After a 14-6 start, which was one of the best records Wake Forest has had in recent years, finding themselves “on the bubble” and entering the discussion as a team worthy of an NCAA tournament bid for the first time since 2010, it seems as though the Wake Forest basketball team has definitively reverted back to its old ways. The Demon Deacons have dropped six straight, and it seems as though any and all hope for postseason play is dwindling rapidly.
For Wake fans, it seems like an eternity since the Demon Deacons last found themselves in the NCAA tournament, or any postseason play for that matter. Since their last NCAA tournament appearance in 2010 and the surprising firing of Dino Gaudio soon after, the Demon Deacons have gone 8-24, 13-18, and 13-18 in the three seasons following.
If you think that Jeff Bzdelik deserves another year after this season to turn the program around, then I strongly (but respectfully, of course) disagree with you. In what is now his fourth year as head coach at Wake Forest, Bzdelik’s road record in ACC play is an (insert adjective of your choice) 2-30. To this point, Wake Forest’s overall record in the ACC under Jeff Bzdelik is 15-48, which translates into a .238 win percentage in conference play. In 10 years as a head coach at four different schools, Bzdelik has managed a winning record twice. Two winning seasons, 10 years. I’ll let that marinate for a little bit.
Moving on (as I hope Ron Wellman decides to do ASAP) many Wake fans are already wondering who would replace Bzdelik were he to lose his job after the season.
A few weeks ago while watching SportsCenter footage of the Wichita State Shockers win yet another game and remain the only other unbeaten D-1 team besides Syracuse, I said to my dad “Wake needs to get Gregg Marshall” to which he grumbled and continued doing whatever it was that he was doing. Next thing I know, as I’m enjoying my bowl of Cap’n Crunch a few mornings later, my dad enters the kitchen and exclaims ” Wake Forest, Gregg Marshall!” I asked my dad who he heard this from because I had a feeling he didn’t know who Gregg Marshall was, and sure enough one of his golf buddies was the one who put this idea in my dad’s head.
The moral of the story is that I am not the only one who has thought “Hey, Wake should get Gregg Marshall as their coach so maybe they can emerge from the depths of the ACC standings.” At this point, I don’t know how much the idea of Wake Forest pursuing Gregg Marshall is trending, but the more I think about it the more perfect the idea becomes.
Although I am still relatively young, I have been familiar with Gregg Marshall for years. When I was in middle school, the high school I would soon attend (Mount Tabor) in Winston-Salem had a point guard who was one of the best in the city, if not the state, by the name of Chris Gaynor. Gaynor used to have the best “handles” I had seen at the time, and at summer camps at Mount Tabor I could not take the ball from him even by literally attempting to tackle him. Gaynor was relatively undersized at only 5’9” which prevented him from obtaining any high-major scholarship offers, but ultimately landed him as the starting point guard for the Winthrop Eagles, under coach Gregg Marshall.
Naturally I began paying closer attention to the Winthrop team, especially as Marshall built them into what was considered one of the toughest mid-major teams in the country. I was in attendance at one of Gregg Marshall and Chris Gaynor’s NCAA tournament games during the 2005-06′ season when they faced 2-seeded Tennessee as a 15-seed. This remains one of my most vivid memories of the NCAA tournament, as former Tennessee great Chris Lofton defeated Winthrop on a buzzer-beating three-pointer, but not before a blatantly obvious travel which the referees somehow didn’t call.
Even though his team exited in the first round, it was a very successful season for Marshall and Winthrop, and is one of the many successful seasons Marshall has had as a head coach. Including this season, Marshall has been a D-1 head coach for 16 years at Winthrop and now Wichita State, and his accolades speak for themselves. During this time Marshall has earned an overall record of 360-153 which translates to a .702 win percentage. Although both of the schools he has coached are considered mid-majors, Marshall has led his teams to the NCAA tournament 9 times in 15 seasons. Wake Forest has only one Final Four appearance as a member of what is considered the best basketball conference in the country. Wichita State, a school whom many had never heard of prior to Marshall’s arrival, has the same number of Final Four appearances as Wake Forest, as Marshall led them to the promised land last season.
Marshall will without question be a hot commodity at the end of the season, as teams in power conferences all over that are looking for a new head coach will certainly be contacting Marshall. Even though Wake hasn’t had a ton of success in the school’s history as a division one team, they have earned their respect as a prestigious program at times in the past, and based Marshall’s previous success it seems that he would almost certainly be able to resurrect the Demon Deacons’ program.
And in my humble opinion, Gregg Marshall is a perfect fit for Wake Forest. He was born in Greenwood, South Carolina and attended Randolph-Macon College, he went to high school in Richmond, Virginia, and received his master’s degree from the University of Richmond. The fact that Winston-Salem is essentially the epicenter of all of these locations (I’m not a topographer) seems to be fate. Additionally, his current team at Wichita State which is undefeated at the moment will be losing four of their top eight scorers to graduation. With everything he has already accomplished at Wichita State and putting their program on the map, along with losing key pieces after the season, there are few reasons I can think of why Marshall wouldn’t at least be interested in the Wake Forest job. Every coach dreams of coaching a powerhouse team in a major conferences in college basketball. While Wake Forest is certainly not even close to a powerhouse program (Thanks, Buzz) they have all the means necessary to reach that level if the right coach comes along.
I’ve heard multiple people question his personality or hint that he may have a personality similar to John Calipari of Kentucky. I don’t know much about his personality and I’m not a huge fan of Calipari, but by golly is that exactly what Wake Forest needs. Everyone around the program critizes Bzdelik for his lack of charisma and bland personality, and there seems to be a positive correlation between Bzdelik’s lack of personality, inability to win games, and the seeming irrelevance of the Wake Forest basketball team around the country. People can criticize Calipari all they want, but in the end his personality contributes so much to the Kentucky program. He is always in the news and making headlines, which along with winning, increases discourse about the team and helps maximize revenue, which is the bottom line for every basketball program.
Even if Gregg Marshall’s personality is nothing like that of Calipari, he wins. Year after year, Marshall has proven that he is a winner. No matter his personality, Wake needs someone like Marshall, and so does the ACC. Based on his entire career, it seems as though Marshall would certainly improve the Wake Forest basketball program, who is often the forgotten member of the Tobacco Road teams. If Wake were able to rebuild and be good again as they have been in the past, the quality of basketball for not only the state but the entire conference would ultimately increase. Is there any truth to the claim that Wake Forest may pursue Gregg Marshall in the next few months? I have no idea. I would like to think so for Wake’s sake. Just as Calipari increases discourse for his Kentucky team, I hope to increase discourse about Wake Forest pursuing Gregg Marshall. Make it happen, boosters.