long remembered for his post-game comments. Wake lost to Nebraska 79-63, and afterward Bzdelik complained about the game being played on a Tuesday.

Something about Tuesday being Wake’s toughest academic day. Never mind the Huskers traveled the better part of 1,200 miles to beat the Deacons.

In case you’re wondering, the current coach, Danny Manning, is 2-2 in the Challenge, making him the only Wake coach to lose more than once. He lost at home to Minnesota his first season, won at Rutgers his second, lost at Northwestern and beat Illinois last season.

The snub is another indignity the Wake fan base has to suffer. The Deacons, before Ron Wellman hired Jeff Bzdelik in 2010, had one of the proudest programs in the ACC. It takes a strong program to reach post-season play 16 straight seasons (with 12 being appearances in the NCAA Tournament), as Wake did with Dave Odom and Prosser at the helm.

Now, in Manning’s fifth season as head coach, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge will be played without Wake.

I’ve seen many successful coaches need a season or three to get their programs up and running, and for a new coach at a new program not to be invited is regrettable, but it can be understandable.

But can anyone offer a reasonable excuse for a program being in such sad shape going into a coach’s fifth season that it’s not invited to play in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge? If so, I’d love to hear it.

Word also filtered out last week that Manning has hired his son, Evan, as director of player development. Evan was a walk-on at Kansas, from where he graduated in 2016, and he spent last season as a program assistant and team manager.

I’ve also heard some grumbling about Manning – facing such a critical off-season given the influx of at least six new scholarship players — spending the first half of June tending to his duties as assistant coach for the USA Basketball Men’s Under18 team.

My own take is that he should hire who he wants to hire and spend his summer the way he wants to spend it.

A coach should be judged by the bottom line, how many he wins and how many he loses.

Wake, under Manning, is 54-72 and 21-56 against the ACC coaches he was hired to beat.

And come next fall, when the ACC-Big Ten Challenge cranks back home, Wake fans can reminisce about better times, when the Deacons were actually too good to be left out.

A Sales Pitch No One is Buying

Danny Manning has had four seasons to sell his vision of how to lift Wake from the most protracted downturn of our lifetime.

But other than a ballyhooed recruit whose goal is to play college basketball for one season, a junior guard who happens to be the son of the associate head coach, and the director of athletics responsible for hiring Manning in the first place, who of consequence is buying Manning’s pitch?

Bryant Crawford apparently isn’t buying it. Otherwise he wouldn’t be passing up his senior season at Wake for a leap of faith expected to land him on foreign soil playing basketball for whatever the going rate happens to be there.

Doral Moore apparently isn’t either. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have announced last month he’s taking that same leap of faith.

A total of 69 players – 11 from the ACC – were invited to the NBA combine held earlier this month in Chicago. Neither Crawford nor Moore made the list.

Keyshawn Woods obviously is not buying Manning’s pitch. Otherwise he wouldn’t have left for Ohio State as a graduate transfer.

And obviously Donovan Mitchell and Richard Washington are not either. Both had a shot at extended playing time in the ACC next season, and both decided to try their luck elsewhere.

The exodus leaves Manning headed into his fifth season with four scholarship players who have ever suited up for Wake. Add up their points and rebounds, and the quartet averaged, collectively, 5.6 points and 2.6 rebounds for a team that finished 11-20.

Crawford, Moore and Woods were all flawed college players. Otherwise the Deacons wouldn’t have finished 14th in the ACC last season at 4-14.

But Crawford did average 16.9 points, and Moore did average 9.4 rebounds. No remaining Deacon averaged more than 9.1 points or 3 rebounds.

The talent drain would be detrimental to most programs at most any time, but at Wake, at this particular time, it’s devastating. The deepest trough in the program’s history continues to get deeper.

The only good way to judge one era from another is record against conference competition. Before Ron Wellman fired Dino Gaudio after the 2009-10 season, the worst eight-season period of Wake basketball encompassed Carl Tacy’s last three seasons (1982-83 through 1984-85), Bob Staak’s four (1985-86 through 1988-89) and Dave Odom’s first (1989-90). Wake, over those eight seasons, was 32-90 against ACC foes, for a winning percentage of ..262

A new standard has been set, though it’s not one you might expect to read on the school’s website. Over the eight seasons Jeff Bzdelik and Manning have been calling the shots, the Deacons are 39-111 against sister ACC schools.

The winning percentage is .260.

But the biggest problem now facing Wellman and anyone who still cares for Wake basketball is not where the program has been these past eight seasons, but where it is headed.

Odom’s first team was 12-16 and 3-11. But Staak did leave him Derrick McQueen, Chris King and Anthony Tucker, and Odom went out and sold himself and his program well enough to land the greatest recruiting class in school history.

Two from the class, Rodney Rogers and Randolph Childress, are in the Wake Forest Sports Hall of Fame. Two others, Trelonnie Owens and Marc Blucas, were solid ACC starters

So for all the fans and supporters had been through, they were heartened by better times ahead.

Who at Wake today is heartened by what lies ahead?

All coaches have their strengths and weaknesses. But the successful ones are able to sell themselves and their vision, and use that vision to galvanize all the available parts into a cohesive unit sharing one common goal. No coach I ever encountered was better at selling himself and his vision than Skip Prosser, but others, like Odom, are able to do it in other, less overt ways.

But to sell a vision, a coach has to sell himself. When has Danny Manning, fawned over for his basketball abilities since the age of 14, ever had to sell himself?

And to sell a vision, one has to have a one.

Has anyone ever heard Danny Manning articulate his vision of how to lift Wake from the most protracted downturn of our lifetime? I covered Manning for three seasons, and I never heard one. I did hear him say, upon accepting the job, how the program was going to hang its hat on defense, but few teams in the ACC have been as easy to score against than those coached by Manning.

Has Manning articulated a vision to the fan base that I’ve missed? If so, I’m anxious to hear it.

Has Manning articulated a vision to his players?

One would certainly expect so. But whether he has or not, the players have to buy into it.

Instead they keep voting with their feet, and Manning keeps losing.

And so does Wake.