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?
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?
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.
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.
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.