They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues
~ Steely Dan, Deacon Blues
It’s hard to be a Wake Forest basketball fan. Almost perfectly hard. You suffer through long periods of frustration, interspersed with brief moments of sheer joy. The most joyful being the Tim Duncan/Randolph Childress fueled back to back ACC Championships of the mid-nineties.
That was a long, long time ago, so let’s look back at a wonderful moment in time.
Those were good times. Many fans thought they were the beginning of a long period of WFU hardcourt dominance.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
Later, Skip Prosser led Wake to some good (but again not quite great) seasons. Skip was 126-68 during the regular season, but alas had mixed post-season success.
Skip died tragically, and his top assistant and close friend Dino Gaudio took over. Dino led WFU to a 61-31 record in 3 seasons, but the post-season collapses that pre-dated Dino continued, ultimately leading to his sacking after last season.
I was very worried when it became clear that Athletic Director Ron Wellman was bound and determined to hire his old friend Jeff Bzdelik to replace Dino. The same Jeff Bzdelik that had a 36-58 record at Colorado, and has never won an NCAA Tournament game. In fact, if anything his post season record made Wake’s look better.
Others shared my reaction. It was, at least by objective measures, a strange hire.
But I was willing to take a wait and see approach.
I’ve waited, and what I have seen so far is nothing short of a complete train wreck. Wake has gone from a team that was a contender in the ACC and ranked no. 1 in the country to having to scramble to nip a previously winless UNC-G team. At home.
Sadly, that UNC-G win was a high point of the early season, compared to home losses to:
Stetson (Atlantic Sun). Currently 3-7 with losses to Bethune Cookman, Palm Beach Atlantic (whoever that is) and Jacksonville.
Winthrop (Big South). Currently 5-6, with losses to Hampton, Belmont and Liberty.
UNC-W (Colonial Athletic Conference). Currently 5-5, with a loss to N.C. A&T.
And then, tonight, a home loss to the 5-6 Big South juggernaut, Presbyterian (whose losses, in the interest of fairness, are better than many who have beaten Wake this season).
It would have been unreasonable to expect Wake to be really good this year. But it would be selling Wake short to believe that this is OK. It’s not, and if you really believe Wake can be good, if you’re really a fan, you should not suffer quietly. I want to make it absolutely clear to anyone who will listen that I- and many other fans- expect more than this. It’s OK to have a bad year. It’s never OK to have this bad a year.
Those whose psychological makeup won’t allow them to face reality argue that Wake Forest has a young team and does not have a true point guard. True enough, and that will be a great oft-used excuse when Wake gets beat by 40 or 50 once the ACC games begin next month. But to say that Wake’s roster, with highly regarded recruits, point guard or not, should be a cellar dweller in the Big South Conference is absurd and indefensible on its face.
Jeff Bzdelik is in all likelihood a really good guy, and I mean no personal disrespect to him. But no one forced him to take the Wake Forest job, and he is highly paid for his troubles (I have long been fascinated by the coach-as-a-proxy-for-the-program transference that leads some to defend a guy they’d never heard of a year ago like he’s the Pope, Gandhi, Santa Claus and their favorite uncle all rolled into one). At the end of the day, there are two possibilities. One, all of Wake’s recruits were greatly overrated, not only by the prior coaching staffs, but also by most of the national recruiting services. Two, Bzdelik is not, as it turns out, the second coming of John Wooden. Occam’s razor precludes me from believing the former.
The thing is that I am a Wake Forest fan. Not a fan of whoever happens to be the coach at the moment. It would be cool to be excited about both. At the moment it’s really hard to be excited about either.
And if Bzdelik and crew can’t manage a victory over Presbyterian at home, how’s it going to go when Wake plays Duke? Call me Chicken Little, but I’m thinking not too good.
Those who try to keep their eyes closed and their chins up have provided a mountain of anecdotal evidence in support of the proposition that Bzdelik is a great game coach. That’s it- he’s an Xs and Os wizard who will coach up his players to compete with the Dukes and the UNCs.
First, he has to coach them up to compete with the VCUs and Xaviers.
As I have said to other Wake fans: Bzdelik may be a great coach, but nothing I have seen so far proves it. He better be a great recruiter, for all of our sake. Crazy thing is that few have tried to argue that he will be. Many have hung their hats on the great game coach peg.
Yes, yes a million few times yes, it’s early. Time will tell, but no one who is being even remotely honest can say that this season so far is anything more than a complete disaster- point guard or not.
Equally as frustrating as Wake’s dismal pre-conference record is the fact that the Deacons look fundamentally unsound and unprepared, and are unbearably boring to watch.
I completely realize that if Bzdelik turns Wake around, this year (fat chance) or another, this post will be constantly tossed in my face as proof that I am a “bad fan,” whatever in the hell that is. If that happens, I’ll be happy to admit that Wake is good again. I’ll even admit that I could have kept my mouth shut and suffered through a dismal season or two so I could claim to be a loyal fan when WFU wins a few games. What I’ll really be is happy, because I’ll once again be able to look forward to watching games.
I won’t even go into the ancillary marketing and branding effects that flow out of a successful sports program. I just want Wake to have a good team so it will be fun to watch the games.
Here’s the thing. Maybe when you’re in college you have some implied duty to support the team, keep a positive attitude no matter what and attend the games. But when you’re middle aged, with a job, family and a million other things competing for your time, you have absolutely no obligation to sit in front of the TV game after game watching your team get dismantled by lesser competition. You just don’t.
And I’m not. I’m calling a TKO on this season.
Maybe next year will be better, more fun. It can’t possibly be any worse.