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
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
“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
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
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.”