20-loss season, early exit from ACC Tournament have Manning on the hot seat

The fifth-year Wake Forest coach has reached the NCAA Tournament just once with the Demon Deacons

Wake Forest coach Danny Manning, right, walks off the court after the Demon Deacons lost to Miami in the first round of the ACC Tournament on Tuesday in Charlotte. (Chuck Burton / AP Photo)

CHARLOTTE — Wake Forest’s 2018-19 basketball season officially came to an end Tuesday with a 79-71 loss to Miami in the opening round of the ACC Tournament at Spectrum Arena.

Now the question is, did Danny Manning’s tenure as coach end with it?

There are plenty of reasons as to why it might, not the least of which is the 11-20 record his team posted in this, Manning’s fifth season on the job. It’s the fourth time in those five years that Wake has finished with 19 or more losses.

With the season now over, the evaluation process will begin, and a decision on Manning’s future is likely to be made sooner rather than later.

Asked directly about his job security in the aftermath of Tuesday’s loss, the former Kansas All-American was much more optimistic than most about his chances of returning to coach the Deacons again next season.

“That’s my hope. That’s always the hope,” he said. “I feel I’ll be back. I look at the score sheet and everyone that scored is an underclassman. We had some guys that grew a significant amount this year in terms of their growth from start to finish, and that’s how we want to build it.”

Other than junior point guard Brandon Childress, who finished with 16 points and five assists Tuesday, three of the other four Deacons that scored in double figures against the Hurricanes were either freshmen or sophomores.

Jaylen Hoard also had 16 points to go along with seven rebounds, while Chaundee Brown added 13 points and Isaiah Mucius scored 10.

The collective youth of the team showed throughout the season and played a major role in its undoing again Tuesday.

There were stretches in which Wake looked like it had the makings of a top team in the ACC, including a mid-first half stretch in which it outscored Miami 16-4 to take a brief seven-point lead. But just as quickly as the Deacons started to click, they began turning the ball over in bunches, allowing the Hurricanes to regain control.

It was a similar pattern to the one that played out late in the game when Wake cut a 12-point Miami lead down to just four at 74-70 with under a minute remaining. By that time, as it has so many other times this season, the rally began too late to come all the way back.

“We had some good plays, had some good stretches throughout the course of the game, but we didn’t do a good job of putting up a collective 40 minutes of basketball,” Childress said.

“It’s happened like that multiple times this year,” Hoard added. “It’s frustrating because we fight hard out there on the court but can’t seem to put 40 minutes together.”

Manning chalked the inconsistency up to several factors besides inexperience, including defense and rebounding. But he insisted that the team has improved and has the potential to grow into a winner.

Whether he or someone else will be the one to continue that development will be determined over the next few days or perhaps weeks.

Complicating the decision on Manning’s future is the fact that longtime Wake athletic director Ron Wellman has announced his retirement, effective on May 1, and John Currie has already been named as his successor.

While the evaluation of Manning and his program could potentially be a team effort between the incoming and outgoing administrators, Wellman left little doubt as to who will make the final decision.

“I’m the athletic director until May 1,” he said. “We always have evaluations right after the season.”

Wellman won’t be the only one evaluating the situation. Hoard, who has hinted at his desire to enter the NBA Draft since he arrived on campus last summer, also said he would decide on his future plans in the coming days or weeks.

As for the players certain of returning, Childress said he and his teammates remain solidly behind Manning and his current staff.

“Our confidence level in all the coaches is at an all-time high,” said Childress, whose father Randolph is a Wake Forest Hall of Famer and a current assistant coach. “Coach Manning was a helluva player. My father, coach (Steve) Woodbury … they were all great players, too, so that confidence level isn’t going anywhere.”

The question now is whether the same thing can be said for those coaches.