Wake Forest didn’t have to work hard to win the press conference after the debacle of the Jeff Bzdelik era.
But it pulled out all the stops anyway.
Not only did it hire a recognizable name when it turned to Danny Manning as its new basketball coach in 2014, but it also introduced the former Final Four Most Outstanding Player and first overall NBA Draft pick by riding him into a glorified pep rally at the Quad on the back of a motorcycle driven by the school’s Deacon mascot.
It was an event that turned out to be one of the few high points of Manning’s stay at Wake. The now-former coach was fired on Saturday, a month after completing the fifth losing season of his six-year tenure.
Athletic director John Currie, in announcing the move, said that “the comprehensive search” for Manning’s replacement will begin immediately.
“I look forward to introducing the next leader for Wake Forest basketball in short order,” he said.
This time as much emphasis must be placed on winning games as is winning the press conference.
The search will be more of a challenge than normal because of current social distancing conditions. But at least Currie, whose first anniversary on the job is this week, should have a solid list of potential candidates from which to start.
Two of the most prominently mentioned names are John Beilein and Wes Miller.
Both are long shots to end up with the Deacons.
Beilein has been a hot commodity since stepping down as coach of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers 54 games into a five-year contract in February. But because of a resume that includes two Final Fours and more than 800 college wins to his credit, he is likely to have higher profile options available to him.
At 67 years old, he may also be reluctant to take on a major rebuilding project such as the one at Wake — which has lost its best returning player, Chaundee Brown, to transfer and two incoming recruits over the past few days.
Such a situation would be much more attractive to an up-and-coming coach such as Miller, especially since he’s a Triad native.
But the current UNC Greensboro coach is also a graduate of rival North Carolina who is positioning himself as the possible heir apparent to his mentor and current Tar Heels coach Roy Williams. Signing on with a program that has been to one NCAA Tournament in the past decade and plays in a conference as competitive as the ACC would be a professional gamble he probably won’t want to take.
So who does that leave?
One possibility is Gregg Marshall, a South Carolina native whose shine has begun to wear off at Wichita State after leading the Shockers to a Final Four in 2012 and an undefeated regular season the following year.
But after paying a hefty multi-million-dollar buyout on Manning’s contract, Wake might be reluctant to spend the kind of money it would take to lure Marshall — who is under contract at $3.5 million per year through 2022.
Other, more realistic, options include Winthrop’s Pat Kelsey, East Tennessee State’s Steve Forbes, UMBC’s Ryan Odom and Western Carolina’s Mark Prosser.
Three of the four have either direct or indirect ties with Wake, a helpful characteristic considering the unique challenges associated with coaching at and recruiting to the smallest school among the Power 5 conferences.
Kelsey was an assistant to both Skip Prosser and Dino Gaudio for five seasons with the Demon Deacons before eventually becoming the coach at Winthrop, where he has compiled a 163-93 record since 2012. His team would have made its second NCAA appearance this year had the tournament not been canceled because of the coronavirus crisis.
Odom is the son of popular former Deacons coach Dave Odom, who recruited the likes of Tim Duncan and Randolph Childress to the program. He is best known for leading 16th-seeded UMBC to its historic NCAA Tournament upset of top-seeded Virginia in 2018, but he’s also led the Retrievers to 20 or more wins in three of his four seasons.
Prosser is also the son of a former Wake coach. Although his record at Western Carolina is only 26-37, he has already shown promise as a program builder by helping Catamounts improve from seven wins in his first season to 19 this year.
Forbes, meanwhile, boasts a gaudy .751 winning percentage (130-43) in five seasons at ETSU. His 2019-20 team was 30-4 and headed to the NCAA Tournament. He also led a pair of junior colleges to national runner-up finishes while serving an apprenticeship under Marshall at Wichita State.
Although he and the others might not move the needle as much at their introductory press conference — with or without the motorcycle entrance — they would satisfy the most important part of the job description set by Currie during his Zoom conference last weekend.
“We’re looking for someone with great energy who knows how to recruit and build great relationships so they can build a great developmental system here and lead the team to great success at Wake Forest,” Currie said.
“I know we can attract a world-class coach for our basketball program. … We will cast a wide net, knowing that this is a special opportunity with tons of advantages.”