It seems that the firing and hiring is over for now for the ACC. So what to make of Steve Donahue at BC, Brad Brownell at Clemson, and Jeff Bzdelik at Wake Forest?
First things first: there's a reasonable chance that all three of these guys are upgrades as tacticians. Anyone who can win at Cornell as Donahue did has to be an excellent strategist. You simply can't overwhelm people with talent at Cornell.
Brownell has a reputation as a solid X's and O's guy, and as much as we admired what Oliver Purnell did at Clemson, no one ever accused him of being the second coming of Dean Smith. And Bzdelik has an excellent reputation as a strategist as well.
Of the three, the one with the least questions is Brownell and it may be because he has less of a track record. For ACC fans, the biggest impression Brownell left was when Wilmington very nearly upset Maryland in the tournament in 2003. He's done a solid job at Wright State and other than his first year at Wilmington (15-15) has never won less than 19 games.
His style is somewhat more deliberate than Purnell's, but if he wins, much less in March, fans will get used to it.
The questions about Donahue basically center around whether or not he can recruit at an ACC level. Generally speaking, that's what assistants are for. And if Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan is to be believed, former coach Al Skinner basically let his assistants do all the work anyway on the recruiting trail. New England is an under appreciated talent bed and there are plenty of players, including players from Boston, who Skinner declined to pursue. We'll see if the criticisms and concerns are justified, but it won't be hard to be a better recruiter than Skinner. And yes, he had a tremendous talent for finding underappreciated players. Getting players who are appreciated before they get there, however, might be a nice change.
The biggest concerns will be for Bzdelik.
Athletics Director Ron Wellman is taking a lot of heat for this hire, partly because of the perception that this is a buddy hire. Given the importance of the job, the presumed importance to Wellman of his own reputation, and the amount of money which is potentially at stake, from basketball revenue, tournament revenue, and certainly not least of all boosters, it's hard to imagine that he would do something that foolish.
So who is this guy? We all know by now that he coached at Air Force, but that he inherited a strong program. Winning at Air Force is still impressive. It's not like it's a given.
But what about Colorado? His record there is been mediocre to say the least. What's Wellman thinking?
There's a couple points to consider. First of all, Colorado is not an easy job. They've had some small success over the years, but nothing sustained.
In his three seasons at Colorado, Bzdelik has finished 12-20, 9-22, and this year, 15-16.
If you just at the wins and losses, it's not very impressive.
Furthermore, there is a perception that he's a system coach in that he relies on the Princeton offense or at least a variation of the Princeton offense.
However, as his assistant Steve McClain pointed out to Blue Ribbon, when Bzdelik coached the Denver Nuggets, they finished fifth in scoring in the NBA in 2003-04. The plan at Colorado was to back off of the Princeton offense as the talent improved.
Last season, according to Blue Ribbon, they were "last in the Big 12 in scoring, rebounding, assists, assist-to-turnover ratio and blocked shots," yet nine games could've gone either way.
This season, they had competitive games with Gonzaga, Arizona, Baylor, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Iowa State, and Oklahoma.
They really weren't that far from winning 20 games.
Assuming he finds the talent to play a faster pace, is it reasonable to expect that Bzdelik will be able to compete in the ACC?
The fact that he did it in the Big 12, with a three guard offense and limited inside play, suggests maybe he can.
It's important to consider Wellman's track record when it comes to identifying talent. Jim Grobe has turned out to be a remarkable football coach for Wake Forest. Skip Prosser may have been the best basketball they have ever had. Really, who is better? Dave Odom? Possibly. Carl Tacy? We don't think so. Bob Staack? Please. Dino Gaudio? Apparently not. Bones McKinney? Well, maybe. But for our money, Prosser is probably the best, and Wellman gets credit for that hire.
The other strike against Bzdelik is his age. At 57, he's no spring chicken. But if he can get the program on solid ground, win some in the postseason, and give them 10 years, that's a pretty good deal and most A.D.'s would take that.
All three guys are solid strategically. If they can get good players in their program, they should be successful and possibly more successful than the guys they are replacing.
Their new bosses certainly hope so.
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