Manning had been on the hot seat for the past couple years, but his guaranteed contract through 2025 and accompanying buyout, believed to be around $15 million, have been an issue for Wake Forest brass. However, after another subpar season in Winston-Salem, athletic director John Currie — who took over last spring — made the move.
With no other high-major schools searching for coaches, Wake Forest has a free run at the candidate of their choosing. What’s next?
While Wake Forest hasn’t been nationally relevant lately, there was a stretch when the Demon Deacons were in the ACC hunt on a regular basis. Under Dave Odom in the 1990s, they won at least one NCAA tournament game in five of six seasons and reached the Sweet 16 in three of four seasons. When Skip Prosser took over, they went to the NCAA tournament in each of his first four seasons and finished in the top three of the ACC standings all four years.
Since then, it has been a struggle. Dino Gaudio won 44 games and went to back-to-back NCAA tournaments in 2009 and 2010 but was strangely fired in 2010. The Demon Deacons have only made one postseason appearance and haven’t finished above .500 in the ACC since.
The biggest issue with the job is its three high-profile neighbors: Duke, North Carolina and NC State. Two of those are among the four best programs in college basketball, while NC State has two national championships in its history and has won 20-plus games in each of the past three seasons. Recruiting wasn’t the biggest issue for Manning (he consistently landed ESPN 100-caliber recruits), and Wake Forest has produced some legendary pros, but it’s sometimes tough to gain national buzz given its location.
Who could be in the mix?
John Beilein: Beilein ticks some of the boxes Wake Forest is likely to look for. He was a highly successful college coach at multiple places before struggling mightily in his one season with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He would be able to recruit guys who fit his system at Wake Forest and could quickly move the Demon Deacons up in the standings. He reportedly interviewed for the job when Dave Odom left in 2001, but it’s unlikely he will again 19 years later. One, it’s a rebuilding job, and Beilein is 67 years old. Two, Beilein was making around $2.5 million at Michigan and $4 million with the Cavaliers. Given Manning’s buyout, it’s unclear if Wake Forest can pay in that range for its next coach.
Shaka Smart, Texas: When Manning looked to be on his way out before and during the season, Smart was the name that would have garnered the most headlines. Smart was clearly on the hot seat at Texas and is very familiar with the mid-Atlantic and southeast regions of the country. But Smart finished strong and was retained for another year — then landed top-10 recruit Greg Brown on Friday. He also brings back every single player who scored a point last season. The Longhorns will be a preseason top-25 team. He’s not leaving.
Steve Forbes, East Tennessee State: Forbes is overdue for a power conference job. He has done a phenomenal job at ETSU, winning 130 games in five seasons and earning two regular-season titles. The Bucs went to the NCAA tournament in 2017 and would have gone last season after winning 30 games and the SoCon tournament. Forbes has successfully recruited at a number of levels and has high-major experience as an assistant coach at Texas A&M, Tennessee and Wichita State.
Wes Miller, UNC Greensboro: Miller, who played at North Carolina, has been the name buzzing around this job for most of the season. UNCG reached the NCAA tournament in 2018 and was the final team left out in 2019. The Spartans won the SoCon regular-season title in 2017 and 2018, won 29 games in 2019 and went 23-9 overall and finished third in the conference last season. Miller also has very strong ties to Wake Forest, given the Demon Deacons’ practice court has been named after his father since 2001.
Pat Kelsey, Winthrop: Wake Forest fans are very familiar with Kelsey, who was on staff under Skip Prosser with the Demon Deacons for eight seasons in the early 2000s. He spent three seasons as director of basketball operations before being promoted to an assistant coach. Kelsey has been the head coach at Winthrop since 2012, winning at least a share of the Big South regular-season title on three occasions and going to the NCAA tournament in 2017. The Eagles would have gone last season after winning the conference tournament.
Ryan Odom, UMBC: Another familiar name to Wake Forest, Odom’s father was the head coach of the Demon Deacons from 1989 to 2001. Odom has spent the last four seasons as the head coach of UMBC, leading the Retrievers to the NCAA tournament in 2018 and pulling off the first 16-over-1 upset when they knocked off top-seeded Virginia. He also has high-major experience as an assistant at Virginia Tech. UMBC did finish below .500 overall last season, though, and Odom hasn’t won a regular-season title.
Earl Grant, Charleston: Charleston struggled this past season, finishing 17-14 overall, but the Cougars still finished 11-7 in the CAA — the fourth straight season Grant has finished in the league’s top four. He led them to a regular-season title and NCAA tournament appearance in 2018, and Charleston won 75 games between 2017 and 2019. He has high-major recruiting experience at Clemson.
Bob Richey, Furman: The youngest name on this list, Richey just turned 37 last month — and it could be a little early for him to beat out some of the aforementioned names. That said, he has been terrific thus far as head coach. In his three seasons at Furman, the Paladins have won 73 games and gone 41-13 in SoCon play. They won at Villanova in 2018-19 and were one of four teams to beat ETSU last season.
Miller or Forbes. I think both coaches are terrific candidates and are ready for the next step. Forbes has more experience, while Miller has stronger Wake Forest connections. I don’t think Currie can go wrong.