WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A week after Codi Miller-McIntyre dribbled out the final 28 seconds of a 29-point, season-ending loss to Pittsburgh in the ACC Tournament, Athletics Director Ron Wellman of Wake Forest agreed with Coach Jeff Bzdelik – and the rank-and-file Wake fan base – that it was time for a change.
The change, four years in coming, is that Bzdelik is no longer the university’s men’s basketball coach.
For the record, Wellman said during a media conference Thursday afternoon that Bzdelik resigned and was not fired.
“He resigned,” Wellman said. “We started the evaluation process (Thursday), and there was no obvious conclusion to that. Before we even got to that type of discussion, Jeff resigned.”
Also for the record, Wellman said he didn’t attempt to dissuade Bzdelik from his decision.
Bzdelik, who was 51-76 at Wake Forest with a conference record of 17-51, was not at the media conference. Efforts to reach him Thursday were unsuccessful.
“When Jeff told me he was resigning, he simply said that there needs to be new energy, there needs to be new leadership to allow these players to achieve their full potential,” Wellman said. “He said there needs to be a positive environment for these guys, that they’re worn down right now and they need the opportunity to be energized with new leadership.”
Wellman heaped praise on Bzdelik, whom he hired from the University of Colorado after the 2009-10 season to replace Dino Gaudio. The move came as a surprise to many, given that Bzdelik, who was 57 at the time, had spent most of his career in the NBA and had compiled a record of 36-58 (10-38 in conference play) during his three seasons at Colorado.
“While we did not have the number of wins we would all like to have, Jeff Bzdelik has conducted himself with class and dignity every step of the way for the last four years,” Wellman said. “He has been someone who has represented our university exceptionally well. He has never deviated from the values that he had when he first came to Wake Forest, and he leaves with those same values and holding his head high — because he did not succumb to the pressures that can be evident sometimes in college basketball.
“He brought in a group of players who are a credit to this university. They are a group of young men who are not only good basketball players, but really speak about the values and what we expect a student-athlete to be at Wake Forest. This team has the highest team grade-point average that we’ve ever had at Wake Forest. We’ve been keeping those records since 1989.”
‘Short list’ of names
Wellman said that the search for a new coach will begin immediately but cautioned that naming one might take weeks. The NCAA Tournament started this week and will run through the April 7 championship game in Dallas.
Wellman said that the eventual choice, in all probability, is still coaching his team. He also said that the new coach will have the opportunity to select his own staff.
Wellman said that the current assistant coaches, Jeff Battle, Rusty LaRue and Randolph Childress, remain under contract and that he planned to meet with them Thursday night.
“We are open to everything right now,” Wellman said. “Obviously we have a list. We have a short list. We have a long list. Whether anybody on that short list emerges as our next basketball coach remains to be seen.
“I’m not looking for any one style of play as much as I am for the person and his track record and whether we can project that person to be a winner. And that’s not to suggest there won’t be assistant coaches who are strongly considered for this position.”
He did mention one criterion that must be met.
“We are going to win the right way here,” Wellman said. “We are not going to take shortcuts, we’re not going to put the university in jeopardy from a compliance standpoint.”
Struggle to win fans
From the jarring 89-79 loss to lightweight Stetson in his first game, Bzdelik struggled to win over Wake Forest fans accustomed to finishing in the upper half of the ACC and playing most seasons in postseason tournaments. Bzdelik’s first team, depleted of experience and relying on untested newcomers, stumbled to an 8-24 record by losing its final 11 games and 20 of its final 22.
Bzdelik also was criticized for not having a more vivacious, media-friendly personality, although he did make efforts to improve his public relations during his four years. Wellman acknowledged that all the calls for Bzdelik’s ouster — which included billboards and advertisements in local newspapers — probably took their toll.
“That’s difficult,” Wellman said. “When you hear things that are hurtful, that can hurt someone, as it would anyone.
“I don’t think it played a role in his decision, necessarily, but it didn’t make life pleasant all the time either.”