Who is Jeff Bzdelik, and what does he do? Wake Forest fans are probably wondering the exact same thing.
The question -- a hackneyed reference to "Kindergarten Cop"; sorry, everyone -- probably sounds a little too harsh. Sure, as college coaches go, Bzdelik, who was announced as Dino Gaudio's replacement at Wake Forest today, is a bit obscure. But it's not as though the former Colorado coach has been completely off the radar. At CU, his team gave Kansas its only pre-Oklahoma State regular season scare in the Big 12 with one of the better shooting performances you'll ever see. Before Colorado, Bzdelik raced to coaching short lists with a two-year stint at Air Force that yielded a 50-16 record, an NCAA tournament appearance and an NIT Final Four. Before that, Bzdelik coached the Denver Nuggets from 2002-2004, catching one year of the Carmelo Anthony era before yielding to interim coach Michael Cooper and eventual boss George Karl. Bzdelik isn't exactly a mystery.
Whether he can win at a place like Wake Forest is. Bzdelik's three years with the Buffaloes were less than, um, good. His records: 12-20, 9-22, 15-16. His NCAA tournament appearances? Zero. Same goes for the NIT. It's not as though Bzdelik took Colorado and immediately turned the program into something competitive. Safe to say 15-16 is no one's idea of a third-year rebuilding goal. Who's to say he can do it at Wake Forest?
The good news, of course, is that Wake Forest isn't Colorado. It isn't as difficult to win. It's easier to recruit. The facilities are better. The commitment from the university is far stronger. The culture is more intense. The prestige is higher. And so on. There are built-in advantages here that can be taken advantage of.
Most Wake fans won't be happy to hear that. After all, they want a coach who'll do more than merely utilize what the program already has. They want a coach to transcend the program. All schools do, but especially one like Wake Forest, which sits smack in the middle of North Carolina and Duke's recent basketball dominance in the Research Triangle in North Carolina. Demon Deacon fans want their program to be a competitive third cog in that machine.
What's more, they'll look at the friendship between Bzdelik and athletic director Ron Wellman -- the two have known each other for 30 years; both coached in the Northwestern athletic department in the late 1970s -- and worry that the hire was made with blinders on, that Wellman doesn't see the same guy anyone who looks at Bzdelik's CU record would see.
Bottom line, they want someone larger than the former Colorado coach with the funny last name. Jeff who? It's not hard to feel their pain.
Fortunately, the one bit of balm on offer here is Bzdelik's apparent flexibility in style. He doesn't come attached to a specific tempo ideology, so to speak. His teams play a Princeton style, but they can do so at an uptempo pace that many writers might miss in their hurry to label Bzdelik as a Princeton Guy. John Gasaway crunched the numbers, per the usual, and found that Bzdelik has shown plenty of variance in his teams' tempos the past three years -- including a dramatic acceleration in 2009-10. And then there's this:
That being said, Bzdelik might announce his arrival in Winston-Salem by hitting the brakes in year 1. That's certainly what he did in Boulder. Or maybe he'll continue at a pace that flirts with hitting 70 trips per 40 minutes. I don't know either way. But one thing I do know is that, dating back to his days at Air Force, his teams tend to shoot very well. This season in Big 12 play Colorado made half their twos and 39 percent of their threes while playing an up-tempo brand of ball. Those are numbers the likes of which the fatigued and much-dented rims at Lawrence Joel Coliseum have long yearned for.
We have no way of knowing if Jeff Bzdelik will be successful at Wake Forest, but if this hire is truly so "perplexing" then I'm perplexed. Ron Wellman has tapped a major-conference head coach with NBA head coaching experience who's shown he knows how to get points on the board at the college level. Those bullet points alone won't bring wins to Winston-Salem, but they're at least as weighty as a stylistic concern like tempo.
So fret if you want, Wake fans, but at least notice some semblance of silver lining in here somewhere. Bzdelik might not have been your first choice, and some of you can rightfully argue that Gaudio didn't deserve to be fired in the first place, but things could probably be worse.