Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
In my 23 years on Planet Earth, and past 13 years that I have been aware of my surroundings, I have never seen the Wake Forest fan base so united and passionate about one thing: their embarrassment and growing frustration with the direction of the basketball program, and especially Jeff Bzdelik. This unity has produced some of the most productive efforts to convey to Ron Wellman how much Wake Forest athletics means to the fans.
John Mundy posted earlier Friday on Blogger So Dear that a "Fire Jeff Bzdelik" ad was bought to be run in the weekly edition of the Wake Forest student newspaper, The Old Gold and Black. This ad been picking up steam this morning and early afternoon, with CBSSports, USA Today, The New York Times, Yahoo Sports, Darren Rovell and WXII all covering and reporting the message to both a local and national audience.
I believe the attention that has been produced by several print and social media outlets has perfectly captured the Wake Forest fan base and their growing frustration over the direction of the Wake Forest basketball program under athletic director Ron Wellman and head coach Jeff Bzdelik.
As a recent graduate of Wake Forest ('12), and enthusiastic supporter of Demon Deacon Athletics, I am very proud to be associated with a small, yet proud and passionate fan base.
When Wake Forest apparel is seen by graduates or fans in passing in the streets, whether it be downtown Winston-Salem, New York City, or even London, a "Go Deacs" refrain used to be the standard back and forth between the passer-bys, followed up, in my experience, with a quick chat about the state of athletics, primarily basketball and football related.
These days, the back-and-forth have been relegated to awkward eye-shifting and excuse-making for the poor products that have been put out to represent Mother So Dear, especially on the hardwood.
The reason I am so excited to see our fans voicing their displeasures with the current state of affairs is that it represents an overall change in mentality from a few years ago.
Fans have shifted from "Little Old Wake Forest" thinking to a type of thinking that produces championships in athletics.
The Orange Bowl is a perfect example of the first type of thinking. The 2006 Wake Forest football season was magical for a plethora of reasons, and can probably best be encapsulated as "lightning in a bottle," from injuries on our team to the rest of the ACC being down. It has commonly been called a "team of destiny," and our fans were elated to just be there for something that most of us thought would never happen again.
This was a magical season, and every Wake Forest fan will tell you that, but what have they done since then to capitalize on the success they had? They followed it up with a couple of mediocre bowl trips, and now multiple losing seasons.
Wake Forest fans have recently voiced their frustration with where the football program has headed post-Orange Bowl. Jim Grobe led the program to a level that most never thought would happen, but he is now dealing with the other side of that, sustaining the success and expectations that he created.
As the old saying goes, those that have never tasted steak don't mind having a hamburger instead. Once a perfect medium-rare steak is tasted even once, the thought of a hamburger is no longer as enticing as it once was.
The football conversation is best saved for another article on another day, but what it does lead us to is the Wake Forest fan base and their mentality for the Wake Forest basketball program.
Unlike in football, Wake Forest basketball has shown consistently over the past 20 years that they CAN compete in the upper echelon of the heavyweights in college basketball. Rodney Rodgers, Tim Duncan, Randolph Childress, Josh Howard, Chris Paul and even Al-Farouq Aminu and Jeff Teague have highlighted a run that has included two ACC championships, multiple NCAA tournament bids and mostly a feeling of "what could have been" for several of those teams.
These days, all of that momentum and success that Dave Odom, Skip Prosser, and hell, even Dino Gaudio generated is almost, if not completely gone. It feels as if it has been 10 years since the Deacs made the NCAA Tournament, instead of a mere three years ago.
Wake Forest fans know that now is an extremely important time to spring into action to voice their displeasure about Jeff Bzdelik. They know the decision ultimately lies in the hands of Ron Wellman and the Board of Trustees, but instead of sitting on their hands as they have in the past with the LOWF mentality, they are in putting their frustrations into actions and words.
By transfusing social media and traditional print media, alumni and fans are producing an effective message that is impossible to be ignored by the athletic director and BOT. This is obvious because local and national media outlets are running with the message being put out to share with the general population.
Wake Forest fans are showing the world what most of us here on BSD and in Winston-Salem already knew -- Demon Deacon fans are small in number, but as proud and passionate as any fan base in the country.
The recent uproar shows Wake Forest fans want to see success of the highest level on the basketball court. Instead of continuing to make excuses about our small, private school that has so many academic and other limitations, Wake supporters are demanding better than the status quo (and especially better than whatever is being witnessed right now on the court).
Fans at powerhouse schools like UNC and Duke do not accept mediocrity, so why should Wake Forest fans? These schools are Wake Forest's direct competition for conference supremacy and they don't care about the Deac's limitations and excuses on the basketball court. They don't feel sorry for Wake, so why should Demon Deacon fans feel sorry for themselves? They shouldn't, and are finally coming around to expecting more out of the basketball program.
Please do not mistake what I just said as "Wake Forest is on the level of UNC and Duke". I know they are not, and honestly are not even close. Given the right coach and the right system, I believe that over time Wake Forest has the potential to be a school of elite academics as well as elite athletics, just like the Blue Bloods down I-40.
A fan base should not be punished because they demand and expect excellence out of their athletic programs, especially their flagship program, while their athletic department refuses to move in that direction. If members of the athletic department and BOT are unwilling to do that then they need to be removed and replaced with people that can represent and move in the direction of the fan base's (or shareholders) expectations.
This type of mentality by the fan base also produces the type of atmosphere that top-notch head coaches strive for. Coaches want a die-hard fan base that applauds success and look upon coaches that take them to the Promised Land as heroes. These types of coaches also understand that the only thing that matters is results. They also know that fans should be upset over losing, because fans expect and demand excellence instead of mediocrity.
Graduation rates and impressive conduct off of the court are things that should be expected, especially at Wake Forest, but should never be used as an excuse as to why success cannot be achieved.
Even the longest journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, and to nearly all alumni, townies and fans of Wake Forest, the first step has to be to part with Jeff Bzdelik after this season finishes.
Instead of digging in his heels and making the trenches between himself and the fans wider and deeper, Ron Wellman needs to refocus on the bigger picture. Somewhere along the past few years he lost the plot. The Wake Forest fan base is a forgiving and respectful bunch, and will without a doubt restore Ron Wellman back into their good graces with a great basketball coach hire that will energize the program and put it back on the track it deserves to be on.
Success and excitement is all that this fan base has ever wanted, not the fool's gold of "success" and "excitement" that the Miami and N.C. State wins briefly brought to Winston-Salem.
'Culture' is not something that Wake fans want to throw out the window either. We expect to have good students and citizens, but we want more than that. Our program is above that, and it deserves great students who also excel on the basketball court. That's what we have received in the past and our demands are not changing going forward.
Wake just retired the jersey of Chris Paul, the ultimate combination of both basketball player and philanthropist.
That's the "culture" and expectation of this extremely passionate Wake Forest fan base that I am so proud to be a part of.