Last week, Wake Forest radio announced it would discontinue the live call-in portion of its weekly coach's show with head coach Jeff Bzdelik. Athletic director Ron Wellman said the decision was made because fans had a tendency to "preach," and "this is our show." Considering Wake fans' understandable frustration, and the nature of the calls on the show the precipitated the change (look for it on YouTube; it's whatever), it was not a flattering response.
Saying so triggered something strange: A deluge of emails and tweets from furious Wake fans thanking me for bringing attention to how horribly their program was performing.
Over the weekend, those types of notes and letters kept coming, right up to this morning … when everyone started sending along this unabridged Wellman interview with Winston-Salem Journal beat writer Dan Collins instead.
The interview is about what you'd expect: Collins asks pertinent and occasionally pointed questions, and Wellman spends most of his time desperately trying to tease out a positive spin out of Bzdelik's 25-47 record at the school. Wake fans are upset at the entire interview, it seems, because they don't think their athletic director is being entirely honest about the strange hire he made three years ago. But the interview really is mostly the standard AD-speak stuff. (There is one interesting passage when Wellman talks about Bzdelik's seeming inability to "connect" with fans, and writes it off as unimportant when compared to winning basketball games. Which is probably true. But when you're not doing the latter, you better have the former. Wake has neither.)
Except for especially ridiculous portion. That comes when Collins asks a question about Wake's flailing attendance, and Wellman tries to convince Collins that, no, his eyes are fooling him, in fact Wake Forest's crowds actually aren't all that small; Wake Forest fans have never shown up for games in November and December:
MTOW: One thing nobody is seeing is a lot of fans in Joel Coliseum.
Wellman: If you go back in our history, we have never drawn well in December. I remember the great teams that we had, wondering why there weren’t more people in the stands. `This isn’t an ACC type of crowd.’ That’s throughout the ACC. When I look at the attendance figures around the ACC, and see it on TV, oftentimes the attendance isn’t what you might like it to be. That isn’t a reflection upon anything other than people love the ACC and they love the conference schedule probably much more than the nonconference schedule. […] Our fans will come back when the team wins. The fans who are disgruntled right now, I understand their disgruntlement. We’re not winning as much as they want to win. And they want the same thing as I want. And they’ll come back when our team wins. So we just have to win, and we will do that eventually.
MTOW: I haven’t seen crowds this small.
RW: Oh I have.
RW: Oh heavens yes. I remember when I came here, and sitting in the stands, the first December I was here I was thinking `My gosh where is everybody? We’ve got to be drawing better than this.’ And there were four or five thousand at some of those games. So that’s not all that unusual. And again, those fans will come back. When we win they’ll be back. Again, they want the same thing that we all want, and that is for our team to win.
So, you see, it's not that Wake Forest fans are so depressed by their program's drastic and needless plummet that they're avoiding the once-rocking Joel Coliseum altogether. It's that Wake Forest and ACC fans just love the ACC so darn much they don't even really care what happens to their basketball teams in December! What's December basketball, anyway? A-C-C! A-C-C!
Oh, and Wake Forest fans are so passionate about their basketball team they have to be restrained from calling into the Thursday night coach's show ... in December. But they're so laissez faire about what happens to the team, they can't be bothered to show up to games ... in December.
As I understand it, it'd be one thing if Bzdelik, an altogether respectable if somewhat withdrawn guy, was merely not having success. That'd be a bummer, I'm sure, but Wake fans would deal. It's Year 3. The nature of the hire -- when Wellman plucked a guy whose best season at Colorado was 15-16 to replace a Dino Gaudio, who hadn't missed a tournament -- would still sting, but everyone would at least acknowledge that Bzdelik was doing his best, and let's just let it play out.
But this? This is a seminar in mass alienation. To an outsider with no ties to the school, it's almost kind of funny. To Wake fans, I'm sure, it's anything but.