I had a rather surreal experience yesterday. I attended the men's basketball game against Syracuse, and I sat in one of the open air accessible boxes with a family of Syracuse fans who currently live in Charlotte. They were lovely people, honestly; pretty much a benchmark for visiting fans. But as I sat there and watched the game, and I heard the chants and cheers that essentially turned the Joel into the Carrier Dome South, and I tried to straddle the line between loyal fan and charming self deprecation that made it clear I held no illusions about which team was better, something hit me. I felt nothing about Wake Forest basketball. I wasn't even angry anymore. I was done. At this particular moment in this particular sport, I had no school spirit left. No fire burned in me for my favorite team playing my favorite sport. It's often said that the only thing worse than hatred is complete indifference. And that's where I was about the Wake Forest Men's Basketball program.
Let me be clear. I appreciated, and still do appreciate, the efforts of the players on the team. I honestly can't fathom how hard they work. But I had literally no interest in watching them play, and by the looks of it, they had no interest in playing yesterday, either. It was utterly sad, and I left the game feeling absolutely hollow.
Then came the Athletic Director news this morning. I don't think anyone has any questions about whether or not Danny Manning will continue to coach Wake Forest next year, least of all Coach Manning himself. I said it after listening to his radio post game interview yesterday. I genuinely believe he knew he was done then. The news this morning frankly reinforced that belief. But he needed to be. That was the only thing that could even hope to revive the ghosts of a once spirited program that now haunt the Joel Coliseum.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. But here's the thing. We're not doing the same thing anymore. I'm not entirely sure what I think of the hiring of Mr. Currie. I'd say my feelings are probably 85%-90% positive, my only reservations being the absolute weirdness of his time in Knoxville. The thing is, though, I know for a fact that my hope under what we had known was down to 0%. I feel more hopeful than I have in years, honestly the better part of a decade. Even in the brief honeymoon period with Coach Manning, everyone had a point that Ron Wellman hadn't made a good basketball decision in a decade. So was it really sensible to have optimism? Hindsight tells us no, clearly.
I don't want to disparage Ron Wellman. He did an absolutely incredible job in pretty much every sport sans basketball his entire tenure. There is something to be said for that, and the entirety of his legacy should not, in my opinion, be viewed through the last ten years of men's basketball. But thank goodness we'll have new blood with a strong pedigree and, perhaps most importantly, a connection to Wake Forest Athletics as real and as visceral as any other fan. I don't doubt Mr. Wellman loves Wake Forest. But I KNOW John Currie does, and that's just icing on the cake.
Mr. Currie has a few jobs. First, hold on to pretty much every coach we have, most notably Dave Clawson and Bobby Muuss. That, I would imagine, shouldn't be too much of a challenge given that they're under contract and beloved by fans, boosters, media, and administrators alike. Second, his job is to create a spirit of openness and community, rather than seeming like he exists in any sort of ivory tower. So far, I have reason to be cautiously optimistic on that front too, new though the news may be. And last but most certainly not least, our basketball program needs pretty much a complete overhaul. Find a new, exciting but tested coach (even if at a mid-major level). Bring back the Summer League and Black and Gold Madness. I'd go so far as to even suggest hosting other, new fan-centric events as well. The thing is, if a coach is having a rough year but fans still feel like the coach is trying to hold on to their support, there's something to be said for that. I never felt like Jeff Bzdelik was purposely closed off. Heck, I MET him once, when he showed up to roll the quad with the students after a big victory. He wasn't what we needed as a head coach, but I at least felt like he was trying to engage. On pretty much all fronts, I've felt for some time like Coach Manning and Ron Wellman tried to avoid engaging with fans as much as possible. That by itself isn't a firable offense, and in many ways I get it. A lot of fans can be absolute jerks. But the ivory tower situation only works if the ivory tower is standing strong, not if it's visibly collapsing. Now, it needs to be rebuilt, and John Currie needs the help and support of the community to do it well. To do that, you need two things: outreach and winning. Part one is off to a good start, and one often helps inform the other.
We'll see what happens. I'm not weeping with joy, but that's because I'm naturally wary. The good news is that the ship has probably needed a new captain for a while now, and it's finally got one. My spirit has been rejuvenated.
Rah, rah, Wake Forest rah. Old Alma Mater's sons are we.