Seekin’ Deacon, or what’s really the best fix
There’s been another change at the top of the athletic administration at another ACC school; this time it’s across the state in Winston-Salem at Wake Forest University.
Ron Wellman, the longest tenured Athletic Director in all of Division-I – 28 years – is stepping down at the end of this school year and turning the reigns over to John Currie, a Wake alum, who’s coming in with one primary priority.
Fix the basketball program.
Whether you’re A.D. or coach, Wake Forest presents a most unique job situation in college athletics. It is among the smallest schools competing in Division I athletics, a private Baptist school surrounded by bigger and more successful schools in the ACC, among others, right here in North Carolina.
One thing Wake has always been able to hang its hat on are what’s called “Olympic” sports; fielding strong programs in key ‘non-revenue’ sports such as golf (remember Arnold Palmer, the Wadkins brothers, and numerous LPGA lady pros?). Add to those field hockey, soccer, golf and tennis. This ‘little school’ has won nine national championships in five different sports. Five of these titles have been won since 2002, including last year’s tennis title won on its home courts, and don’t forget: they also have 22 ACC championships.
When Currie was introduced Monday, he lauded the school for those accomplishments, but also was putting out an alert.
“At the same time, I know our fans want to continue to rise,” Currie said.
He was talking the once touted Demon Deacon basketball program, of course.
Wellman’s success as an AD is overshadowed somewhat by his last two basketball hires: Danny Manning and Jeff Bzdelik, neither of whom have produced a winning record in the ACC since 2010.
Wake is now 11-18 and Manning’s career record is 64-90. That would seem to indicate the most obvious fix is a new coach.
But if you saw the Wake Forest-Duke basketball game last week, I’d have to say judging by that contest, Manning’s players still care about their coach. The man has not lost his team.
And, to be fair, so many promising players left the program early. His 2019 senior class – most playing now as pros – may have been good enough to at least break-even in conference wins.
Attendance at Joel Coliseum in the twin-cities has fallen way off; fans are tired of losing seasons, and alums are outraged at the money it would cost to replace Manning (I hear his deal is $18 million guaranteed through 2023). But you know the bottom line: this is a results-driven business and – like they say – ‘you are what your record says you are.’
Currie faced a similar situation when he was at Tennessee just eight short months removed from Kansas State, and where a failed search for a football coach became his undoing in Volunteer-land.
And now he’s walking into a ‘homecoming’!?!
Currie may have received a welcome with thunderous applause from the Deacon Club faithful, but he also has to go out there and face a fan base changed – and charged – by unfulfilled expectation.
Yes, the school has improved its facilities, graduated its players and brought in more than $400 million worth of donations while struggling at the sport that produced Tim Duncan and Chris Paul – and even down the coach’s bench: Randolph Childress. But memories of coaches from the glory days like Dave Odom and Skip Prosser go only so far.
Welcome home, Mr. Currie. Unless Wellman, his predecessor, pulls the trigger before him, he’s got a challenging task ahead.
Getting the Deacons back to national prominence is one thing. Keeping them happy in the Amen Corner is another.
Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7211.