Wake Forest basketball will rise again: It just needs new leadership

Streeter Lecka

Ladies and gentlemen of the proverbial jury, I was wrong. In May I wrote this article, which outlined why I thought our once proud program would turn around under head coach Jeff Bzdelik's leadership. At the time I truly believed every syllable that I wrote. For that I deserve to be found guilty.

I'm guilty of believing that Jeff Bzdelik, who at the time of the article had a career record of 57-100 (15-57 in conference) at BCS programs, could take Wake Forest back to national relevance where it belongs. I still believe that a strong turnaround will happen, but it can only happen under the tutelage of a new coach.

When I wrote that article, I wanted to be right so badly. It had nothing to do with me wanting to be right so I could say "I told you so." I wanted to be right because it would mean that Wake Forest basketball, which all of us hold so close to our hearts, became great again.

Some of my fondest moments not just of my four years at Wake Forest University, but of my lifetime, took place inside the Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum. The atmosphere and enthusiasm were extraordinary inside that building. We were competing against some of the best teams in the nation, and we were winning.

Now, The Joel is something that closely resembles the Z. Smith Reynolds Library, where exactly none of the fondest memories in my lifetime took place. On Tuesday, November 27, 2012 we lost to Nebraska. At home. In basketball. This is our new reality in year three of the Jeff Bzdelik Era.

What was even more frustrating than the 79-63 home loss to Nebraska was the asinine quote that Jeff Bzdelik delivered afterwards, "I've tried everything. I'm not going to make any excuses. Tuesday is their toughest day academically." Mr. Bzdelik should have stopped at "I'm not going to make any excuses." Instead, he made one. I can't imagine how many times his dog ate his homework when was growing up.

Wake Forest needs a coach who is a fighter and will not make excuses. We need a proven winner. We need a salesman who is passionate about the program and will not quit until he does so. We need to make a serious financial investment in a coach, and only by doing that can we generate significant returns. I want someone who will stand at the podium during his first press conference and declare that Wake Forest will rise again under his tenure and that we will be back where we belong competing for ACC Championships.

Part of my discussion with Mr. Bzdelik several months ago did involve the Indiana Hoosiers and the phenomenal rebuilding job that Tom Crean has done and is currently doing there. I asked if he felt the situations between the two programs were similar and he saw a similar path in Wake's future. He said yes. At the time I agreed with him. Clearly we do not have the tradition of Indiana, but few do. The point was we still have an outstanding tradition.

Now I realize that while we may have been in a similar situation, there were two very completely different men at the helms of their respective ships. Crean was dealing with numerous NCAA sanctions due to his predecessor Kelvin Sampson. Those sanctions included reductions in scholarships, official visits, as well as contact time available with recruits.

Mr. Crean, however, made zero excuses. He made the most of his opportunity and got the most out of his players. His record improved each season, and during his fourth season he led the Indiana team to a 27-9 record including a Sweet 16 appearance and a regular season victory over eventual national champion, Kentucky. Indiana is currently 7-0 and number one in the country.

We need our own Tom Crean. Now.

Can Wake still rise again? Absolutely. A main reason that I believed Jeff Bzdelik would lead this team to good things was the roster he assembled. I believed in our 2012 recruiting class and I still do. The cupboard is not bare. There is talent on the roster, and there is a lot to build on. They just need a leader who can help them grow and a relentless recruiter who can add more pieces to the puzzle. We need someone who will be accountable for his own actions and demand the most out of his players. I don't know if the answer is Brad Stevens, Shaka Smart, or someone else. I just know the answer is not Jeff Bzdelik.

The best defensive team that Jeff Bzdelik has had in his BCS coaching career was his 2007-2008 Colorado team that finished 79th in the nation. They allowed 96.3 points per 100 possessions. Dino Gaudio's best team finished 23rd in the nation and allowed 91.1 points per 100 possessions. Skip Prosser's best defense finished 38th in the nation and allowed 93.1 points per 100 possessions. Prosser's 2003-2004 Wake Forest team had the most efficient offense in the country and scored 123.6 points per 100 possessions. Brad Stevens' best defensive team finished 5th in the nation in points per possession allowed. Shaka Smart's best team finished 22nd. Both Mr. Stevens and Mr. Smart have been to the Final Four.

Vs. #1-#100
Coach Wins Losses Win %
Prosser 66 54 0.550
Gaudio 35 30 0.538
Bzdelik 3 33 0.083
Vs. Lower than #100
Coach Wins Losses Win %
Prosser 39 0 1.000
Gaudio 26 1 0.963
Bzdelik 21 10 0.677

The fans are still here. I see them on the message boards and on the streets. They just unfortunately are no longer found inside The Joel. With the right coach those fans will absolutely return and Tie-Dye Nation will be strong again. We need a leader who can unite the program and lead it back to national prominence.

Mr. Bzdelik has had his opportunity and it is now more evident than ever that he is not the man for the job. I wish nothing but the best for him in the future, but he does not deserve to be our coach. We deserve better. We don't deserve someone who wins only 8 percent of his games against top 100 opponents and only 68 percent of his games against opponents outside of the top 100. We do deserve someone like the late great Skip Prosser who won 55 percent of his games against top 100 opponents and never lost to a team outside of the top 100 during his tenure at Wake Forest.

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Mr. Wellman, we've tried the same thing over and over again, and we keep losing. Something must be done. Only then can we rise back to our rightful place in college basketball. With the correct leadership, Skip Prosser's famous quote, "We're going to be good again" will come to fruition. The Joel will be packed, and 14,655 proud Demon Deacon fans will once again rise to their feet.

Mr. Wellman, please do what is right. Our fine university deserves it.

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