With the start of ACC regular-season basketball approaching, Wake Forest athletics director Ron Wellman probably is in the most uncomfortable position of anyone in the league, including his beleaguered coach Jeff Bzdelik.
After hosting Xavier (7-5) in a non-conference game Wednesday, the Deacons (6-5) will face No. 1 Duke to open league play Saturday in Durham.
Barring an about-face by Wake during the next two months and change, Wellman will have to devise a blueprint for the future of the program that either concludes with an extended gamble on Bzdelik (unlikely) or the arrival of a third new head coach since Skip Prosser died of a heart attack in late July, 2007.
Unless Bzdelik can shock the ACC system, Wellman could quickly find himself in the unenviable position of having to reverse his hiring history in the midst of busy post-season job-jumping traffic.
The late filmmaker David Lean, who produced epics, once said that the problem with going low budget is convincing people you can still operate successfully at the opposite extreme.
That’s the predicament Wellman almost certainly face.
Whether it’s all been Bzdelik’s fault or not really no longer matters. But he was a low-profile hire who has produced a low-profile program and it has occurred during a period when it should have been relatively easy to keep Wake a consistent NCAA Tournament team.
The last time Wellman went coach shopping, N.C. State was struggling, Virginia was swapping out Dave Leitao for Tony Bennett and Paul Hewitt was flaming out at Georgia Tech.
With a small student body and a now depressed fan base, it’s going to very difficult for Wellman to sell the coaching job as a prime-time opening.
Between now and the start of the ACC Tournament (March 14, Greensboro), there’ll be a lot more eyes on Duke, N.C. State, UNC and two or three other league programs. But the path that lies ahead for Wellman, his coach and the Deacons very well could be the most compelling journey of all.