Wake Forest announced on Friday morning that it was not firing basketball coach Danny Manning.
You don’t often get these kinds of news conferences. This, in fact, was more of a conversation around a table, Manning, Ron Wellman and a couple of sportswriters talking Wake Forest basketball.
The good, the bad and the ugly.
These are strange times for the Deacs. At home while most of the ACC plays on.
“I know this is an odd time to do this,” Wellman said.
It was odd period.
“Let me just say up front that we are not where we want to be,” Wellman said. “We are not where we expect to be.”
This was the opening move of Wellman’s last stand, a slow rollout of his last act, the decision to leave the basketball program in the hands of Manning, despite the assumption in recent days and weeks that Wake was in the market for a new coach.
The parlor game for the past month or so has been to guess which names would show up on the list, which coach out there would ride in and rebuild Wake Forest basketball in his image.
Instead, a statement was released Friday morning announcing that Manning would indeed return for a sixth season. And then the presser was announced for Deacon Tower at 10 a.m.
Wake Forest just didn’t need to announce it was keeping Manning aboard. It needed to explain it.
There were all sorts of stories floating out there, rumors of buyout money being gathered, clandestine meetings with boosters and school officials, scheduled news conferences and the like.
And some of that was true and some of it wasn’t. Put it this way, Manning is going on CBS Sunday to help with the NCAA Tournament telecast. He was never going on there as a free agent.
We might never know what happened behind the scenes, what role new AD John Currie had, if any, and what role influential boosters had. This wasn’t all Wellman’s decision, at least not in a vacuum.
The explanation is that Manning has a young team with a good recruiting class coming in, a group of good students who take college seriously and represent Wake in the manner the school requires.
That’s not a minor thing at Wake.
“This is a fun group to be around,” Manning said.
Unlike last year’s team, this group enjoys hanging out together and bonding. Manning’s departure would’ve fractured that.
His “continuation,” as Wellman put it, will surely incite the fan base that couldn’t imagine a scenario in which Manning would return after another 20-loss season that came after a remarkable roster overturn the year before.
But again, we don’t know everything behind the scenes at this small, private and conservative university.
This goes back to the days when Dino Gaudio was fired in part because he didn’t have the right players, the right students for Wake Forest.
For all the hand-wringing of Jeff Bzdelik, that was a move to clean up the program, and Bzdelik did it.
Manning, on the other hand, was brought in to win, to clean up the mess left behind by Bzdelik.
The nightmare has now gone on for more than nine years, and Friday morning’s announcement will not go over well with the fans wanting, and expecting, change. This was a stunning announcement in that sense, and social media was on fire all day long.
It could be a long offseason for Manning. We’ve seen this fan base turn ugly. We’ve seen it turn away recruits who shied away from the toxic atmosphere. We’ve seen Joel Coliseum empty at times.
This is a huge risk by Wellman, and a huge burden to put on Currie. And it puts enormous pressure on Manning, too.
He has to keep his roster this time. He has to bring in the right recruiting class this time. He has to win this time.
Or there will be no next time.
This was a day unlike any we’ve ever seen at Wake or even in the ACC. This was unlike anything anyone imagined.
Strange days at the little Baptist school.
Strange days indeed.
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Ed Hardin is a reporter for the Greensboro News & Record
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