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Chris Chase

Wake fires Gaudio after three years; late-season collapses to blame

Chris Chase
The Dagger

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The ACC coaching carosuel continues to spin and today took its most stunning turn yet. Two weeks after coaching Wake Forest to its first NCAA tournament victory in five years, Dino Gaudio was fired as men's basketball coach.

Athletic director Ron Wellman blamed the decision solely on Gaudio's poor late-season records. In his three years in Winston-Salem, Gaudio coached the Deacs to a 16-17 mark in February and March and a 1-5 record in postseason play. Last year's team hit No. 1 in the Associated Press poll in mid-January, but collapsed down the stretch and flamed out in the first round of the tournament to 13th-seeded Cleveland State.

Expectations were lower this year with the departures of Jeff Teague and James Johnson to the NBA, but Wake sprinted to an 18-5 record and an 8-3 mark in the ACC before limping to a 2-6 finish. It took a near-buzzer beater in the first round of the NCAA tournament by senior guard Ishmael Smith to get Gaudio his first postseason win, but the success was short-lived. The Deacs lost to No. 1 Kentucky by 30 points in the second round.

Gaudio arrived at Wake 10 years ago as an assistant under Skip Prosser and was elevated to head coach in 2007 after Prosser died from a heart attack. His hiring was the right move, as Wellman needed to make an in-house hire to keep the team from unraveling after Prosser's unexpected passing. However, Gaudio's resume was hardly the stuff ACC coaches are made of. He posted subpar records in previous stints at Army and Loyola (MD) and may not have even been Wellman's first choice to succeed Prosser. Another assistant, Jeff Battle, withdrew his name from consideration due to his wife's bout with cancer.

Aside from the late-season collapses, there were other signs that all were not well in Winston. An assitant, Dave Wojcik, announced earlier this week that he was making a lateral move to Boise State. And though the early departure of sophomore Al-Farouq Aminu was widely expected, it came one year after Gaudio publicly predicted (incorrectly) that Teague, Johnson and Aminu would all be staying in school. It was a statement that reeked of desperation and delusion.

Firing Gaudio comes as such a shock not because he was such a good coach -- he has a reputation for losing control of his teams and struggling with mid-game adjustments -- but because Wake's incoming recruiting class was rated as one of the nation's best. Rivals ranked Gaudio's 2010 class as No. 8 in the country. It wasn't enough to save his job.

This was a rare preemptive strike by a big-time athletic director. Yes, Dino Gaudio's record was probably good enough to buy him some more time in Winston-Salem. But if Ron Wellman didn't think Gaudio was the man for the job, he made the right move by sending him packing.

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