Does Elevating an Assistant Work?

Posted by rtmsf on August 12th, 2007

Ron Wellman’s decision to elevate Dino Gaudio to the head coaching position at Wake Forest has been universally lauded by the hoopsnascenti over the last couple of days as a great hire. Nobody will dispute that this decision makes sense in terms of continuity for the program, the players and the university. But if you’ll indulge our playing of devil’s advocate for a moment, we ask the question – is this a good hire from a basketball standpoint?

Gaudio press conf

This is a significantly tougher question to address, largely because Gaudio will be evaluated on games yet unplayed. We can point to his unimpressive records at Army and Loyola as evidence of coaching mediocrity; or, we can just as easily dismiss those situations as tantamount to coaching graveyards, where only the truly special of the business can succeed.

So we thought it could be interesting to see how elevating an assistant from within a program tends to work out, historically speaking. We took a look at all the mid- and high-major programs the last three offseasons (2004-06) that elevated an assistant from within its shop to the head coaching position. FYI – there have been six such examples in 2007 – Butler (Brad Stevens), Frank Martin (Kansas St.), Randy Peele (Winthrop), Jeff Reynolds (Air Force), Bob Nash (Hawaii), and Dino Gaudio (Wake Forest).

In 2004, there were four such instances. Three of those new head coaches have gone on to great success at their programs, and the fourth had a solid first year at his before moving on up the ladder the following offseason.

  • Mark Fox – Nevada (following Trent Johnson) : rode Nick Fazekas to an 81-18 record the next three seasons, including two NCAA second round appearances. Contrastingly, his predecessor Johnson has largely struggled over on The Farm.
  • Doc Sadler – UTEP (following Billy Gillispie) : Sadler continued the Texas Western renaissance for two seasons there, going 48-18 with one NCAA and one NIT appearance.
  • Sean Miller – Xavier (following Thad Matta) : Xavier has continued to flourish under Miller, going 63-32 with two NCAA appearances, including the can you top this game vs. Ohio St. in the second round of 2007 that XU should have won.
  • Chris Mooney – Air Force (following Joe Scott) : in his only season at AF, he was 18-12 (a slight drop from 22-7 the year prior) before taking a new job at Richmond.


Can Mark Fox continue his Reno Magic w/o Fazekas?

In 2005, there were only two instances. Here too both could be fairly qualified as successful transitions.

  • Dave Rose – BYU (following Steve Cleveland) : in two seasons, Rose has taken the Cougs to one NCAA appearance and one NIT appearance, going 45-18 over that period.
  • Andy Kennedy – Cincinnati (following Bob Huggins) : Kennedy enjoyed a 21-13 season in his only at the helm after Thuggins was fired, but what’s most telling is the utter collapse in the season after Kennedy was released by UC. The Bearcats were an atrocious 11-19 overall and dead last in the Big East (2-14) in 2006-07. Great decision there.

Last offseason there were four instances, and in a weird coincidence, two of those assistants were coach’s sons who had been formally groomed to take over the program. In one case, the new coach far exceeded his predecessor; in the others, it was largely status quo.

  • Sean Sutton – Oklahoma St. (following Eddie Sutton) : Sean’s first year at the helm for the Pokes was up-and-down. OSU started strong, winning 16 of its first 17 games, but limped into the finish with an overall record of 22-13 (6-10) and losing in the first round of the NIT at home. This was still an improvement over his dad’s final season (17-16) (6-10), however.
  • Tony Bennett – Washington St. (following Dick Bennett) : this was the feel-good story of the year, as son Tony updated his dad’s offense and took the Pac-10 and nation by surprise, going 26-8 (13-5) – a fifteen win improvement – and making the program’s first NCAA tournament since 1994.
  • Ben Jacobson – Northern Iowa (following Greg McDermott) : this very solid mid-major program had its first non-NCAA appearance in four years during Jacobson’s first season at the helm, as his team sputtered to a pedestrian 18-13 campaign in the very competitive MVC.
  • Fred Hill – Rutgers (following Gary Waters) : Hill’s first season is one he’d like to forget, we’re sure. The Scarlet Knights were 10-19 (3-13) and battled with Cincinnati for the distinction as worst team in the Big East all season long. Waters’ final season ended at 19-10, which was a cause for celebration with Rutgers basketball.

 


Tony Bennett is the Model for Gaudio

Obviously, it’s tough to draw a persuasive conclusion from this sample size, and we also realize that every situation involves different factors. Nevertheless, we find it striking that in seven of the ten instances above, the assistant coach who was elevated either outperformed his predecessor or kept the program at the level of success it already enjoyed (or not enjoyed, as with Oklahoma St.). In two cases, there was a slight dropoff from previous levels, and in only one case of a single season sample there was a significant decrease.

The problem with analyzing Gaudio’s situation at Wake in this light is that status quo means that he’ll be regularly finishing in the cellar of the ACC. With the recruits he has arriving one year from now, he’ll be expected to significantly outperform what Prosser accomplished during the last two seasons. Put another way, Deacon faithful will be satisfied with nothing less than challenging for the ACC title and annual NCAA appearances – much like the first four years of Prosser’s tenure. This is a high bar, but if the recent history of Gaudio’s peers is any indication, he may have a great shot at clearing it.

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Yabba Dabba Doo…

Posted by rtmsf on August 7th, 2007

As we predicted earlier today, if any decision came from Wake this week, we figured that would mean that Ron Wellman decided that the next steward of the Demon Deacons would be one of the two assistant coaches, Dino Gaudio or Jeff Battle. Sure enough, the buzz this evening around the campus and later confirmed by Andy Katz is that Dino Gaudio has been offered a three-year contract to coach the Deacs. Exhibiting the confidence that Wellman has in him, he will not be an interim coach. A press conference has been scheduled for 11am EDT tomorrow.

Dino Flintstones

The fifty-year old coach was a head coach for seven seasons prior to his latest stint at Wake, first at Army and later at Loyola (Maryland). His record at those schools was uninspiring (68-124) for an imminent ACC coach, but this is still probably a decent hire for several reasons. First, his presence alone ensures continuity with the current players and the recruiting haul due on campus a year from now. Second, the contract is only three years, which probably mirrors the length of time that Prosser would have been given to turn the program around – if Gaudio turns out to not be the right hire, Wellman won’t have to make a large buyout in order to move forward. Finally, by keeping things “within the family,” you get the sense that Skip would have wanted this, and the WFU community should respond quite favorably in kind.

Good Luck, Dino.

Update:  Today’s press conference revealed that Gaudio has a five-year deal in place (not three years, as previously reported) to coach the Deacons.  His excitement during his introduction was apparent, and he said all the right things – commitment to defense and halfcourt execution, stress on academics, etc. – to sate the assembled media and WFU partisans.  While we ultimately feel this is a good hire, we also recognize that Gaudio has considerable work ahead of him.  He seems capable and aware, but the stress of the rigors of the ACC can wear down any coach, especially one who was content to be a high-profile assistant just two weeks ago and has had to endure a very emotional ordeal.  The 2007-08 season will be his honeymoon, but when the AT&T class arrives on campus next summer, expectations will shoot through the roof.  How he handles that class will likely act as the bellwether for his duration as head coach at the school.     

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Tuesday Thoughts…

Posted by rtmsf on August 7th, 2007

Again these are thoughts that are bouncing around in our head but are too shallow to merit a full posting…

  • Wake Forest Coaching Search.  We’re not hearing anything out of The Dash that may indicate which way Ron Wellman is leaning at this point.  Anyone who knows anything is tightlipped.  We have to believe that if his plan is to elevate assistant Dino Gaudio or Jeff Battle to the head coaching position, then it would happen this week.  No need to prolong things.  If Wake doesn’t have a new coach by Friday, however, then that indicates to us that Wellman is putting feelers out to other coaches such as Anthony Grant, Mike Montgomery and Brad Brownell to gauge their interest.  Stay tuned…
  • Chamin-awed.  We thought this was a neat find (from a neat site).  Lion in Oil reports that Chaminade University, longtime giant-killer and host of the annual Maui Invitational, is sponsoring a contest to produce a new logo for its sports teams, the Silverswords.  Might we suggest a caricature of 6’2 Chaminade guard Tim Dunham dunking in Ralph Sampson’s face as the defining moment for that school?
  • Football Players Think Bloggers are Lame.  You may have caught a recent cnnsi.com poll where they asked college football players the following question:
    •  Do you read message boards or blogs where fans discuss your team? 
    • 39.5% yes
    • 60.5% no
  • We doubt college hoopsters are any more or less savvy than their football counterparts, so we’ll assume the percentages are roughly equal for both sports.  Which is fine.  We wouldn’t want some of the guys we rip (cough, McBob) to come after us anyway.   Not because we’re afraid of him, mind you – rather, we just don’t want his unadulterated douchiness getting that close to us. 
  • Barry Bonds.   Now that the Greatest American Hero is set to spend the next week grounding out as he endeavors to assault the MLB record books one last time, we always wondered what could have been.  BB was regarded as the best all-around athlete at Junipero Serra HS in San Mateo, CA, a school with no shortage of athletes over the years (Jim Fregosi, Lynn Swann, Tom Brady).  According to his biographer Jeff Pearlman:

“Barry started as a small forward on the freshman basketball team [at Junipero Serra] that winter – a quick slasher with decent court vision, a mediocre outside shot, and no right hand to speak of.  But the athleticism was otherworldly.  Whereas many of his peers struggled to touch rim, Barry dunked and swatted shots off the backboard.  He was unlike anyone Serra had seen in years.  And this was his second best sport.” 

  • So there you have it.  Bonds was a sick athlete for a high school freshman, but unlike say, Dave Winfield or David Justice, he likely wasn’t skilled enough to ultimately become a great hoops player.  We should all be thankful for that.     
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wwWFd?

Posted by rtmsf on August 1st, 2007

As the Wake Forest community struggles to begin the healing process after the shocking death of Coach Skip Prosser last week, fans and alumni are left wondering what will happen next?  While there’s a standard protocol in place for when a coach retires, leaves for another program or simply gets fired, there really isn’t one for something like this.  Wake’s AD Ron Wellman is facing some tough internal conflicts:

When is the appropriate time to begin talking about replacing a man that was so dear to the campus community?

How do you strike a proper balance between respect for the man’s family and legacy while also working in the best long-term interests of the school?

What do you say to the players and recruits about the direction in which the program will be going, as their lives and futures are most impacted by your immediate decisions?

Ron Wellman 

Wellman Has a Difficult Road Ahead to Navigate

We don’t envy Wellman’s position, as he is facing an extremely precarious situation.  Any decision made too rashly or emotionally could negatively affect the basketball (and overall sports) program for the next decade.  Any decision made too callously or calculatingly could result in a negative undercurrent that could also tarnish the integrity of the school and program.  The key for Wellman, as when he hired Prosser and football coach Jim Grobe, is to find a situation that appropriately balances all factors to the greatest extent possible.  MUCH easier said than done.

The Wake Forest message boards have already been buzzing about possible replacements for Coach Prosser, and as expected, they have fallen into two camps.  As best we can ballpark it, from half to two-thirds of Wake fans would like to see Wellman promote from within, giving either of Prosser’s assistant coaches Dino Gaudio or Jeff Battle a chance to lead the program without the dreaded “interim” tag attached.  There are a couple of recent precedents for this course of action – Northwestern promoted its top assistant Pat Fitzgerald when its head football coach, Randy Walker, unexpectedly died in July 2006.  Indiana did likewise with Bill Lynch when its head football coach, Terry Hoeppner, died of a brain tumor in June 2007.  Wellman may feel less pressure to make this move with the announcement today that the vaunted “AT&T” class of 2008 are expected to keep their verbal commitments to the school.   

The remainder would like to see Wellman open up a national search for a new coach.  Despite the lateness of the season in the coaching carousel, there is a reasonable expectation that some coaches would leave their current programs mid-stream in order to have an opportunity at an ACC school with a top-rated recruiting class set to arrive.  The most commonly discussed names (with positives and negatives below) are:

  • Mike Montgomery – former head coach of Stanford (1986-2004) and the Golden State Warriors (2004-06)
    • Monty is the only former D1 coach out there who is currently available.
    • He fits the “profile” in that he ran a clean program in a strict academic environment at a small private school competing in a BCS conference.
    • Very successful at Stanford and Montana (25 winning seasons in 26 years), including a F4 appearance in 1998.
    • Would a long-time California guy want to move to the east coast?
    • He is sixty years old – would he have the requisite drive and/or interest at this point in his life?

Mike Montgomery

Can Wake Lure Monty out of Retirement?

  • Anthony Grant – current VCU head coach (2006-present) and former uber-recruiter under Billy Donovan at Florida (1996-2006)
    • Clearly he’s on the fast track to a major job – it’s simply a matter of when and where?
    • Plays an exciting uptempo style of ball honed while on staff with Billy D at Florida.
    • Has shown he can beat Duke in March.
    • Only one year of collegiate head coaching experience (although a very good year at VCU).
    • 41 years old – inexperienced, but potential to become Wake’s coach for the next 25 years. 

Anthony Grant

How About Anthony Grant?

  • Gregg Marshall – current Wichita St. head coach (2007) and former Winthrop head coach (1998-2007)
    • A (South) Carolina guy who is familiar with the ins and outs of recruiting in the area as well as the ACC.
    • Just took a job with Wichita St. in April 2007 after nine very successful seasons at Winthrop – too disruptive and unfair to WSU?
    • Style of play could be a problem – Wake fans tend to want to play uptempo basketball, and Marshall’s teams are slower than Xmas. 
    • 44 years old, but experienced and very successful considering he was at a Big South school for nine seasons (7 NCAA appearances)
  • Bob McKillop – current Davidson head coach (1989-present)
    • Another coach familiar with the landscape of the ACC, having worked and recruited in the area for nearly two decades.
    • Tremendous success at a small academically-oriented school (4 NCAA appearances and 3 NIT appearances in the last fourteen seasons).
  • Brad Brownell - current Wright St. head coach (2006-present) and former UNC-Wilmington head coach (2002-06)
    • Another young (38 years old) up-and-comer who has had oustanding success in five short years at UNC-Wilmington (2 NCAAs in 4 seasons) and Wright St. (1 NCAA in 1 season).
    • Roots are in the midwest although he spent four recent years in North Carolina, so he should understand the lay of the land.

 Bob McKillop

Or a Darkhorse Like McKillop?

Whichever direction Wellman chooses to go, he undoubtedly has his work cut out for him.  Stay tuned, as we’ll be all over the story if something breaks. 

 

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