One year ago today, March 20, 2014, Jeff Bzdelik resigned from his position as the head men's basketball coach at Wake Forest University. The announcement of his resignation brought joy and hope to a significant number of Wake Forest fans, and even caused a number of fans to "roll the quad," which is a Wake Forest tradition of celebrating victories. While it can be difficult to justify celebrating when a person loses his or her job, it's easy to see why Jeff Bzdelik caused so much angst among the fan base.
Bzdelik took over for Dino Gaudio in April of 2010. Gaudio led Wake Forest to a #1 national ranking in 2009, and a thrilling NCAA Tournament victory over Texas in 2010. Wake Forest director of athletics, Ron Wellman, stated that Gaudio's teams continually performed poorly in the postseason. To his credit, Wellman was in fact able to ameliorate these postseason concerns when he hired Bzdelik by ensuring Wake didn't even make it to the postseason.
The Wake Forest men's basketball program made it to postseason play in 18 of the 20 seasons prior to Bzdelik's arrival. He proceeded to make zero postseason appearances in four seasons. He compiled a record of 51-76, including 17-51 in ACC play. Let's not even get into the KenPom numbers and road games. But it wasn't just the losing that was so frustrating. It was the arrogance and deflecting of blame that came with it. Late Wake Forest basketball coach Skip Prosser was known to be a great quote for his "Skipisms." Bzdelik was also a great quote, but for all the wrong reasons.
[After a reporter pointed out that State went on runs of 12-0, 20-4, 13-2 and 11-2 over the course of the game] "That 12-0 run, the 7-point play was part of it, okay? And our radio people told us if you take away those runs that we outscored them by 19. - Jeff Bzdelik
"We worked on it. You can ask them." - Jeff Bzdelik
"He's building a great program. "A lot of people can't see that now, but he's doing everything that needs to be done to have a great sustainable program.
"So I couldn't be more excited about our future.'' - Ron Wellman, February 2012
The fact is, that he did not put the Wake Forest basketball program in a good position moving forward no matter what he or the athletic director claims. Bzdelik made excuses and lacked personal accountability. He was the first to tell you about his experience in the NBA and that he worked under Pat Riley, but he was the last person to accept responsibility. As soon as it was official that Bzdelik had resigned, the program instantaneously had more credibility and hope.
Danny Manning was hired on April 4, 2014. Although he only went 13-19 in his first season at Wake Forest and there are still uncertainties moving forward, Manning could not be more different from his predecessor. While Manning won a national championship in college, was the number one overall NBA Draft pick in 1988, played 15 NBA seasons, won a national title as an assistant, and led Tulsa to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in more than a decade, he'd be the last person to tell others those things. As accomplished as he is, he has tremendous humility. He also directly takes blame for his team's performance and does not make excuses. Even after incredible performances such as a 1-point loss at #2 UVA, he'll simply say "we lost."
Manning has improved Wake's recruiting in his 11-and-a-half months on campus. He salvaged a 2014 recruiting class and secured three very promising players moving forward. Mitchell Wilbekin, Cornelius Hudson, and Dinos Mitoglou were all unheralded, but Manning recognized their talent and he and his staff did a fine job developing them once they got to campus. They were Wake's three best shooters this season. Manning's 2015 recruiting class consists of three 4-star prospects and is ranked top 20 nationally. The staff already has a 3-star commit for 2016, is very much in the mix with several 4-star prospects, and could potentially land Harry Giles, who is the top player in the class.
Wake Forest's 2012 seven-man recruiting class gave Manning and his staff two consistent starters this season in Codi Miller-McIntyre and Devin Thomas. The problem with seven-man recruiting classes is that they literally tie up more than half of a team's 13 scholarships in one class. The roster Manning inherited on April 4th consisted of two true freshmen (Shelton Mitchell & Rondale Watson), one redshirt freshman (Greg McClinton), one sophomore (Miles Overton), seven juniors (CMM, Devin, Madison Jones, Aaron Rountree, Andre Washington, Tyler Cavanaugh, and Arnaud William Adala Moto), and one senior (Daniel Green). That's horrific class distribution.
The team is now far more balanced and is set up for success moving forward. This upcoming year's team will have three freshmen (Bryant Crawford, Doral Moore, and John Collins), five sophomores (Mitchell Wilbekin, Cornelius Hudson, Dinos, Greg McClinton, and Rondale Watson), zero juniors, and four seniors (CMM, Devin, Madison, and Andre). Manning is almost certainly looking to add one more player to the team by either landing one more freshman, or a graduate transfer.
Coach Manning has only been a head coach for three seasons, but he has given me and many other Wake Forest fans reason to be optimistic moving forward. I'm proud to be a Wake Forest basketball fan again. The Wake Forest basketball program has the potential to consistently be very good. Those are the expectations we should have as fans, and those are the expectations that Manning has for himself, his staff, and his team. Wake is in a good place. The ACC is a damn good basketball conference, but very shortly this program will be very competitive in the league. One day before he died, the great Skip Prosser said, "We're going to be good again." You're damn right we are.