Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Wake Hires Bzdelik, Clemson Hires Brownell

The next week or two are essential for teams looking to fill scholarships opened by NBA defections, so you can expect the coaching vacancies at all of the big schools to fill up quickly. Clemson and Wake Forest have both already moved and grabbed their head coaches: Clemson has hired Brad Brownell from Wright State, and Wake Forest is hiring Jeff Bzdelik from Colorado. I can understand both hires to some degree, although I think Clemson did the better job:

Clemson has enough left in place to get right back to the NCAA Tournament in 2011, so it's arguably the better job right now. They have a very good and experienced backcourt, and their one question mark is the frontcourt. Because they didn't have much of a recruiting class in place there's no real risk of players leaving because of the hire, but Brownell has to get to work trying to find another big man. I think they're one quality big man away from truly securing another NCAA berth. Brownell has the type of resume Clemson would want: not only has he had a lot of success at Wright State over the past few years (no finishes lower than third in the Horizon League in any of the four years he's been there), but he also has experience in ACC country. Before coaching at Wright State he was the head coach at UNC-Wilmington, where he took them to two NCAA Tournament appearances in his four seasons. He was an assistant to Jerry Wainwright at UNCW for eight years before taking over the head job, so he has more than a decade of experience recruiting the southeast. It remains to be seen how well he handles coaching ACC athletes and handling the pressure of being at an ACC school, and he wouldn't have been on my list of the one of the top young coaches in the game, but his resume says he was a good hire.

The Wake Forest hire is a little bit more puzzling. On one hand, Jeff Bzdelik is a very good coach - he has experience as a head man both in the NBA and in the Big 12, so you know he can handle the ACC. At the same time, I see two problems with the hire. First of all, his playing style doesn't really suit the ACC. He likes to play grinding offensive basketball, and in all of his years at Air Force and Colorado his teams never ranked in the Top 300 in the nation in tempo. That type of deliberate basketball tends not to attract the type of athletes that dominate the ACC, and it also tends to drive ACC fans nuts. We all saw how NC State drove Herb Sendek out of town despite all of his success, and it stands to reason that Wake Forest will dislike Bzdelik for many of the same reasons. In addition, Bzdelik has zero history in the ACC area of the country. His head coaching jobs over the past 20 years have consisted of the Denver Nuggets, Air Force Academy and Colorado - all are Rocky Mountain area teams. Bzdelik is going to have to hire some elite recruiters who know how to handle that area of the country. And his primary concern right now is trying to convince a very good recruiting class to stay with him and his system, because Wake Forest loses its four best players from 2009-10 and is in desperate need of fresh blood. If Bzdelik loses this recruiting class then it becomes a complete rebuilding effort, and Bzdelik is no quick fix coach. Colorado was improving under his stewardship, but he was getting ready enter season four and still was at least a year or two away from seriously contending for the NCAA Tournament. Wake Forest fans will be less patient with that type of slow rebuilding effort, and less comfortable with Bzdelik's playing style, than Colorado.

We'll soon find out whether Brownell and Bzdelik get off on the right foot by how well they handle recruiting over the next few weeks, and whether any players transfer out. But for the time being, I think that while Clemson didn't make a slam dunk hire, they definitely did better than Wake Forest.

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