You remember Danny Manning, the great player at Kansas who led the Jayhawks to the 1988 national championship. No, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons aren’t getting a Manning-like player for next season, but in getting Danny Manning the head coach, Wake Forest has made the right hire at the right time that can help turn around a program that should be more competitive in the ACC that it has been recently.
Wake Forest showed signs of life last season, beating both North Carolina and Duke at home and defeating Notre Dame twice, including in the first round of the ACC tournament before the Demon Deacons’ season ended with a second-round loss to Pittsburgh. But overall, Wake Forest was a disappointment, finishing 6-12 in the ACC and 17-16 overall. It marked the only winning season for Wake under now former head coach Jeff Bzdelik, but nice wins last season aside, Bzdelik never did figure out life in the ACC as the Demon Deacons went a woeful 17-51 (.250) in conference play during his four seasons.
Manning can change all that and with any luck, he might be able to start changing it quickly. Manning went 38-29 in two years at Tulsa, which is traditionally one of the decent mid-major programs in the country and has a history of developing solid coaches who go on to do great work at bigger schools (see Nolan Richardson and Tubby Smith for proof).
Manning’s teams went 21-11 in Conference USA, including 13-3 this past season, good enough to tie for the regular-season title. While life in the ACC will be tougher, Manning understands the importance of getting it done in league play.
Second, a name like Manning is quite beneficial for Wake Forest. Almost always the lost fourth school among fellow Tar Heel State rivals North Carolina, Duke, and NC State, the Demon Deacons struggle to even make waves, let alone win games. Manning should bring valuable attention to the program, especially when it starts being successful.
That should translate to the recruiting trail, as well. Going for players against the likes of Roy Williams at UNC and Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, Wake Forest needs someone who can get the attention of top high school players. Manning has an NCAA championship ring to do that, as well as the experience of a long career in the NBA to relate to kids who feel like they are good enough to be a pro talent in one or two years.
When you think of Wake Forest and remember players like Chris Paul, Tim Duncan, Muggsy Bogues and Randolph Childress, you know the Demon Deacons can be a force. The school has a good basketball tradition and the program needs to first be brought back to relevance, then to prominence.
Manning has the ability to do that, and for him to take this job and leave a Tulsa position where he could have stayed and been an NCAA tournament regular facing weaker competition is an excellent sign for Wake Forest University and Demon Deacons fans.