Three coaches have already exited the ACC following the NCAA season, the latest of which being Wake Forest parting ways with Dino Gaudio. Many in Winston-Salem, NC, were left a little perplexed as to why, after making the NCAA tournament and beating Texas in the first round, and after bringing in several highly touted recruits, was Gaudio let go?
The reasons given for Gaudio’s dismissal were the late season collapses during Gaudio’s tenure and inability to win in the postseason. If true, this should serve as a shot-across-the-bow to all of those coaches who think that expanding the NCAA tournament will somehow guarantee more coach’s jobs in the future, where Gaudio’s appearance in the tournament and last year’s number one ranking weren’t enough. In the ACC, Athletic Directors want to compete with Duke and UNC, and often just being a solid program isn’t enough.
This doesn’t mean that schools don’t often make mistakes. NC State became a mainstay in the NCAA tournament under Herb Sendek, but while his Wolfpack teams were solid and putting players consistently into the NBA, the Pack faithful soon tired of finishing behind the Blue Devils and Tar Heels and Sendek finally resigned and took a position at Arizona State. The Pack have been pretty much cellar dwellers ever since. While the NC State fans may be glad Sendek is gone, the case of Sendek, Gaudio and several other coaches serve as a legacy of impatience.
It’s not clear what, exactly, Wake Forest expected from their team and coach this season that would have saved Gaudio’s job. To be fair, last season was a bitter disappointment, given that the 2008-09 Demon Deacons had three future NBA players in Jeff Teague, Al-Farouq Aminu and Jeff Johnson, and a strong supporting cast in Ish Smith, L.D. Williams and Chas McFarland. By all rights, it was a team that should have made the Final Four. Ranked number one in February, they eventually limped into the tournament and were quickly bounced.
But this year’s team only has one lock for the NBA in Aminu, although Smith, Williams and McFarland all returned, and promising underclassmen were contributing. Looking at the talent level of the ACC, the Deacons would have been considered overachieving if they’d finished any higher than they did, and considering that many ACC schools got an unexpected bonus when UNC fell apart this season, Wake’s late season losses wouldn’t be enough to lose a coach his job in most cases after only three years.
It could have been last year’s flop or this season’s late loss to the flailing UNC that did Gaudio in. It could also be noted that while Gaudio was bringing in solid players, he wasn’t bringing in the type of players that his predecessor, Skip Prosser was. Prosser landed Aminu, Teague and Johnson prior to his untimely death and Gaudio had yet to bring in a single player of that hype. This isn’t to say Wake Forest doesn’t have NBA talent on it’s roster, but Johnson, Teague and Aminu were early-exit type players before they ever landed on campus. It’s possible that Ron Wellman, the Wake Forest AD, saw the lack of star power coming in, combined it with the late season underachieving and decided to make a change. It’s also a highly pressurized situation in the ACC. UNC had a horrible year by Tar Heel standards, but they are likely a possible favorite to compete again for the NCAA title as quickly as next season. No doubt Wellman considered that as well. However, his statements that Gaudio was fired because of the late season losing is insight into the fact that many ADs are too quick to pull the trigger, despite claiming otherwise, and this firing seems more the result of an irrational expectation of the current team. Unless Wake Forest is willing to take the risks that Kentucky is taking (everyone around the nation is wondering how fast the NCAA is going to show up in Lexington), the concept that they can bring in another coach who can immediately build a national power is a pipe dream. Even Prosser, by all rights a solid coach and recruiter, hadn’t really been able to prove he was the long term solution in the ACC. In the year of his death, he’d finally put together a team that had the talent to compete, but he still needed that major season to really show he was a coach to be reckoned with in the ACC, a league where you need a national title to be considered one of the big boys.
Was this firing the right move, or was it another case of a school being too impatient, giving up consistency in hopes of getting a big time winner? Only time will tell. Consider that Kentucky’s John Calipari had enough talent to win the NCAA and should have been a lock for the Final Four, but his job isn’t in jeopardy because he already has been to a title game, he’s got a reputation and he’s in his first year at UK. The margin between winning ‘enough’ and ‘not enough’ can be thin, and Gaudio had much less leeway.