I write this as I turn off the channel showing the Wake Forest at North Carolina- Chapel Hill men’s basketball game. I haven’t watched any of it, but it’s a familiar refrain. Wake Forest is losing. Badly. Down by more than twenty on the road. Yet another road loss for a team that’s barely won a road game; they’d have to be handed to this team in order for them to get a win. In the books, it will go down as the men’s basketball team’s seventh straight loss, and it’s becoming obvious that the players have given up. And once the players have done that, it’s time for the head coach to pack his things and get out of town. Jeff Bzdelik must go.
For anyone who hasn’t been keeping track of college basketball over the last few years, the Wake Forest men’s basketball program has not only fallen from very high heights, but has emerged as a flashpoint between the fan base and athletic department. On April 7, 2010, head coach Dino Gaudio, who had come off of a successful campaign that had included reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament (despite losing first round draft picks James Johnson and Jeff Teague), was fired. The news came as a shock to many. The athletic department argued his firing was due to his poor 1-5 postseason record. What came shortly afterwards was an even bigger jolt. Within one week of Gaudio’s firing, Wake Forest announced that the then-Colorado head coach Jeff Bzdelik had accepted the same position in Winston-Salem. The hire was met with bewilderment and consternation from the very beginning; Bzdelik’s 36-58 record in three years at Colorado certainly seemed like a step down from Gaudio’s own 61-31 win-loss record. Furthermore, reports that Bzdelik and Ron Wellman, Wake Forest’s athletic director, had been friends for decades only added more fuel to the fire that this hire was not made for the sole purpose of placing a winning product on the floor.
Almost immediately the Demon Deacons fanbase splintered into two camps: “BzzOut” who wanted Bzdelik fired and “BzzIn” who preferred a wait-and-see approach with the new hire. The results on the court spoke for themselves. Wake Forest’s basketball team stumbled to a 33-59 record in Bzdelik’s first three years with only 10 total conference wins. But the numbers fail to adequately measure the level of incompetence on and off the court: his poor use of timeouts, complete lack of in-game adjustments, reliance on plays that failed to accentuate players’ strengths, a failure to show up for any road game, numerous outgoing transfers each season, and a new excuse after each loss. My favorite personal favorite:
I’m not going to make any excuses. Tuesday is their toughest day academically.
–Jeff Bzdelik on November 27, 2012 after a 16-point home loss to Nebraska
There’s only so much fans can take before a poor situation becomes hopeless. In pro sports, the draft helps alleviate some of the fans apathy and hopelessness. If a team loses enough games, the franchise can luck into a high pick and potential superstar through the draft. College basketball doesn’t work that way. It works more like a feedback loop: a poor season or two, and the recruiting for potential stud players becomes much more difficult. Poor recruiting classes, and the on-court product suffers. It can turn into a downward cycle in which fans of the school can find themselves wondering what can be done. BzzOuters have built anti-Bzdelik webpages, boycotted home games, raised money for full-page advertisements, billboards, and even air signs during football games. Home basketball games have pathetic attendance numbers, several times failing to break more than several thousand just years removed from a game where attendance was greater than maximum capacity.
I don’t even watch the games anymore. They’re too painful to watch a badly constructed and poorly coached team. For many Bzzouters, their worst fears had come to fruition when the team started out 11-3. “Could Bzdelik potentially save his job if the team won enough games?” No need to worry now. Wake Forest is on its way to another loss, which will place them at 14-13 on the season and just 4-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Jeff Bzdelik has won only two away games in the ACC during his tenure as the Wake Forest men’s basketball coach. Ron Wellman has a choice to make soon: endanger his own career and re-sign Bzdelik or let his handpicked coach go.