WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Dino Gaudio went from coach of the No. 1 team in the nation to out of a job in 15 months.
Wake Forest fired Gaudio on Wednesday after three seasons for failing to win enough games in the postseason.
During a hastily drawn news conference, athletic director Ron Wellman said "the basis for the decision was our late-season and postseason performances."
In three seasons at the helm at Wake Forest, Gaudio was a combined 1-5 in Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA tournaments. His only victory came last month in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Texas, when Ishmael Smith hit a last-second jumper in overtime. Kentucky then beat the Demon Deacons by 30 points in Round 2.
"This was not a snap decision. It was not a snap judgment," said Wellman, who served on the NCAA Division I men's basketball committee this season and was in Indianapolis earlier this week for the Final Four.
"This was not a decision based upon a one-year performance," he added. "We can put up with a disappointment. We have disappointments all the time. But there is a pattern here that needed to be addressed, a 3-year pattern that needed to be addressed."
Wellman said the search for Gaudio's replacement would begin immediately, and that he has kept a wish list of candidates because "you don't want to be caught unaware or off-guard or unprepared for something like this." He declined to identify any names on the list, promised secrecy until the new coach is hired and emphasized there is no timetable for his decision.
"I want to thank Wake Forest for the opportunity it gave me and my staff three years ago," Gaudio said in a statement issued Wednesday night by the school. "I'm proud of what we accomplished on the court, in the classroom and in the community. We worked hard, did the very best we could and I wish the basketball program the very best in the future."
Gaudio did not return messages left by The Associated Press on his cell phone. Wellman said he told Gaudio of the decision Wednesday afternoon and the coach was surprised but "handled it as professionally as anyone could ever handle it."
Gaudio was 61-31 at Wake Forest since he was promoted in 2007 to replace his longtime friend, Skip Prosser, who died of a heart attack that summer. The school gave Gaudio a contract extension in October through the 2013-14 season, adding an extra two years onto the five-year deal he signed upon taking over.
Wake Forest did not disclose Gaudio's salary or any other details of the contract, as is customary at the small, private school. But Wellman acknowledged that "there is a buyout clause in the contract and that will be honored, most definitely."
"Six months ago, I was convinced that we were going to perform better at the end of the season," Wellman said. "That did not happen."
Wake Forest opened the 2008-09 season 16-0 and spent a week at No. 1 -- the second time the Demon Deacons had ever claimed the top ranking. But they tailed off after that, finishing 24-7 and going one-and-done in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments. They were the highest seed to lose in the first round that year when they lost to No. 13 seed Cleveland State.
"We started off 16-0, No. 1 in the country, then lay an egg in the NCAA tournament -- it tore us to pieces when we knew we weren't going to finish our dream," guard L.D. Williams said before the season. "All season long, coach Gaudio talked about 'Final Four, Final Four, Final Four,' and we don't even make the final 32. It kills us every day."
This year, the Demon Deacons cracked the Top 25 for one week in mid-February before dropping four in a row. After beating Clemson in the season finale, they seemed listless in a 21-point loss to 12th-seeded Miami in the ACC tournament. They were 0-3 in the ACC tournament under Gaudio with each loss coming by at least 10 points.
Wellman said the late-season drop-off extended to the stat sheet. "There was a significant decline in every statistical category from February on ... and even more significant in the postseason," he said.
Part of the problem for Gaudio has been players leaving early for the NBA. Jeff Teague and James Johnson both left early last season, and leading scorer Al-Farouq Aminu declared for the draft last week with two years of eligibility remaining.
The Demon Deacons also lose Smith, their second-leading scorer, and 7-foot center Chas McFarland and defensive specialist Williams to graduation.
The decision comes at a curious time because the spring signing period for recruits is April 14, and a "contact period" on the NCAA's recruiting calendar begins Thursday. The class of five players who have already signed letters of intent is rated by Scout.com as the 10th-best in the nation.
Wellman said he asked current assistants Rusty LaRue, Jeff Battle and Walt Corbean to stay with the program in the interim. Dave Wojcik spent one year on Gaudio's staff before he was named an associate head coach at Boise State last week. LaRue did not return a message left by the AP on his cell phone.
"Our message to the recruits is, be patient," Wellman said. "Don't do something at a peak emotional moment that you would regret later on. Let us hire the new coach, meet with the new coach and see where this might go."