The waiting is over and Wake Forest has fired Coach Danny Manning.
Wake Forest Athletics Director John Currie announced the decision to end Manning's tenure after six seasons on Saturday morning.
“After a comprehensive review of the men’s basketball program, and with the support of President (Nathan) Hatch and university leadership, I have determined that it is time for a change in our head coaching position,'' Currie said through a news release. “We thank Coach Manning, (wife) Julie and (son) Evan for their service to Wake Forest and for their commitment to our student-athletes and the Winston-Salem community over the past six years.”
Wake Forest’s first-round loss in the ACC tournament that was eventually canceled earlier this month finalized Manning’s record at 78-111 as coach of Wake Forest. The Deacons went 30-80 in the ACC in the last six seasons, never finishing better than 10th.
“I am very thankful for having had the opportunity to lead the Wake Forest men’s basketball program,” Manning said through the same release. “I am very proud of the numerous student-athletes I had the pleasure of coaching, especially the student-athletes who earned their degrees. I am particularly thankful for all of the hard work my staff has put in through the years. I am so grateful to the Wake Forest community, who have made Winston-Salem a special home for my family and I from the second we stepped on campus in 2014. I wish the program nothing but success going forward.”
Associate head coach and former Deacons legend Randolph Childress will serve as acting head coach.
The change in athletics directors in spring of 2019 only seemed to delay Manning’s fate. A year later, the novel coronavirus outbreak didn’t delay much.
Retiring Athletics Director Ron Wellman announced March 22, 2019, that Manning would be retained after the Deacons went 11-20 in 2018-19, the third time in the last four seasons the program finished with that record. Wake Forest only had three 20-loss seasons in program history before Manning’s arrival.
Wellman and Manning met with media that day, with Wellman declaring that it was “strictly a basketball decision” and Manning predicting the Deacons would “take a step.”
Athletics Director John Currie started in that role May 1.
The Deacons finished this season 13-18. Wake Forest notched home wins against North Carolina and Duke in the final month of the season, but lost road games at North Carolina and N.C. State and, in Greensboro last week, lost 81-72 to a Pittsburgh team that entered the tournament on a seven-game losing slide.
Wake Forest’s next coach will face a rebuild of greater magnitude than the Deacons’ 129-187, 47-131 ACC records in the past 10 seasons. This was the first time in Joel Coliseum’s 31-year history that the average home attendance was under 7,000 people (it was 6,904), and apathy is reflected in how few people come to the 14,665-seat arena.
The program is arguably still searching for its footing after the death of Skip Prosser in 2007. The three-year tenure of his top assistant, Dino Gaudio, was terminated abruptly — and the 10 years since have plunged Wake Forest into the depths of the ACC.
Manning was hired in April 2014 after the Deacons went 51-76 without a postseason appearance in four seasons under Jeff Bzdelik. After Manning’s 15-year NBA career ended, he spent nine seasons on the coaching staff at Kansas, the last five as an assistant, and then spent two seasons as the coach of Tulsa — during which he was 38-29.
The titular character from the “Danny and the Miracles” Kansas team that won the 1988 national championship, Manning’s hire brought him back to the Triad — he attended high school in Greensboro before moving to Lawrence, Kan., for his senior season after his father was hired at Kansas.
Wake Forest went 22-39 in Manning’s first two seasons at the helm, including a 1-15 skid to end his second season.
That was followed with Manning’s only winning season in Winston-Salem, a 19-14 season in 2016-17 that culminated in reaching the First Four, where Wake Forest lost 95-88 to Kansas State.
What was once seen as an ahead-of-schedule rebuilding effort collapsed in the three subsequent seasons. Back-to-back 11-20 seasons, and this year’s 13-18 slog, made the winning season in 2016-17 seem a distant memory.
A contract extension for Manning was announced in late November of 2017, when the Deacons were mired in their worst start in 50 years. The length of the deal was never announced, though Jeff Goodman — then of ESPN — reported that the contract ran through the 2024-25 season. Goodman reported during the 2018-19 season that the buyout figure was $18 million, though that has never been confirmed or denied by Wake Forest.
John Collins and Dinos Mitoglou became pros after the 2017 season, and they were only the first couple of the waves of players leaving Wake Forest before graduating and/or before their eligibility expired. After the 2017-18 season, three players who would’ve been seniors in the following season left — Bryant Crawford, Doral Moore and Keyshawn Woods.
Those were three of eight players who left the program in 2018. Sam Japhet-Mathias was kicked off the team, while Richard Washington, Donovan Mitchell, Melo Eggleston and Jamie Lewis all transferred.
In 2019, Jaylen Hoard became the first one-and-done player in school history. He went undrafted and has played this season on a two-way deal for the Portland Trail Blazers.
One of the lowest points of Manning’s tenure — of the last decade, really — came with North Carolina’s visit to Joel Coliseum on Feb. 16, 2019. The Tar Heels scored the first 18 points of the game and things only got worse from there, until the final score of 95-57 represented the worst loss in both Joel Coliseum history and in the history of the teams’ series.
That was the 472nd game that Wake Forest had played at its home court. It was the 227th time that North Carolina and Wake Forest had played each other.
It was also Wake Forest’s Hall of Fame weekend, with a halftime ceremony in front of a crowd that was at least 70% Carolina-blue clad.
Manning came to Wake Forest after a two-year stint at Tulsa, where he guided the Golden Hurricanes to the NCAA Tournament in his second season. That came on the strength of an 11-game winning streak, the last three of those coming in the Conference USA Tournament, before a first-round loss to UCLA. Less than two weeks after that, Manning was hired at Wake Forest.
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