Wake changing direction
New hires have AD Ron Wellman feeling optimistic
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Ron Wellman can breathe a bit easier.
The coming academic year probably won't be as stressful for the Wake Forest athletic director than this past year was.
Wellman conducted two high-profile coaching searches during the 2013-14 season and his selections seem to have soothed a fractured fan base — a segment of which vented its frustration in a very public way.
In addition, Wellman served a one-year stint as the chairman of the Division I men's basketball selection committee.
Now, after bringing in Dave Clawson to lead the football team and turning to Danny Manning to revive the basketball program, he's relieved to have just about everyone in what the school calls "Tie-Dye Nation" on the same page.
"I am awfully encouraged by what I am seeing and hearing about the future of the program," Wellman said in an interview with The Associated Press.
That wasn't always the case in Winston-Salem, where some angry fans took out advertisements and purchased billboard space demanding the ouster of former men's basketball coach Jeff Bzdelik.
Bzdelik stepped down after his first winning season in four years — a 17-16 mark that wasn't nearly enough to satisfy a frustrated fan base.
In steps Manning, a player with ties to the North Carolina Triad and a legacy of winning: He won a national title as a player at Kansas in 1988, then led Tulsa to the Conference USA championship and an NCAA tournament berth a few weeks before he was hired by Wake Forest.
"In any program, you want everybody on the same page, and when there's controversy, there's some consternation about that," Wellman said. "Having everybody returning and being excited about the program and supportive feels good, sure, no doubt about that."
There wasn't as much angst surrounding his other big hire. Clawson is taking over for Jim Grobe, the 2006 national coach of the year who stepped down following his fifth straight losing season.
Wellman said football season ticket sales are up "significantly" in the wake of Clawson's arrival.
"Whenever you have something new, and coaches are new, there's a rebirth, if you will, of enthusiasm and we are feeling that and seeing that in our fan base," Wellman said. "More people seem to be talking about football and the season and the future of the football program."
The reconstruction of the football and basketball programs is accompanied by some more literal building projects.
The school recently cleared space near its football practice fields for a $21 million indoor practice facility that Wellman hopes to have completed by January 2016.
Wellman said plans are in the works for improvements to Wake Forest's strength and conditioning areas, and the offices for the football and basketball. Another possibility is a new basketball practice gym.
The school in the past year purchased the Joel Coliseum from the city for $8 million, and Wellman says in the next year Wake Forest wants to complete its strategic facility plan for the venue "so we'll know over the next 'X' number of years what we want the coliseum to be."
Wellman said he has seen an uptick in recruiting following Wake Forest's across-the-board facility upgrades. Among the school's recent signees are 2014 junior Wimbledon singles champion Noah Rubin and Will Zalatoris, who won the U.S. Junior Amateur golf championship.
"The difference is facilities," Wellman said. "Recruits evaluate the quality of facilities on which they are going to be competing and practicing."