Wake Forest’s Jeff Bzdelik: Make Sure to Leave Home Without HimPosted by JPriz on January 12th, 2014
From growing up playing basketball through college to observing many coaches over the last few years, it is my contention that a coach never strays too far from his roots, and you can look to one’s history to get a sense of the present. One coaching profile I read recently was on Alabama football head coach, Nick Saban, who gained his attention to detail from washing cars at his father’s dealership. If the car wasn’t completely streak-free, he had to wash the entire car again.
The same can be said for Wake Forest’s head coach Jeff Bzdelik. The guy simply can’t win on the road, and hasn’t been able to win on the road for the past several years, tracing back to his time at Colorado. He is quite literally 2-50 in conference road games during that stretch. OK, so the facts are out there, the guy clearly can’t win on the road. But why can’t he win on the road? I think the answer lies in Bzdelik’s history, one that has plenty of twists and turns. Here is a man who has been near greatness, and has taken credit for it. When he isn’t near greatness, he has been completely unable to win games, with the exception of his anomalous tenure at Air Force.
Bzdelik first served as an assistant at Davidson, then Northwestern, partially claiming credit for the first NIT appearance in school history. He then took the head coaching position at UMBC, where he went 25-31 in two years. And when it was clear that he couldn’t succeed on his own, he jumped to the next level as an NBA assistant. He then spent eight years with the Washington Bullets, where the franchise won 37 percent of its games before hitting the jackpot when he found Pat Riley. Bzdelik convinced Riley to take him in on with the Knicks as a scout in 1994-95 before following him to Miami for the next years as a scout and an assistant. He leveraged his time with Riley into an eventual head coaching job at Denver (the Nuggets, not the Pioneers) amid the chaos of their coaching musical chairs during the period. Bzdelik won 17 games during his first year there, followed by a turnaround in his second year, and then a slow start in his third that led to a pre-New Year’s Eve firing.
He then decided that he had seen enough of the NBA, and landed at Air Force. Air Force is the part of Bzdelik’s tenure that puzzled me at first, but in looking at the box scores from his team’s NCAA Tournament appearance in 2006 against Illinois and in their 2007 NIT semifinals against Clemson, it is crystal clear that Bzdelik inherited the best team in Air Force’s history and he stayed the previous course. Bzdelik’s two coaching positions since Air Force, first at Colorado, and now at Wake Forest, have landed him on Athlon Sport’s College Basketball’s Worst Coaching Tenures Since 1984-85 twice. He was 36-58 overall at Colorado, going 10-38 in the Big 12. Now at Wake Forest, he is 45-65 overall, and 12-41 in the ACC. Almost all of those conference wins have been notched at home.
So why can’t Jeff Bzdelik win road games? The team and fans win home games in conference play. The coach wins road games in conference play. Bzdelik is great at preparing great coaches to win games — he is a great second banana, in other words — but he hasn’t proven a great coach himself. That’s why his teams can’t win road games. Today while watching Wake Forest play at Pittsburgh, in one of the toughest places for opposing teams to play, the Demon Deacons didn’t have a chance. When Pitt went on a run in the first half, most coaches would have stopped the bleeding immediately. Not Bzdelik. He let it get out of hand. He let Pitt establish a 14-point halftime lead, and the Panthers never looked back. Demon Deacons fans deserve more. They deserve someone, anyone, who can win out on the road.