Jeff Nix: It has been a great experience so far. With the reputation of Wake Forest, I am not really surprised by the wonderful reception I have gotten here, and that goes for the city of Winston-Salem as well. The people have been wonderful during this transition and the southern hospitality from the city and school have lived up to the definition of southern hospitality.
DS: Knowing Coach Bzdelik from previous experiences, it must have been a
help to you coming into a new and strange situation for you.
JN: Oh absolutely. Jeff has been so accommodating and genuine in his desire to help me get acclimated to this wonderful university and the challenging position of Director of Basketball Operations. Knowing Jeff for over 20 years has been a pleasure for me and to be associated with someone with the exceptional character of a man like Jeff is just adds to my excitement for this position. I would definitely not taken the job if Jeff did not need me here. Also Walt Corbean was one of our players when I coached at Xavier and I knew Jeff Battle back with our association with Skip Prosser. Getting to know Rusty has been easy because he has been so forthcoming and helpful in all respects. They have a tremendous staff here with (myself included) over 35 years of NBA experience which is the most in college basketball. Throw in Mike Lepore, Lynn Heflin, and Dan Ficke and you have a collection of quality people with vast experience.
DS: What has been the biggest challenge for you in this new position
after coming from the pro ranks back into the college environment?
JN: The schedule has been the hardest thing I have dealt with so far. With the early schedule up through Christmas especially, as an example, it has been hard to get Xavier into a slot that would be acceptable to both of us around the exams and Christmas break period.
DS: What can and can't you do in this position?
JN: The rules are very clear that I can do no basketball coaching but can do the important "life coaching" that these young men all need. Whether it is their progress academically, socially or in other areas, I have certain responsibilities to help them in those areas. There is so much more to Wake Forest than helping them adjust athletically and it is more important in our way of thinking to help them succeed in life after basketball than how many points they score. Everybody wants to win, but basketball should be an integral part of their education but by no means the only factor and I see my job as helping them deal with those other vital areas. The connection between the players, academic personnel, and students is a vital link for them both now and in the networking that creates for them in the future. It is hard to over emphasize the importance of the players interacting with the alumni, students and others in the university circle to their future careers and that is something I try very hard to get across to them.
DS: How do you think you will adjust from the pro game to the college
JN: Well having been at Notre Dame, Xavier, and Loyola, I have some experience with this environment in similar circumstances. Obviously it is different from the pros because there is only basketball for those guys but here there are several other factors we have to be concerned with. The NCAA expects coaches to be responsible for the players 24/7 but limit our access to them very sharply making that very difficult if not impossible. With the character of people coach Bzdelik is interested in bringing to Wake Forest and the culture of success here, I fully expect this program to be a program, not just a team, and one we all can be proud of. In the pros you assemble a team based strictly on basketball talent but here you have many other considerations for developing this program, which does take time, into a continuing success.
DS: Speaking of this current team, two players were recently suspended,
would you care to elaborate on why they were suspended and whether they
JN: No because that decision is strictly up to the university and I will leave it at that.
DS: Okay, how do you see this affecting the remaining members of the team? After all it does leave you shorthanded. JN: Yes it does but these kids are now a year older, stronger, and know what to expect from coach Bzdelik. The new incoming players will be forced into the fire as well and will likely have a similar learning curve. Coach Bzdelik has been a successful coach before and knows what it takes to get the wins everybody wants, but he will only do it the right way even if it does take a little longer.
DS: What are your thoughts on the lockout/strike in the NBA?
JN: I really hate it. Not just for the owners and players, but for the support staff, arena staffs, and all the other people who could lose their jobs over this. These people all have families too and will suffer economically and in their love for the game. I am afraid this will not have an early end and could be for a protracted time period. That said, if the NFL labor dispute is solved soon, I am hoping that the added spotlight on the NBA work stoppage will force them into serious negotiations sooner, one can hope that is the case anyway.
DS: So you are comfortable now being in an administrative position as
opposed to a coaching one?
JN: Yes but to tell you I would never want to coach again would be inaccurate. It is in my blood, as it is with most coaches, but I am hoping one day to be an Athletic Director so I am convinced this will help me towards that goal should it arise someday. My point is that I look forward to working here and have really enjoyed the time I have spent here so far and have no plans to move on anytime soon. This is a great university with a great President, Athletic Director, Academic personnel ( like Jane Caldwell who is extremely impressive by the way), support staff coaching staff and alumni and fans. What more could anyone want?
DS: Bottom line is that many students and fans stayed away last season
because of the terrible record so how do you hope to improve that?
JN: By winning more games hopefully and getting the players more involved outside of the basketball arena with the students and fans. I feel it is extremely important for them to take an active role in campus activities as well as in the community of Winston-Salem in general. Dealing with Alumni, fans and people W-S area wide is an important part of their growth as men and not just basketball players.
DS: So you see your position as being a coach, but in "life skills" as
opposed to basketball skills for these young men?
JN: Exactly and it is one I look very much forward to
DS: Thanks for your time Jeff and good luck in this new challenge for
JN: My pleasure and I look at it as an opportunity rather than a challenge Michael.