With reporters both in Winston-Salem and Denver reporting that the Jeff Bzdelik rumors to Wake Forest are now a “done deal,” we wanted to take some time to analyze this hire because on its face there seems to be something missing. Last week Wake AD Ron Wellman fired Dino Gaudio after three seasons that included a 61-31 overall record, 27-21 ACC mark and two NCAA Tournament appearances in his three seasons at the helm — a solid resume, if not spectacular. But according to Wellman, it was what was behind those numbers that led to Gaudio’s firing — the timing and nature of what can only be described as meltdowns the last two seasons. His quote on the matter:
The decision was based on the overall performance the past three years. I looked at our February and March records and how the performances declined rather dramatically. We were 16-17 in February in those three years and in March 4-7, and 1-6 in postseason play, including the ACC Tournament. In six of those losses, we were the higher-seeded team or better seeded in five of those losses. Yet the games weren’t even close.
This is rational, reasoned and well justified analysis of Gaudio’s late-season troubles. What we’re having trouble understanding is how the 57-year old Bzdelik is a significant upgrade. Bzdelik has had two major head coaching jobs — at Air Force from 2005-07, and the current gig at Colorado. He generally did very well at the Air Force Academy, going 50-16 overall (22-10 MWC), including an at-large trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2006. The problem is that his March record at AFA wasn’t any better than Gaudio’s — he was 0-2 in the Mountain West Conference Tournament despite holding higher seeds in both games, and the Academy’s sole NCAA appearance also resulted in a loss. In fact, the unquestionable highlight of Bzdelik’s postseason career is the run that Air Force made to get to the NIT semifinals in 2007, which is great for a program with little to no basketball history but not something to which an ACC school should aspire.
Looking at his three years in Colorado certainly does not help his case. We recognize that the CU job is a challenging one, and Bzdelik seems to have gotten the Buffs on an upward trajectory there. But his three-year body of work does not inspire confidence that he’s any better than what Wake already had: 36-58 overall (10-38 Big 12), and a 1-3 record in the Big 12 Tournament. No NCAA appearances, no NIT appearances. In fact, the highlight of Bzdelik’s career in Boulder was a loss — dropping a six-point defeat in overtime against #1 Kansas in early February of this year. The fact that his team was competing with the class of the conference/nation represented to many people that Bzdelik had reached a turning point in the program. Colorado lost five more games, however, and in the Big 12 Tourney first round, the Buffs endured a fifteen-point thrashing. Maybe it’s coming next year?
Ron Wellman went out of his way to bring up Gaudio’s pitiful postseason record in his three years at Wake, and we assume that he took the time to analyze Bzdelik’s (1-5 excluding the NIT), but you have to believe that there’s more going on here than just a paucity of postseason success. We know that Wellman and Bzdelik worked together at Northwestern a number of years ago and Bzdelik’s daughter attends Wake, but that seems coincidental more than anything else. The only reasonable explanation for this hire is that Wellman must hold a belief that Bzdelik’s focus on “x’s and o’s,” of which he is well respected, is what the school needs right now. There was a lingering sense around the ACC that Gaudio’s teams, while talented and athletic, didn’t know how to run a play in the halfcourt offense. Bzdelik may very well cure that, but will he be able to raise the program to the next level that Wellman thinks they can reach (presumably a regular in the Sweet Sixteen)?