June 28, 2004 WINSTON-SALEM Athletic director Ron Wellman has another chance to make over one of Wake Forest's major programs. Within the last several years, Wellman has changed coaches in football, men's basketball, women's basketball and now baseball.
In Wellman's earliest chances at choosing coaches for major sports football and women's basketball his picks looked solid on paper but didn't turn out to be very popular or successful.
In contrast, his recent choices in football (Jim Grobe) and men's basketball (Skip Prosser) have been wildly popular and largely successful. Mike Petersen was his pick this offseason for women's basketball, and now he gets to replace long-time baseball coach George Greer.
The recent departure of Greer was not really a surprise to anyone. Rumors
had started about his job in the mid-1990s, after he failed to make much progress
in the ACC. Then his program suddenly caught fire, stringing together five straight
NCAA bids and winning three ACC titles from 1998-2002. However, Wake went into
a steady decline over the last two years, falling to
17-33 overall and 4-20 in the ACC this season.
Publicly, the decision for Greer to move to a newly created position in the athletic department (assistant athletic director for development) was made to look like Greer's choice. Wake said that it offered him an extension, but that he suggested this path.
Privately, the decision was made for Greer, and the school made a classy move for a classy person by letting him step sideways with grace.
Many fans of Wake baseball looked immediately at Bobby Moranda, now an assistant coach at Georgia Tech, as Greer's possible replacement. Most of those who weren't fans of Greer give Moranda, an outstanding recruiter and pitching coach, much of the credit for the program's surge. Moranda was at Wake from 1996-2001.
But Moranda also reportedly burned a number of bridges during his time in Winston-Salem, including leaving some in and around the Wake baseball program with the idea that he might have already been recruiting for Georgia Tech before he left town.
There's little doubt that Wellman will be plugged into a wide variety of names as he searches. Besides having Greer as an obvious asset, Wellman himself is a former college baseball coach who still maintains his interest and connections in the sport.
Kent State coach Rick Rembielak was the name mentioned most for the Wake job at the end of June, but no matter whom Wellman hires, the new coach will face some significant challenges.
Other than for brief spurts at the end of the 1970s and the 1990s, the Deacons haven't been a major factor in ACC baseball. In the past 38 years, they've finished second or third in the league's regular-season race just seven times, never winning.
An objective observer should take some of the built-in disadvantages that often are mentioned with recruiting to Wake in general, then add the fact that the baseball program doesn't offer full scholarships. Any school that charges private-school tuition in a league with eight public universities is asking a prospective recruit to take on an awful lot, especially if he can play and attend school for free (or for much less than at Wake) somewhere else.
In addition, Wake Forest has fallen far behind on baseball-related facilities. ACC programs have gone through a period of aggressive facility revamping, and Wake has not kept up.
Developments discussed in the last issue of the Sports Journal could lead to Wake taking over the local minor-league park, Ernie Shore Field, but that could be down the road or might never happen. In the meantime, the new coach will be saddled with an out-of-date field and will walk in on the on-going feud with the local neighborhood about adding lights.
Wellman defends Hooks Stadium at times, but even he is realistic.
"If we do remain at Hooks Stadium, we need to speak to the issues of lights and restrooms and look at the facility in a similar manner as we are looking at Groves Stadium," Wellman said. "Right now, it's a beautiful location, and it's fun once you get in it, but in terms of the restrooms and the concessions and the amenities that fans have come to expect in college baseball, we don't have it available right now."
One of Greer's primary functions will be to raise money for baseball improvements, whether those funds end up being applied to Hooks or to purchase Ernie Shore.
"He will focus on his former players and his contacts in baseball, because obviously we do have room for improvement in that stadium," said Barry Faircloth, Wake's associate athletic director for development. "We've been moderately successful at fundraising from former athletes. When you have the relations that he has, that obviously helps. That's the basis of fundraising."
Is it possible to play winning baseball at Wake? That's been proven. But it's a challenge that is growing more difficult each year. While not the highest-profile job, this may be Wellman's most challenging hire so far.
Hoops: Facilities, Uniforms, Schedule
The Sports Journal wrote extensively in its last issue about the numerous changes going on with Wake athletics. But a number of other changes already have come to light, including new surfaces for football at Groves Stadium and on the practice fields and for the two-time defending NCAA champion field hockey team, which could help the Deacons attract that sport's Final Four.
However, the most dramatic and noticeable changes are those being planned or proposed for Joel Coliseum.
The Deacons will have a lighter version of their parquet floor this season, along with a new logo at halfcourt. In addition, the coliseum is studying the possibility of adding a video board, possibly as part of a mid-court scoreboard.
Previously, it was thought that the coliseum's roof could not support the weight, but recent advances in technology have dropped the weight of these boards significantly. If the on-going studies show that there aren't any structural concerns, the board will be put in place, funded by Wake Forest.
Also, the Deacons will sport new uniforms this season. The particular Nike style will be worn only by Wake for the 2004-05 season, then other colleges can use it as a base for their uniforms, if they so desire.
The influence of Prosser and his staff on improving all aspects of Wake basketball continues to be remarkable. As discussed at length previously, they pay attention to all of the details, no matter how small, and they've made a number of past obstacles simply disappear.
Meanwhile, Wake also made a couple of basketball moves that should increase revenue this season.
New NCAA rules forced most schools to remove exhibition games against traveling teams, such as Athletes in Action, mainly because of alleged recruiting improprieties by some programs. (Some college coaches were going out of their way to schedule games against "all-star" teams run by the same people who are extremely influential in the college decisions of various high school stars, a practice that didn't violate any existing NCAA rules but ultimately was deemed undesirable by the organization.) The recent rules change forced some teams to scramble for other scheduling options.
So Wake lined up a game with Winston-Salem State, the local Division II school. The game is great from a public-relations standpoint, as it will create plenty of local talk and excitement. The Deacons also should draw significantly better at the gate than for the standard exhibition game.
In addition, Wake dropped out of the Great Alaska Shootout and will play in the Preseason NIT instead. That should allow the Deacons to get two more home games this season. The reasons for the change were never clearly spelled out, and the Alaska tournament attempted to drag Wake through the mud a bit for pulling out. However, it's clear that if the 2004-05 Deacs are as good as advertised, they'll get a lot more attention playing in New York than they ever would have received in Anchorage.