ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 08: Head coach Jeff Bzdelik of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons looks on against the Maryland Terrapins' during their first round game of 2012 ACC Men's Basketball Conferene Tournament at Philips Arena on March 8, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Ed. Note: And now, yet another take -- or in a matter of speaking -- a response to the response on the viability and long-term prospects of the Wake Forest basketball program.
This party's getting crazy! The past couple of days, we've had two diametrically opposed, both well-written and expressed opinions on the state of the basketball program and Jeff Bzdelik's status as head coach thereof. Honestly, I understand both sides of the equation, I agree with pieces of both sides, and both sides manage to make me laugh.
That's not to say that I think either side is inherently laughable; it's more that I think the two sides are more alike than they might like to think they are, and I don't think either opinion is as "right" as they'd like to think, notwithstanding the fact that opinions can't be right or wrong to begin with, of course.
It's time for me to weigh in. Let's make this even more interesting, shall we?
Read more after the jump....
I'm gonna get one thing out of the way right now. This post is not about detailed statistical or game analysis. I'll make references, and loosely interpret simple pieces, but the meat of this piece is about the fanbase and about personalities; the human side of sport, if you will. Of course, it's important to look at things from a variety of angles, so I don't think there's anything wrong with that, regardless of which opinion a given individual has.
I think it wise to start this piece off with a little bit of personal history. Anybody who's followed my time here on BSD knows that I started out making posts that staunchly defended Coach Bzdelik. The content of these posts was, I'll readily admit, the height of opinion, emotion and histrionics. Still, I don't regret them or recant anything I said in them; they're a reflection of emotions I was feeling at the time, and a glimpse into how I sometimes act both in and outside of sports. With this in mind, they're pieces that, regardless of their imperfections, undoubtedly have a place and serve a purpose.
That said, I'd be lying if my support wasn't tested. Particularly towards the end of last season, when i was getting flashbacks to the first Bzdelik season, probably the worst in school history. At that time, I was at the end of my rope as a fan. Regrettably (for me personally at least), some "Fire Bzdelik" comments creeped into my repertoire. While I own up to these comments, and maintain that I frequently clarified them and elaborated that they were made from an emotional perspective on the spur of the moment and not from any place of real "professional bloodlust," I still regret making them on a personal level, if only because I know how such things would make me feel if they were being said about me.
However, my perspective on the situation is in line with what I want to say to my fellow Deac fans. In short, things are in the middle. While "Fire Bzdelik" comments made in earnest are questionable in their appropriateness in my humble opinion, there's no question that things need to improve, and that sustained performance on this level is wholly inappropriate. While it can sometimes be frustrating to see Coach Bzdelik so staunch and confident even in the face of things being less than optimal to say the least, I think even he knows that things need to get better in order to justify his place and his methods.
Even in light of this, though, I do sometimes question the talking points of "doing things the right way" and similar ("culture change" is another crowd favorite). Of course, things under Dino appear to have been more than a little wild; between the sexual assault allegations leveled at Gary Clark, various problems especially in Coach Bzdelik's first year, and even rumors that I heard that I won't specifically entertain here because I don't know the validity of them.
I'm not going to say that anyone recruited was a "bad apple" or anything of that nature, but the problems were undeniable, regardless of what the cause of them was. The culture change mantra makes it sound as if we were Miami-esque, as if there was some sort of deeply rooted social problem in the program that needed cleansing. Even with all the issues that did occur, I probably wouldn't go that far.
Whether there's a cult of personality going on here or not, whether history being talked about is accurate or revised (and again, I'd argue the answer lies somewhere in the middle), there are points at which I believe Coach Bzdelik and the administration aren't given credit where they're due. They are opening up to the fanbase, they are candid and clear about their stances, attitudes, and positions, and if nothing else, they're consistent, and in my estimation, there's something to be said for that.
This is where I'm gonna wrap up the part about the administration and the coaching controversy and move on to the second and, in my opinion, more important part. Coach, if you happen to be reading this (or anyone else in the program for that matter), I'll just say this:
I don't know how to do your job. I know you've dealt with a variety of adverse circumstances, many of which you had nothing to do with, and I have a lot of respect for that. I know you want the best for the university, and we share that desire.
That said, I'm sure you realize that your confidence is a bit of a double-edged sword. I truly and genuinely hope you're correct when you say that the program is in a great place, and that the fanbase just hasn't seen it yet. No one would be happier than I to be wrong in this case. That said, if things remain as rough as they have been, that brings various things into question. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
My fellow Deac fans, we need to talk. I haven't said anything for a while, and I feel like it's so long since we've had a heart to heart like this. Now you guys know me, I'm guaranteed to shoot straight, so I apologize in advance if anything I say ruffles some feathers, but I feel like some things need to be put out there. So let's just make a list of things I want you guys to hear.
Disclaimer: every statement in here is my opinion, nothing more, even though they'll be stated very emphatically.
1. There's no point in arguing amongst each other.
I used the word arguing for a very specific reason. Differences of opinion are fine. Well-constructed and thought out discussions are beautiful. There's more than one side to every story and with very rare exception, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. But personal attacks? Snarky asides (irony acknowledged)? Inferences? Not a good look, guys. Come on. We're all fans of the same team.
2. No, (most) "Bzzouts" didn't give Coach Bzdelik a chance.
I love this one personally. Now, to be fair, I know some people who readily admit that they've been against Coach Bzdelik since the second the hire was announced. Disregarding the fact that I think this is a pretty unfortunate attitude in general, I can respect the candor. But I've known some others who have said that while they questioned the hire, they were willing to wait and see, and only got really vehement when things went admittedly really far south. Don't kid yourselves. You were so ready to pull that trigger that as soon as they lost that first game, you were ready to string him up. Just be honest about it.
3. The program is in turmoil.
On the other side of the coin, acting like there aren't problems right now is naive at best. This is not to say conclusively that the ship can't be righted even by Coach Bzdelik, but he's got some work to do. Then again, like I said, I think he knows that better than anyone.
4. Ron Wellman is really good at his job and the administration is pretty awesome.
The notion that Ron Wellman isn't a good AD is hilarious to me. As much as hoops is in turmoil, every other program is, I would argue, thriving. The facilities are fantastic. Football is coming off yet another bowl season, and chances are very good by most accounts that there will be another one this year. Non-revenue sports are killing it from a success standpoint: baseball is on the rise, both soccer teams are fantastic, field hockey rocks every year, I could go on and on.
Of course the majority of the fanbase doesn't care about these sports (which is unfortunate and should change) but it's hard work for the administration, coaches, and staff to maintain that success. Additionally, the athletic department as a whole is incredibly approachable, welcoming, forward thinking and intelligent, They want to work with the fans in many different capacities; I know from personal experience. There are no ivory towers here.
Even if things don't get better and the Bzdelik hire ends up being a "failed experiment" (and that's absolutely a worst case scenario, no matter how probable it may seem right now), the notion that Ron Wellman isn't an amazing athletic director is a tenuous premise at absolute best. One mistake does not a failure make.
5. Jeff Bzdelik WANTS to bring this program to the top.
Whether he can or not is an entirely different matter, but the notion that Coach Bzdelik doesn't care is absurd. Even if you postulate that he doesn't care that much about the University (another thing I think is false), why WOULDN'T he want to be good at his job? Even if you think he's in it all for himself (which he's not), why on Earth would he want to be remembered as a failure?
He's trying, and he's working hard. It's disingenuous to say otherwise.
6. No one is infallible.
On the other end of the spectrum, just because Coach Bzdelik wants to bring things to the top does not NECESSARILY mean he can. It is possible, and Coach himself certainly seems to think he can, which I respect a lot. Only time will tell though, and the cream rises to the top.
Additionally, the fact that Ron Wellman is an incredible AD is not, by itself, an instant dismissal of the idea that this was an unfortunate hire. That said, it certainly (in my opinion) affords him more wiggle room. He shouldn't necessarily be railroaded, even if this does turn out to be a botch.
7. No one is as smart, as knowledgeable, or as powerful, as they think they are.
I'm including myself in this, mind you. But nothing amuses me more than when we turn into armchair coaches, armchair ADs, and yes, armchair beat reporters.
This goes for the people that say that Coach Bzdelik was only hired because he's a friend of Ron Wellman's. This goes for the people that think that Coach Bzdelik can't coach under any circumstances (he might not be right for this job, but there's a difference). This goes for the people that talk conclusively about Dino being a loose cannon, or about how ANY player that has played for Wake in the last five or so years was a "bad apple" or "wasn't Wake caliber" or "had questionable character" or whatever else. This goes for the people who suggest that certain players just weren't trying or that they just didn't listen.
We're not perfect, and trust me, if we were as good at coaching, running athletic departments and playing basketball as many of us seem to act like we are sometimes (again, myself included), we wouldn't just be talking about it, we would be a part of it. Also, posting "Fire Bzdelik" and similar, while it may be cathartic, isn't necessarily going to change anything. Ron Wellman's not going to look through a game thread, smack his forehead, and go "I can't believe I didn't think of that before! Thanks random internet posters! Good lookin' out!"
8. Things weren't perfect, even under Skip.
Our own Matt Gallagher wrote a fantastic piece about the impact of losing Skip, and I largely agree with a lot of it. There is no question that Skip was an amazing coach, an amazing man, a great fit for the university, and that losing him was an INCREDIBLE blow that the program still hasn't recovered from. But I'm going to come out and say it. When things suck, the past always seems better than it probably was.
Struggle in life is one of the few constants there is; there's no such thing as a perfect life, and there's no such thing as a perfect program. I love Skip and miss him dearly but if we're being honest, I think there's definitely been some romanticizing of his tenure here. My point is not to diminish Skip's importance or greatness, nor is it to gloss over the problems going on right now. My point is to merely express the idea that it's easier to deal with pain when we build up the past as much as possible.
9. It's all going to be okay.
Whether Jeff Bzdelik is "The Guy" or not, whether it'll happen in months or years, whether it'll involve the loss of jobs or not, this program is going to recover, and Wake will rise from the ashes of this struggle. It's too big, too historic, too good, and too strong to not recover.
It may suck now, but it will get better, one way or another. And that's something I'd bet the farm on.
Thanks guys. I'm glad we had this talk.