Wake Forest basketball has reached an impasse with head coach Jeff Bzdelik and time is no longer a viable answer for needed results.
Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce....."cover him"....."I got him" came the sounds from the Lawrence Joel Veteran's Memorial Coliseum tonight as the Wake Forest Demon Deacons took on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. I know this happened because I heard it....from Boston, on an internet feed. As a life-long Wake Forest basketball fan this is frustrating. I was only 13 years old when Chris Paul set foot on the Winston-Salem campus. Under the guidance of Skip Prosser and the tutelage of an experienced cast of players, CP3 guided the Deacs to a Sweet 16 appearance his freshman year with loads of promise for his remaining years at Wake. After his sophomore year which ended in a dramatic upset against West Virginia following a 13 point Demon Deacon halftime lead, CP3 darted for greener NBA pastures.
Wake fans were upset, but who could blame him? Furthermore Wake was on top of the world with a coach most hardy Demon Deacons considered to be a top 10 coach in the nation. Within three years Prosser had recruited a top 10 class again and had Wake poised for another return to the top 5. There's no need to rehash what happened on that somber and cold July day in 2007. That day we lost a friend, we lost a hell of a coach, and ultimately we lost our way as a basketball program. Skip's successor would take Wake to number one in the country but there was always that feeling in the back of our minds that Wake could do better, that Dino was a forced choice. After Dino's third year at Wake and two seasons of postseason disappointment, Athletics Director Ron Wellman made the correct choice and let Dino Gaudio go. Dino had taken us as far as he could and for the most part nobody held that against him.
*Enter Jeff Bzdelik stage left*
I had heard of Jeff Bzdelik once in my life when I got the phone call that he would be named head coach of Wake Forest. My lone recollection of him was when Wake ventured out to Colorado for a late-night game in the mid-2000's and Air Force absolutely destroyed us by a 94-58 score. I remembered Jeff Bzdelik because he was that guy who had the funny name.
I've watched college basketball my whole life. I'm a college basketball addict. I soak it up. I read all the stats...I watch all the games that I can. I had never heard of Jeff Bzdelik beyond that one time Wake went to the Rockies and lost to Air Force. I don't pretend that my knowledge of basketball coaches should pass as a barometer for who Wake should take as a head coach, but in all honesty if I can't tell you anything about someone beyond "oh yeah he beat us that one time a few years ago and now coaches at Colorado," it should probably be a flag that we as an ACC school could do better.
Bzdelik started off slowly and tapered off. He went 8-24 his first year at Wake Forest, one of the worst records in Demon Deacon history. He followed up that stellar performance by going 13-18 the next year. I graduated from Wake Forest without ever witnessing the Deacs win an ACC tournament game. My lone NCAA win is credited to a group of guys who no longer have ties to Wake (Ish Smith, LD Williams, Ari Stewart, Tony Woods). This alone wouldn't break a fan of Wake Forest, but the conflation of events which have occurred across the basketball program since 2010 is more than enough to bring any basketball fan to his knees.
This year started with a whimper, a slow start against a D-III Rollins team which might win 15 games against D-III teams, and slowly whittled down to silence. Wake would ultimately lose to Nebraska by double digits in a game which would undoubtedly be Nebraska's high mark for the rest of the year. Nebraska, a team ranked 214th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings when Wake played them, will end up in the cellar of the Big 10 and somehow this is where Wake Forest has fallen. This is no surprise for Deacon fans, and furthermore this is undoubtedly not much of a surprise to the Wake Forest administration.
The Wake Forest athletic department has an extreme amount of pressure on it right now. The football team is in shambles and there are calls for everybody's head in that area. But before that needs to be addressed, I believe the basketball team needs to be addressed. Jim Grobe has at least had some sort of experience at the collegiate level. He took Wake to an ACC title and an Orange Bowl in 2006. This alone could buy him an eternity in Winston-Salem. On the flip side Jeff Bzdelik has run up a 24-45 record which forces every Wake fan to field the series of questions which start with "what happened to Wake's basketball team? I loved Chris Paul!"
The 2012-13 season was supposed to be the first season where Bzdelik shone. The pile of crap we were sold as Wake fans was supposed to be polished by this season. This was the season where Jeff had his own recruits, had his own chance to cultivate the roster which had been here when he arrived, and had the opportunity to bring his own "culture change" (whatever the hell that means) to Winston-Salem. But here we are, the season is 20% finished, and what have we seen? We as Wake fans have seen absolutely nothing. We've seen a team go from #1 in the country during my freshman year to #206 in KenPom. We've seen a team who played with heart behind Ish Smith and L.D. Williams, to a team who plays like they're scared to lose their scholarships. We've seen a team go from an athletic juggernaut to a team who can barely stay on the court with ACC competition. There are many factors at play here but the one and most obvious feature is the head coach.
It is as simple today as it was the day he was hired: Jeff Bzdelik is not qualified to be the Wake Forest head basketball coach, and he must be fired. We can't afford to wait another day. Every day we wait we see Wake Forest drop further into oblivion. He needs to go now, he needed to go yesterday, and before that he needed to go two years ago. We can't embrace this embarrassment any further.
I could sit here and talk about statistics all day long. I could talk about how Jeff Bzdelik's best win in Winston-Salem was beating KenPom's 79th-ranked Iowa team two years ago in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. I could talk about how through hard work and beating bad teams we finished in a four-way bloodbath through 9th-12th place last year in the ACC and snagged the 9 seed in the ACC. I could talk about how Bzdelik got us motivated enough to mount a rally against William & Mary over the holiday week, but for me to do that would be disingenuous.
Anybody who has watched Wake basketball over the previous two years (give or take a few games) knows what the problem is: Jeff Bzdelik must go. There's no reason to pull punches, there's no reason to grin and bear it, and there's no reason to keep pretending like he's not the issue. Jeff must go and that's the final answer. Only then can we move on as a program and hope to find another coach to take us back to where Skip had us when he passed away. We owe it to our fans, and we owe it to Skip who said about his incoming recruiting class shortly before he died "we're going to be good again."
Well I believe that and I believe in you Coach Prosser. But to do so, we have to get rid of Jeff Bzdelik. I say this as a fan of Wake basketball, a Wake Forest graduate, and a fan of Coach Prosser. Until Jeff Bzdelik is fired Wake Forest cannot and will not succeed on the basketball court. That's not a threat, that's not hyperbole, that's just absolute fact.
And until he is fired I will continue to hear "bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce....." on the echoing floors of the LJVM as I watch Wake basketball alone in my Boston apartment.