GREENSBORO — It didn’t take long after Wake Forest’s 81-72 loss to Pittsburgh in the opening round of the ACC Tournament on Tuesday to unleash the elephant in the room.
Only a handful of questions into Danny Manning’s postgame press conference, the sixth-year Deacons coach was asked if he thought he’d be back with the team for a seventh season.
The answer was exactly what you’d expect, even from a coach who’s had only one winning season and who is already reportedly in buyout talks with Wake’s athletic administration.
“Absolutely,” he said.
Asked what he thought justified him keeping his job after a 13-18 season, Manning said it was improvement — even though it wasn’t reflected in a won-loss record that was only two wins better than each of the past two years.
“I think our team has definitely improved,” he said. “I think if you look at the individuals that are on our team and how they have come from where they were last year to where they’re at right now, I think without question there’s been improvement.
“I’m extremely proud of this group and I definitely feel like we have taken some steps, not as many as I would like, not where I’m content with where we’re at. But I certainly feel like we have taken those steps in a direction that I want our program to go in.”
Not everyone associated with the Deacons would agree with that assessment.
Although no one has spent any money buying billboards calling for Manning’s ouster the way they did for his predecessor Jeff Bzdelik, Deacons fans have expressed their displeasure in their coach’s performance by staying away from Joel Coliseum in droves.
Wake has averaged fewer than 7,000 fans per game this season in a building that holds just over 14,000. And on many occasions — especially those in which the opponent is another Big Four school — a majority of those in the stands are there to see the other team.
It’s a situation Manning acknowledges isn’t the best, adding that the fans will eventually come back once the team starts winning again.
“I mean, your fans are your fans,” he said. “A lot of them expect certain things, but at the end of the day, you’re going out there and you’re trying to do the best you can, night-in and night-out. We certainly appreciate our fans and we want to have that support to continue, but these guys and the coaching staff are doing everything we can to continue to take steps and get better.”
If Manning does keep his job for at least another season, a big reason is likely to be money. Thanks to an extension he signed before the 2018-19 season, he’d be due an estimated $15 million if he’s dismissed.
That’s a lot of money for anyone, but especially for a small private school such as Wake Forest.
Despite the losing, including five seasons of 18 or more losses, Manning said that he still enjoys coaching and wants to keep doing it.
“To have an impact with helping young men grow and develop and help them prepare for the future, I feel very fortunate and blessed to be able to share my experiences,” Manning said. “Our staff (feels) the same way.
“We want them to get better as basketball players, we want them to continue to develop and grow as people and certainly I feel like that is happening. Yeah, you want to win more games, there’s no question about it, and we continue to work. But I will say that this is a group that I’m extremely proud of because I think we have gotten better throughout the course of the year from where we started.”