Wake athletic director Wellman looking for big things in '13-'14 season
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Athletic director Ron Wellman is looking for a better year at Wake Forest in 2013-14.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the AD called the 2012-13 academic year "a disappointment" and said "our teams did not perform up to the level that we anticipated."
The biggest reasons were injuries and inexperience throughout the school's two highest-profile programs — football and men's basketball.
Jim Grobe's injury-riddled football team stumbled to its fourth consecutive losing season. Embattled basketball coach Jeff Bzdelik's youth-dominated squad made noticeable progress but still finished under .500 for the third year in a row.
Wellman said he thinks "we're going to bounce back in football" and added that the basketball program's "future, I believe, is bright because of the returners we have."
There's a unique set of challenges at Wake Forest. With just 4,775 undergraduates, it has the smallest enrollment of any school presently in the six power conferences.
It also has the smallest athletic budget in the Atlantic Coast Conference, spending about $45 million in 2011-12, the most recent figures available in the U.S. Department of Education's gender equity database.
Still, Wake Forest has proven through the years that it can do more with less — from the football team's run to the Orange Bowl in 2006, to the recent national titles in field hockey and men's soccer, to the basketball program's two No. 1 rankings in the past decade.
But that basketball program has become the target of criticism from fans disenchanted by those three consecutive losing seasons.
The Demon Deacons finished 13-18 for a second consecutive year with a roster that had just three scholarship non-freshmen available.
Some things went right: they knocked off No. 18 North Carolina State and No. 2 Miami at home for their first Top 25 wins under Bzdelik. Others went horribly wrong: they lost listlessly to Maryland on Chris Paul Day, and failed to win a single ACC road game for the second time in Bzdelik's three years.
That led some disgruntled fans to place advertisements in the Greensboro newspaper during the ACC tournament to call for Bzdelik's ouster. A billboard went up in Winston-Salem this spring bearing a similar message.
When he laid out the reasons in March why he was bringing Bzdelik back for a fourth season, Wellman said he appreciated the passion behind that public criticism and believes those critics will come around once the Demon Deacons start winning again.
"Basketball was a year of progress. The record surely wasn't what it's eventually going to be, and what we want it to be, but if you look at the individual players, they all improved," Wellman said. "If you look at the team collectively, we were playing our best basketball at the end of the year, so we continued to improve as a team."
Wellman also wants to make improvements to the Demon Deacons' home arena.
The university is purchasing Joel Coliseum from the city for roughly $8 million, and Wellman expects that deal to close by early August.
He says the school is going to spend roughly a year on a strategic plan to "determine what the coliseum is going to be in the future" — a process that includes what he calls "Deaconizing" it.
Infrastructure improvements are needed at the 24-year-old building, and part of the study will determine whether the venue's capacity should remain at 15,000.
"We've got to make that facility an asset to our program," he said. "Right now, it's not a liability but it's not necessarily an asset, either."
This is going to be a busy year for Wellman, who will be the chairman of the Division I men's basketball committee this year. He estimated he will be out of town for roughly 60 nights as part of that job but "that doesn't mean my primary, my most important job is going to be neglected.
"When I leave, I don't worry about, 'What is the assistant athletic director doing?' or 'What is the associate athletic director doing?'" he said. "They know what to do ... [and] they're really good at what they do. So I don't worry, probably, like some people worry when they're on the road."