Bzdelik takes over as Wake Forest coach

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 2 1/2

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 (during the meeting), ‘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 4 1/2 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 2002-04.

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.”