The year was 2010.
I spent this summer heading into my senior year of high school with college applications and visits on my mind. Hours of tireless research, college discussions, and of course, standardized tests.
From start to finish, Wake Forest hovered on the top of my college list. I loved everything about it. Elite academic institution. Aesthetics are second to none. Picturesque weather. Perfect size of the student body. Top notch basketball program.
Yes, the success of the basketball program heightened my interest.
The Demon Deacons were a model for consistency, reaching postseason play 16 straight seasons-the longest active streak in the ACC. Year in and year out, the Deacs contended with in-state rivals Duke and UNC for ACC championships. They produced a plethora of NBA stars including Tim Duncan and Chris Paul. Opponents feared the hostile sea of Black and Gold that was Tie-Dye Nation.
Back to Reality
We all know the numbers under Jeff Bzdelik:
21-42 in his first two seasons. Eight transfers and dismissals to five ACC wins. Dismal crowds at the Joel.
I'm growing a beard out here since the Deacs last had a major win - literally.
But I am not here to relish about the recent past or present.
In all likelihood, the Deacs will have a new coach next season. I foresee us nabbing a youthful, charismatic coach that is relentless on the recruiting trail, one that is not afraid to go head-to-head with Duke, UNC and NC State. I envision a coach who has a true identity and creates chaos on defense. We need a guy who gets the most out of his players and prides himself at developing young talent (ten freshman and sophomores next season). We must hire a coach who can connect to the fans and make the Joel an imposing environment once again. And finally our next coach needs to foster a learning environment and stress the importance of integrity. Jeff Bzdelik, to his credit, restored a positive culture.
Sounds like a difficult job description ... well, yes, it is. Our program is at a crossroads - a return to prominence or an extended stay in the ACC cellar.
Wake Forest struck out looking on the last two hires.
We need to hit a home run on this one.
Interesting things to note:
Several potential head coaches have ties to Wake Forest as players or assistants under Skip Prosser. Some fans want to start anew because of the recent failures we have endured. Others seek to maintain continuity because these coaches know "The Wake Way" and how to succeed in Winston-Salem. It is irrelevant. Wake needs to search aggressively to find the right coach for this team, this university, this community and this fan base, Wake ties or not.
A complicated and unknown issue is how much Wake Forest is willing to spend to return to prominence. Before being fired, Dino Gaudio received an extension through the 2013-2014 season. The details of the buyout clause in his contract are not public, but he is still being paid by the university. Wake could face the same issue with Bzdelik. On top of that, Wake Forest will have to pay for a buyout to the University whose coach they hire- usually in the upper six to lower seven figures. Then they have to agree to terms with the head coach. Add this up and Wake Forest could be paying three contracts and a lump sum at once, equaling at least $3-4 million in the first year and over $2 million in subsequent years. So the unknown question is: at what cost is the administration willing to pay for success?
Without further ado, here's a list of coaches that we should target.
Mark Few- Gonzaga Head Coach (14th season)
The Fit: Mark Few is one of the best coaches in the nation. He took a university from obscurity to the national spotlight. The Zags went from a Cinderella story to a consistent contender. The Bulldogs have made the NCAA tournament in all of Few's 13 seasons and reached four Sweet 16s. As usual, the Bulldogs are an offensive juggernaut, averaging over 81 points a game, 13th in the nation and are second in the nation with a remarkable 52.3% field goal percentage. Few is a phenomenal talent evaluator, developer and recruiter. He is the best mid-major coach, maybe of all time, but he is still a mid-major coach for a reason. Because he has spurned droves of major conference job offers.
Likelihood: Few would return Wake back to respectability immediately, but don't expect him to leave the Zags. Few, born in Oregon and alum of University of Oregon, is a Northwest guy at heart and there is almost no chance he comes to Winston-Salem. From his perspective, why would he leave a program in contention year-in and year-out to rebuild? I hate to say it, but Few is the least likely candidate on this list. Unless the Ducks are looking for a coach, I think he stays at Gonzaga long-term.
Dave Rice- UNLV Head Coach (2nd season)
The Fit: Through tremendous recruiting and phenomenal coaching, Dave Rice has put UNLV back on the national landscape. The Runnin' Rebels made their presence known with an upset victory over UNC last season and are currently ranked inside the Top 25. A former player and assistant under the legendary Jerry Tarkanian, Rice runs a fast-paced, entertaining offense that thrives on rapid ball movement. The team is sixth in the NCAA with 18.1 assists per game and averaging over 80 points a game. Ruthless on the recruiting trails, Rice managed to reel in the seventh ranked recruiting class, according to ESPN, including three Top 100 recruits. The savvy Rice nabbed five-star Anthony Bennett is one of the top freshman, averaging 19.4 points and almost nine rebounds a game. Rice and these freshmen have brought excitement back to Las Vegas (sound familiar... our dreams?).
Likelihood: Rice is coaching at his alma mater. He served as an assistant at UNLV for 11 seasons. He precipitated a complete culture reversal. He just brought in one of the nation's best recruiting classes. He is a West Coast guy that has never lived east of Utah. He appears to be living his dream. Unless he wants a radical change of scenery or seeks the allure of a big conference, Wake has two chances-slim and none.
Shaka Smart- Virginia Commonwealth Head Coach (4th season)
The Fit: Shaka Smart is the perfect coach to restore credibility to Demon Deacons. Besides renaming Wait Chapel in his honor, the university should do whatever it takes to hire him. If he wants to choose his assistants and receive a pay raise from the $1.2 million he currently earns, I support it. His coaching prowess is clear; he put the Colonials on the national landscape with an improbable Final Four appearance. But his ability to galvanize a fan base makes him especially attractive. He exudes the passion and intensity that will bring fans back to the Joel. Tie-Dye Nation would drool over his frenetic "havoc" defense that forces turnovers through full-court presses and intricate trapping schemes. On top of it all, he is a strong recruiter.
Likelihood: Smart has already turned down offers from larger universities like Illinois. A member of the 1999 USA Today All-USA Academic Team, Smart values strong academics. So maybe, just maybe, the academic rigors of Wake Forest, coupled with a private, down-to-earth environment would entice Smart. But don't count on it.
Brad Stevens- Butler Head Coach (6th season)
The Fit: Rumor has it that after Gaudio was fired, Wellman had his sights set on Brad Stevens as the next Wake head coach until Stevens reached the NCAA Championship Game and quickly came to terms on an extension. The rest is history. Stevens reached another title game the following season and the Deacs fell into a black hole. It would be a brilliant move for the Deacs to rewrite the unwritten. Like Smart, Stevens is a scholar earning three-time Academic All-America. Stevens exudes a calm nature, rarely raising his voice or arguing with referees. He prefers positive reinforcement, which rubs off on his players and allows them to maximize their performance. Through his keen scouting and ability to exploit the opponents' weaknesses, the Bulldogs defeat higher profile, more athletic teams-evidenced with the upset of #1 Indiana this past weekend.
Likelihood: Brad Stevens has been linked to several major programs including Illinois and Oregon. There is little reason to believe Wake Forest is any different. He seems comfortable getting mid-major recruits and molding them into a cohesive unit that has proven it can contend. "First and foremost, I'm loyal to Butler," Stevens said to the AP. When asked if he would ever leave Butler, Stevens replied "I guess if they kicked me out." But the Deacs should do whatever they can to lure him. Never say never.
Buzz Williams- Marquette Head Coach (5th season)
The Fit: Could the Deacs actually fire Buzz to hire Buzz? Williams has led Marquette to the NCAA tournament in his four seasons as the head coach. The past two, he reached the Sweet 16. He possesses a unique spunk and fiery enthusiasm that the Wake Forest program severely lacks. His team thrives on team play, averaging 32nd in the nation in assists and plays strong, physical defense. Buzz often states that "toughness beats talent every time." Few teams outhustle and outwork a Buzz Williams-coached team. Because of his blue collar style, he easily connects with fan bases, fostering pride and team spirit. Since his arrival, Marquette has consistently ranked in the top 15 in nation in attendance. Most importantly, Williams has a tireless work ethic, evident through his recruiting and his unsung road to coaching success. His first job involved pilfering stationary at a small school in Oklahoma as a means to begin his coaching career. On top of it all, he knows how to Walk it Out.
Likelihood: Several schools have attempted to lure Buzz Williams from the Golden Eagles, including Texas Tech, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Speculation has circled that he plans to leave, though he has refuted these claims, stating he has every intention to stay in Milwaukee. The recent announcement of the Catholic Seven's departure from the Big East adds a wrinkle to the situation. Does the uncertainty of Marquette's future change his mind? I am confident Wake Forest will do their due diligence to see if they can pry Buzz to Winston-Salem.
Chris Mack- Xavier Head Coach (4th season)
The Fit: The Skip Prosser disciple and former Wake Forest assistant coach has done a great job at Xavier, his alma mater. Chris Mack was so devastated by the loss of Prosser that he gave up basketball for a year. In 2011, he was presented with the Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award for his exhibition of a strong moral character. Today, he honors Prosser with his sustained success and his similar coaching style. Under Mack, the Musketeers have continued to dominate mid-majors and make noise come March Madness. They have reached the NCAA tournament all three seasons and advanced to the Sweet 16 twice. Mack is renowned for his unmatched intensity and relentless competitive spirit, which he takes to practice, games and in recruiting. He brought in the 16th ranked recruiting class, according the ESPN (seven spots higher than the Sensational Seven). Don't forget, Xavier has produced a plethora of successful head coaches in major conferences-Sean Miller, Thad Matta and Skip Prosser, consecutively.
Likelihood: Mack has always revered who Skip was and what he represented. I believe if he had am desire to join a major conference, a return to Winston-Salem would be at the top of the list. He could be the man to resuscitate the program and perpetuate Skip's legacy and vision. He understands better than anyone else the demands and requirements for success in a state led by Krzyzewski, Williams and Gottfried. Don't forget, Coach Mack will return to the Joel for the Skip Prosser Classic on Jan. 2. It should be interesting to see how he handles the crowd and if he comments on the current state of the program.
Gregg Marshall- Wichita State Head Coach (6th season)
The Fit: Gregg Marshall is one of the most consistent coaches on this list. Year in and year out, his team performs at a high level. Marshall is an uber-competitor and expresses his passion on the court. He is one of the most enthusiastic and energetic coaches in the nation. At the helm of Winthrop and Wichita State, he led eight teams to the NCAA tournament and won the NIT in 2011. He knows what it takes to win and has an unyielding drive to succeed. At Winthrop, he won the conference an unprecedented six out of nine seasons. He left the Eagles for the Shockers and started 11-20. Two years later, he finished 25-10. And last year, with his full crop of recruits, he won the competitive Missouri Valley Conference. Marshall is a known for his strong recruiting skills. In 2012, he signed an ESPN Top 100 player along with a quality cast of performers.
Likelihood: Marshall grew up and coached in South Carolina for many years so it would be no surprise if he wants to leave the Great Plains and return to the South. Wake fans would love his intensity and he would fit well with the Deacs. The Shockers were a preseason Top 25 team; in time, he has the necessary resources to produce better results at Wake.
Dave Paulsen- Bucknell Head Coach (5th season)
The Fit: Dave Paulsen has been through the rungs as an NCAA coach more than anyone else on this list. He spent over a decade at three different Division 3 schools before finally receiving the opportunity to coach in the big leagues. At each step, his teams built a strong foundation and identity. At Williams College, his alma mater, he won the Division 3 National Coach of the Year twice. At Bucknell, he built a dominant program in the Patriot League. After finishing 7-23 and 14-17, in his first two seasons, the Bison went 25-9 and 24-9 reaching postseason play. Paulsen hangs his hat on stout team defense. This season, the Bison have allowed over 70 points only once. Paulsen is also unmatched as a talent evaluator and developer. At the D3 level, all players have inherent flaws, so he gained a keen understanding of eying and maximizing talent. In addition, at Bucknell, Paulsen has relied on one and two-star recruits to win. Imagine with three, four and five stars?
Likelihood: Paulsen has not been stagnant in his long, illustrious coaching career. He has shown time and again his propensity for upward mobility. The jump from the Patriot League to the ACC is substantial. At every stop, Paulsen has fostered success and a strong team environment. Heck, even Bucknell basketball games are packed these days.
Steve Prohm- Murray State Head Coach (2nd season)
The Fit: After serving as a Murray State assistant for five seasons, Steve Prohm became the head coach last season bringing the program to new heights. The Racers caught the nation by surprise and finished 31-2. The small school in Kentucky was ranked nearly the entire season. Prohm uses a fast-paced offense that runs in transition and attacks the basket. Murray State is 25th in the nation, averaging over 79 points per game and is 21st in field goal percentage with a 48.2 eclipse. Prohm personality makes him an attractive candidate; he is calm on the sidelines but exudes confidence in his team and his players love playing for him. The only demerits on his resume are (lack of) head coaching experience and that he inherited future NBA first round pick Isaiah Canaan and a loaded senior class. Though, under his watch the Racers improved from 23-9 to 31-2. And he has proved he is a strong recruiter.
Likelihood: Currently with a salary nearly $300,000, Prohm is due for a huge raise, from Murray State or elsewhere. He will have many suitors out for his services. There is still plenty that we don't know about him, but from the naked eye, he appears to have all the attributes of a great coach.
Steve Alford- New Mexico Head Coach (6th season)
The Fit: The former college great at Indiana and NBA standout has become a premier collegiate head coach and would be a solid find for Wake on the court. Steve Alford has had success at several stops, including Iowa, before leaving the Big Ten for New Mexico. In a difficult place to recruit, Alford has led the Lobos to 22 wins in five straight seasons, including a share of three Mountain West Conference titles. He possesses a tremendous ability to evaluate and develop talent, which is perfect for the Baby Deacs. Alford runs a balanced, disciplined squad that exploits mismatches. Seven Lobos average over six points a game, but none over 13. From the barren desert, Alford does not have the name recognition of many other candidates, but has the personality and coaching ability to restore Wake to prominence. Though, it is important to note that Hawkeyes fans resent his eight years in Iowa City finishing 61-67 in Big Ten play and winning only one NCAA Tournament game in three appearances. Also, in 2010 he called a BYU player an "extremely vulgar" name in postgame head shakes, according to The Wall Street Journal. Ron Wellman would have trouble rationalizing him as the choice after firing Gaudio for fostering a malevolent culture.
Likelihood: Wake Forest would be remiss to overlook Alford, whose Lobos are currently ranked #17 in the AP Poll. Alford makes do with a dearth of home grown talent, relying on two-star prospects. He would have to consider the return to a major conference to prove his competence at running a top program and silence any doubters. I am sure he would at least contemplate the opportunity to recruit elite high schoolers to fit in his system and, in time, make deep runs in the Big Dance. Though, I think he is a tough sell at Wake Forest. Wellman would look hypocritical if he brought Alford in after stressing integrity and forcing fans to endure three rough years to "cleanse" the program.
Keith Dambrot- Akron Head Coach (9th season)
The Fit: Famous for coaching LeBron at St. Vincent St. Mary's High School, Keith Dambrot has made a name for himself on his own merit. He has taken Akron, his alma mater and hometown, through its most successful era in school history. The Zips have won at least 22 games the past seven seasons and in 2009 was named the Best Mid-Major Coach by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports. Dambrot coaches an offensive juggernaut averaging 77 points per game and stresses a balanced, team-oriented attack. This season, no player averages more than 11.4 points per game, but six players average over 8.9. This "starless" identity would work well in Winston-Salem by building continuity with the young core, instead of relying on singular efforts like Wake has all too much. Dambrot is a tremendous motivator and knows how to get the most out of his players. Though, Dambrot had an incident at Central Michigan 21 years ago, which halted his collegiate coaching career for a decade. He was fired for making a controversial comment before a game against Miami University.
Likelihood: Dambrot takes pride in leading his university and city to national prominence. He appears to be satisfied with staying in Akron, though a jump to the ACC would be hard to deny. Because of his age and his past wrongdoings, I think Dambrot is a tough sell at Wake Forest. Though, his mistakes occurred before I was born, so plenty has changed for him. Dambrot has a strong resume and would help the program, but he is not Wake's first choice.
Brett Reed- Lehigh Head Coach (6th season)
The Fit: Best remembered for his monumental upset over Duke, Dr. Brett Reed's success is far greater than one game. Like many other men on this list, his intelligence and eloquence are off the charts. Listening to him speak during a postgame got me motivated. This guy is a born leader. He is also an offensive mastermind; the Mountain Hawks average over 16 assists per game and over 80 points per game, while shooting an absurd 48.3 percent from the field. His recruiting stands for itself; Reed found a future NBA first round pick in do-it-all, speedy guard CJ McCollum. Similar to Prohm, though, be weary of his numbers because a lot of his success is due to his star. Reed found a diamond in the rough, because McCollum is a classic late developer. Reed did a tremendous job developing and refining his game, but ultimately there is a lot of luck involved, which skews Reed's success.
Likelihood: Reed holds his players accountable and holds them to strong academic standards. Also, he spent several years coaching in the Triad at High Point and UNC Greensboro. He knows the area well, has connections and understands the recruiting fertility of the region. I am confident he would leave Lehigh in a heartbeat for a chance in the ACC. There are other more touted and experienced candidates, but Reed is a viable option.
Tim Fuller- Missouri Associate Head Coach (2nd season)
Record: No head coaching experience
The Fit: The former Wake Forest player from 1996-2000 and assistant from 2004-2006 knows the demands of the Wake Forest program and what it takes to achieve. Tim Fuller is familiar with the area; besides his time at Wake, he worked with NC A&T, Elon and with Chris Paul at West Forsyth High School. Fuller has clawed his way up the coaching ladder and has made a profound impact at each program. Last season, the Tigers returned to national prominence with a 30-5 record. This season Mizzou opened 8-1 with their only loss at the hands of Louisville. Fuller is lauded for his work ethic and determination. He has played and worked under a variety of legendary coaches including Dave Odom, Skip Prosser, Rick Pitino and now Frank Haith. All of them praise his knowledge of the game and his teaching prowess. Earlier this year, ESPN.com named him one of the top 10 assistant coaches under the age of 40.
Likelihood: Fuller has all the makings of a great future head coach, but the time is not right for him to take over the reins in Winston-Salem. He lacks head coaching experience and the Deacs are in no position to wait for Fuller to figure out the learning curve of being a head coach. He needs to coach a mid-major program before Wake seriously considers him.
Pat Kelsey- Winthrop Head Coach (1st season)
The Fit: The former Wake Forest assistant was hired by Winthrop this season after serving as the associate head coach at Xavier under Chris Mack. Pat Kelsey took a last year off from the coaching profession because he still was dealing with the loss of Skip Prosser and wanted to spend more time with his family. Through his time off he found a rejuvenated love and passion for the sport and looks to keep the spirit and ideology of Coach Prosser alive. Kelsey took over a 12-20 Eagles team. They have struggled thus far with a 4-4 record including losses to Wofford and Indiana State. It will take time for Kelsey to adjust to his personnel and recruit his own talent. Kelsey stresses the importance of speed on the offensively and defensive end. He states, "We will be a tough, defensive-minded team that will play with a fast, 'downhill' offensive mentality."
Likelihood: Before Kelsey makes the jump to the ACC, he needs to prove his capabilities at Winthrop. He has the coaching experience, knowledge and skill set to become a great head coach, but it takes time to develop an identity. Wake should keep their tabs on Kelsey for the future, not the present.
BSD Writer Picks
Here's who each BSD writer believes the Demon Deacons should hire. The criterion is that the choice had to be a Realistic Candidate, an Under-the-Radar, or a Gamble. No Long-Shot picks.
Bart: Steve Prohm
Griffin: Chris Mack
John: Steve Alford
Matt: Steve Prohm
Matt: Steve Prohm
Riley: Keith Dambrot
Robert: Steve Prohm
Marty: Mike Brown #yolo
Is there anyone else who should be included on the list? Any coach put in the incorrect category? Who do you think should be the next head coach?
Thanks for reading and post your opinions below.