Wake Forest coach Bzdelik pledges to work amid uncertainty

Winston-Salem JournalMarch 19, 2014 

— The silence is deafening at Wake Forest, where many are chagrined and even more who are surprised that Jeff Bzdelik is still basketball coach.

Bzdelik, under fire since his first season of 2010-11, said Wednesday that he has not been informed about his future at Wake Forest.

“My staff and I are continuing to work as hard as we can to continue to improve this program – which made great strides this past year,” Bzdelik said in a telephone interview. “Nobody has told me otherwise. That’s the truth.

“Right now that’s what we’re doing, and I don’t know what else to say.”

Ron Wellman, Wake Forest’s athletics director, is also chairman of the NCAA’s basketball committee. He was in Dayton on Tuesday for the first night of the NCAA tournament.

Efforts to reach Wellman have been unsuccessful, leaving open the question of whether Bzdelik will be retained for the fifth year of his five-year contract.

The pressure has mounted for a change throughout Bzdelik’s tenure, with the Deacons stuck in the lower reaches of the ACC standings. Wake Forest finished 8-24 and 1-15 in ACC play in 2010-11, 13-18 and 4-12 in 2011-12, 13-18, 6-12 in 2012-13 and 17-16 and 6-12 this season. Bzdelik’s overall record at Wake Forest is 51-76, which includes a 17-51 mark in ACC.

He has been particularly criticized for his road record, which is 2-32 against conference foes. Only five of the losses have been closer than 10 points, and his average margin of defeat in conference setbacks has been 17.3 points.

The Deacons appeared to be making strides this season through January, when they were 4-3 in ACC play with victories over North Carolina and N.C. State. The season turned, however, on a 79-70 home loss to struggling Georgia Tech on Feb. 1, which was followed by five more losses. Wake Forest pulled out of that tailspin with a home victory over Clemson.

Although the Deacons regrouped to win three of their final six, including a home victory over Duke and a victory over Notre Dame for their first ACC tournament win since 2007, they did nothing to alleviate the pressure on Bzdelik. Wake lost at home to Boston College, at Miami and against Pittsburgh in the second round of the ACC tournament.

Wellman hired Bzdelik to replace Dino Gaudio, the longtime assistant to Skip Prosser who was 61-31 in three seasons. Gaudio was elevated to head coach after Prosser died of a heart attack in July of 2007.

Wellman said he made the move because of the teams’ performance in February and March under Gaudio – when the Deacons were 17-18 overall and 1-5 in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.

That rationale came under close scrutiny when he replaced Gaudio with Bzdelik, whose teams were 1-5 in conference tournaments and 0-1 in the NCAA tournament in his five seasons at Air Force and Colorado.

His second of two teams at Air Force did win three games in the 2007 NIT before losing to Clemson in the semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

Bzdelik said the Wake Forest program has improved and points to the return of seven freshmen or sophomores who played significant roles this season.

The Deacons are also hoping for contributions from Greg McClinton, Daniel Green, Shelton Mitchell and Rondale Watson.

McClinton is a freshman forward who missed the 2013-14 season while recovering from knee surgery; Green is a redshirt sophomore forward who missed the season while recovering from two knee surgeries; and Mitchell and Watson are guards who have signed to play at Wake. Another recruit, 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas, originally committed to Wake Forest before signing with Purdue.

The Winston-Salem Journal is a news partner of the Observer. For more Wake Forest coverage go to www.journalnow.com/sports/wfu/ The Winston-Salem Journal is a news partner of The News & Observer. For more Wake Forest coverage go to www.journalnow.com/sports/wfu/

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