Wellman gives his reasons for firing Gaudio

April, 8, 2010

Athletic directors should take their cues from Wake Forest's Ron Wellman.

He doesn't give you spin. He tells you why he did what he did, and he won't hide.

That doesn't mean you have to agree with his decision to fire coach Dino Gaudio. I don't.

Gaudio's team beat Texas in the first round of the NCAA tournament game and then fell to Kentucky in the second round. He held together the Wake Forest program with the utmost class and dignity after the tragic death of Skip Prosser three years ago.

And Wellman acknowledged as much in our discussion late Wednesday night. "Our program was in tremendous flux," Wellman said after Prosser's death.

Gaudio was the choice at the time over fellow assistant Jeff Battle, who took himself out of the running because his wife was battling cancer at the time, a disease she would lose her life to soon after, leaving Battle to raise his son alone.

"Dino offered stability. He did a superb job of transitioning, of honoring Skip everywhere we went and making the No. 1 story Skip," Wellman said. "Dino did a tremendous job of honoring him while making the team his. That's a fine line to walk, and he did it exceptionally well. It was the right decision, and I would make the same decision again for us."

Wellman went on to say how much Gaudio handled the academic side of Wake Forest and that he was a fine representative of the university.

None of that was the reasoning for firing Gaudio. Wellman was direct in saying that it was the late-season on-court performance. Too often, athletic directors don't want to stand up and say why they are making a decision. They want to be everyone's best friend and don't want to appear to have blood on their hands.

If you're going to fire someone, just do it and say why.

Wellman did.

"The decision was based on the overall performance the past three years," Wellman said. "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."

Wellman admits at some point he had to ask himself "can that be rectified or should we move in a different direction. I chose to move on."

Wellman said his role on the NCAA tournament men's basketball selection committee was the reason he waited until after the Final Four to call Gaudio into his office Wednesday and make the move.

"He was surprised," Wellman said. "He handled it exceptionally well. We had a 15-20 minute meeting. I answered all his questions. He was professional. He left, we shook hands, and he thanked me for the opportunity."

Wellman said there is a buyout in Gaudio's contract that he will honor. He also said he told the assistant coaches that they will have the opportunity to remain at Wake with the new coach and be given a legitimate interview. He said if they don't land a job on staff or somewhere else, they will be paid through Dec. 31, extending the contracts six months.

Wellman doesn't mess around. He tells it straight, unlike some athletic directors who talk out of both sides and don't give straight answers. He is respected for that by his peers. He stands there, dishes out his decision and then defends it without hiding. He isn't afraid to use the word "fired." Wellman also always has had a plan.

He will act quickly, not hire a search firm, and handle everything by himself.

"It has to be someone who can take over the program and reach the goals and objectives we have," Wellman said. "We're not out to win the press conference. I'm not saying we won't, but that's not the priority. I want someone for long-term success."

Wake Forest is an attractive job, with talent in abundance returning and coming to Winston-Salem, N.C.

Wake loses senior guards Ishmael Smith and L.D. Williams and big men Chas McFarland and David Weaver. Sophomore wing Al-Farouq Aminu declared for the NBA draft and signed with an agent. But the Demon Deacons still should return a quality team with surprising freshmen Ari Stewart and C.J. Harris on the wings to go with Gary Clark and Tony Woods. That's four of the top 8 returning scorers.

Wake Forest also had the No. 6-ranked recruiting class by ESPNU's Scouts Inc. with guards J.T. Terrell, Tony Chennault and frontcourt players Travis McKie, Melvin Tabb and Carson Desrosiers.

"The person we hire may or may not have a national championship under his belt or a conference championship. I don't know," Wellman said. "But I will be absolutely convinced that the coach can do the job at Wake Forest. The fit is really important at Wake Forest. We can't have someone going to change the values or the ideals or the standards of this university. We have to have a representative of the university, rather than someone changing the university."

Wellman fired Gaudio. He stood by his decision. He said why. You may disagree with it, you may not. But you can't fault Wellman for standing by his reasoning. And any coach going into the job should know what is expected going forward. There is nothing to hide. There isn't anything phony here. Win in February and March, have the players do well academically and represent the university well.

Gaudio did the latter but didn't do enough of the former. Now he's out.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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