Bzdelik embraces challenge at Wake

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Jeff Bzdelik is taking over Wake Forest's program from a coach who was fired despite going 30 games over .500 at the school.

No extra pressure there, Bzdelik insisted.

"I embrace the challenges," he said. "I have both eyes open."

Wake Forest ended its weeklong search for Dino Gaudio's replacement Wednesday with Bzdelik's introduction as coach. The former head man at Air Force and of the NBA's Denver Nuggets left Colorado after going 36-58 in three seasons for what he described as "my dream job" leading the Demon Deacons.

His challenge: Keeping Wake Forest a contender in the Atlantic Coast Conference after Gaudio, who went 61-31 in three seasons, was fired because of what athletic director Ron Wellman described as a pattern of late-season fades.

After taking over the bottom-of-the-Big 12 Buffaloes and guiding them at least back to respectability, Bzdelik believes the Demon Deacons can ascend even higher despite the increased scrutiny he's sure to face when his and Gaudio's stats are compared.

"You have to dig deeper than the numbers," Wellman said. "You look at where Colorado was three years ago ... He really had to start over. Their situation was very challenging, so you can't take a three-year snippet and compare it to other programs, whether it be in his conference or another conference or us. That would be totally unfair, and obviously, we dug a lot deeper than that to look at the program and the progress of the program."

Bzdelik has a career college coaching record of 111-105, lost his only NCAA tournament game as a head coach and is coming off his third straight losing season at Colorado.

Gaudio was fired 15 months after leading the Demon Deacons to the second No. 1 national ranking in school history, and 2½ weeks after a 30-point loss to Kentucky in the second round of the East Regional left him with a record of 1-5 in postseason tournaments at the school.

"Here's the bottom line: I don't read papers, I don't even read [the] Internet, I don't look at any -- I have no idea," Bzdelik said. "All I care about is moving forward. I'll be honest with you guys. I could care less, because that doesn't define me as a person, period. And I know Dino did a heck of a job. ... And believe me, I have the utmost respect for him."

Bzdelik said current assistants Jeff Battle and Rusty LaRue will remain on his staff in an effort to maintain stability and familiarity.

"We want to move forward in the vision that I said we would set here, and I am really looking forward to this challenge," Bzdelik said.

Wellman declined to disclose the new coach's salary or the length of his contract, but said Bzdelik would be responsible for handling the $500,000 buyout clause in his contract.

"We do not pay buyouts, no," Wellman said.

As he promised a week ago, Wellman said there was a lengthy review of coaches but Bzdelik -- the only publicly known candidate for the job -- "was certainly a strong consideration from the beginning."

Bzdelik called a team meeting Sunday with his Colorado players to tell them he would visit Wake Forest the following day, spent the past two days on campus and was offered the job Tuesday night. After accepting it, he said he called each of the Buffaloes to tell them about his decision.

"I told them, 'If they offer it to me, there's a great chance I'm going to take it, but you will be the first to know,' " Bzdelik said.

The 57-year-old Bzdelik is no stranger to his new boss or his new employer -- his daughter is enrolled at Wake Forest. Bzdelik and Wellman have known each other for roughly three decades, since they were at Northwestern in the early 1980s -- Wellman as the baseball coach and Bzdelik as a men's basketball assistant.

"I followed his career because I knew him and was interested in him, and thought he was doing a good job," Wellman said. "But this isn't the hire of friendship, I can assure you of that, because we weren't friends."

Bzdelik started his coaching career in the late 1970s at Davidson, an hour's drive south of the Wake Forest campus, and he has a vacation home 4½ hours southeast of Winston-Salem in Sunset Beach, N.C.

Before taking over at Colorado, he had a successful two-year stint at Air Force, where he was 50-16. He led the Falcons to the NCAA tournament in 2006 and to the Final Four of the NIT the following season. He was 73-119 with the Nuggets from 2002 to 2004.

Of course, he's not interested in looking back -- a philosophy on life he illustrated with a story about an unnamed auto racer.

"This very wealthy man had this beautiful, wonderful, expensive car, and he was going to enter this car in a race," Bzdelik said. "The guy came to the car, the first thing he did, he got in the car, put his seat belt on and he took the rear-view mirror and he yanked it off and threw it out the window.

"The owner said, 'What are you doing that for?" he continued. "He said, 'Because I'm not interested in what's behind me.' That's how I feel."