The litany of American men and women who’ve lost their jobs due to COVID-19 shutdowns currently stands in the tens of millions. Many lack the financial security to weather the blow without struggle and long-term damage to their fiscal security. Given that context there’s little tragedy in Wake Forest’s firing of Danny Manning, which was anticipated for years.
ACC coaches are well paid. Manning’s ouster, the league’s eighth coaching change in the past five years, was perhaps delayed by a much-noted and thoroughly ill-advised buyout reportedly in the range of $15 million.
Perhaps, in choosing to lock in Manning early in his Wake tenure, former AD Ron Wellman was hoping to emulate Tom Butters’ retrospectively celebrated move to keep Mike Krzyzewski during the mid-eighties, when Duke had just endured consecutive 17-loss seasons. The public was still trying to learn how to pronounce and spell Krzyzewski’s name when his contract was renewed, a sign of confidence that’s been amply rewarded.
Manning was coming off a 19-victory season, breakeven in the ACC, when his employment was guaranteed in 2017. That year his Demon Deacons made their sole NCAA appearance and posted the only winning record of his six-year tenure. Wellman extended Manning’s contract and set in place a prodigious buyout clause, a foolish fad that has since faded.
The exact terms of the deal were never revealed. The size of the buyout and, more importantly, whether the school prudently insisted it decrease in value over time, are unknown. If the buyout did decline as time passed, then at some point the substantial loss of revenue from a half-empty Joel Coliseum made it fiscally feasible to change coaches.
Certainly the nuances of Manning’s record – the 30-80 ACC record, marked by long losing streaks; the failure to finish higher than 10th in the league; the home upsets by supposed pushover opponents; the parade of transfers; the single ACC Tournament win; the players who marginally improved; the vanished fans and fan enthusiasm in an arena the school owns – argued for a merciful end.
Instead Manning lingered on the sidelines, a tall, lean and surprisingly uncommanding presence. The former All-American and all-pro did well recruiting and as a teacher of big men, a role he might enjoy as an NBA assistant.
Yet there was something missing. Manning’s teams never demonstrated a particular trait, offensively or defensively, to set them apart. They were good but never formidable.
Moreover, hiring Manning to replace an equally introverted Jeff Bzdelik robbed Wake of a key attribute.
While rich in basketball tradition, the smallest of Power Five schools was long overshadowed by its more illustrious, Triangle-based North Carolina neighbors Duke and UNC and, to a lesser extent, NC State.
One way the Demon Deacons, however unintentionally, commanded media and fan interest was with a run of smart, approachable, outgoing head coaches in Dave Odom, Skip Prosser and Dino Gaudio. That each won well over 60 percent of his games helped.
By contrast, over the decade the more guarded Bzdelik and Manning ran the show at Winston-Salem the Deacons lost regularly and the coaches personally did little to invigorate public interest and loyalty. That left new AD John Currie, an alum, to pay Manning to go away even as others on campus were taking pay cuts.
The move, while expected, was unusual. ACC coaches as a rule are quite secure. Eight left over the past five seasons (2017-21, counting this offseason), seven over the five years before that (2012-16) and just 10 over the decade 2002-11. That’s even as the league grew from 9 members as recently as 2004 to 12 in 2006 to 15 since 2015.
Most coaches leave unwillingly. Arguably only three of the 25 changes since 2002 were voluntary – Buzz Williams at Virginia Tech after the 2019 season, Jamie Dixon at Pitt in 2016, and Clemson’s Oliver Purnell after the 2010 season.
Wake’s Skip Prosser died in the summer of 2007.
ACC Coaching Changes
(Year New Coach Took Over Program, Includes Tenure Of Departed Coach
Prior To School Joining ACC)
|New Coaches||Replaced, Yrs Served|
|8, 2017-2021||2017||GT-Josh Pastner||Brian Gregory, 5|
|UP-Kevin Stallings||Jamie Dixon, 13|
|2018||UL-Dave Padgett||Rick Pitino, 18|
|NS-Kevin Keatts||Mark Gottfried, 6|
|2019||UL-Chris Mack||Dave Padgett, 1|
|UP-Jeff Capel||Kevin Stallings, 2|
|2020||VT-Mike Young||Buzz Williams, 5|
|2021||WF-TBD||Danny Manning, 6|
|7, 2012-16||2012||GT-Brian Gregory||Paul Hewitt, 11|
|UM-Jim Larranaga||Frank Haith, 6|
|NS-Mark Gottfried||Sidney Lowe, 5|
|2013||VT-James Johnson||Seth Greenberg, 9|
|2015||BC-Jim Christian||Steve Donahue, 4|
|VT -Buzz Williams||James Johnson, 2|
|WF-Danny Manning||Jeff Bzdelik, 4|
|5, 2007-11||2007||NS-Sidney Lowe||Herb Sendek, 10|
|2008||WF-Dino Gaudio||Skip Prosser, 6|
|2010||BC-Steve Donahue||Al Skinner, 13|
|V-Tony Bennett||Dave Leitao, 4|
|2011||C-Brad Brownell||Oliver Purnell, 7|
|5, 2002-06||2002||WF- Skip Prosser||Dave Odom,12|
|2003||FS- Leonard Hamilton||Steve Robinson, 5|
|2004||C-Oliver Purnell||Larry Shyatt, 5|
|2004||NC-Roy Williams||Matt Doherty, 3|
|2006||V-Dave Leitao||Pete Gillen, 7|