The decision by Wake Forest to retain Danny Manning as its basketball coach last spring came as a surprise to some considering that the Deacons have posted losing records — including 11-20 a year ago — in four of his first five seasons.
In reality, it was mainly done for financial reasons.
Manning is under contract through 2025 at a price tag of $18 million, a figure he’ll get whether he’s coaching or not.
It also didn’t hurt the former first overall NBA draft pick’s cause that the man who hired him, athletic director Ron Wellman, had already announced his retirement at the time the decision was made.
Bringing Manning back gives Wellman’s successor, John Currie, the option of choosing his own replacement coach if that’s the direction he decides to go. At the same time, it also gave the current coach at least one more season to show he was up to the task of steering the program back in the right direction.
“With our returning players, our transfers who will become eligible next season and our incoming recruiting class,” Manning said in a release announcing his retention, “I believe that this team will have the ability, desire and chemistry to take a step forward next season.”
True to his word, Wake has made strides in 2019-20.
At 10-11 overall (3-8 ACC), the Deacons are just one win away from matching their total in three of the past four years. Though a winning season is still a possibility — though hardly a realistic one — the results of the final nine regular season games and ACC Tournament will likely determine Manning’s future at Wake.
It’s a possibility he addressed directly before the season began.
“This year is no different than my first year, my second year or last year,” he said when asked about his job security at the ACC’s Operation Basketball media event in Charlotte last October. “My mindset doesn’t change. I’ve been very fortunate to be in the situation I’m in, but I understand what it is. There are a lot of things you can control, and you can’t worry about the things you can’t control.”
Manning isn’t the only basketball coach whose fate is undecided as the season makes the turn into its home stretch.
Unlike Manning at Wake, UNC Wilmington’s Rob Burke is also uncertain of how much longer he will be his team’s coach.
Only he’s not on the hot seat.
The 42-year-old career assistant took over as the Seahawks’ interim coach on Jan. 13 after permanent coach C.B. McGrath was abruptly fired after 11 straight losses to start the Colonial Athletic Association schedule.
While athletic director Jimmy Bass said at the time of the change that his school would conduct a “national search” for a successor, Burke has made a case for staying on the job by improving both the Seahawks’ effort and results since he’s been in charge.
UNCW is only 2-3 in his five games, but even in the defeats, the results have been much more competitive than they were during the long losing streak.
“He’s a very energetic guy, and I felt like we needed that as a team,” Seahawks guard Shykeim Phillips said of Burke. “When the team’s getting down, we just look to him and he gives us energy.”
While several other teams in North Carolina could use a similar injection of energy — specifically two with the highest profile — there aren’t any other coaches around the state currently in professional peril.
UNC’s Roy Williams isn’t going anywhere despite the Tar Heels’ season-long struggles, and while the honeymoon is officially over at NC State for Kevin Keatts — you don’t see many posts on social media proclaiming him as a “winner” these days — he just received a contract extension and has a national top-10 recruiting class set to arrive next season.
The thing about coaching seats, though, is that they can start getting warm in a hurry if you don’t watch out.
“There’s always a sense of urgency,” Manning said. “It doesn’t matter what year. I played professional basketball for 15 years. You can lose your job anytime somebody came in and took it. That’s just what it is.”