State of the Program: Ron Wellman

DeaconSports strives to keep Wake Forest fans informed on not only the football and basketball teams and recruiting, but also the state of the program at WFU. This past week, DeaconSports was able to perform a Q&A with Wake Forest athletics director Ron Wellman who shared his beliefs on the state of the football and basketball programs, his future, and upcoming facility improvements at WFU.

DeaconSports: With the increasingly negative press coverage of Wake Forest basketball, as evidenced by the ESPN article dated 07-26-13, how concerned are you that some other staffs are using that prominently when competing against Coach Bzdelik and staff? Why would top recruits consider coming to play for a staff who might not be there when they arrive?
Ron Wellman: The methods that other staffs use to recruit are matters that we do not control. Our staff chooses to recruit positively about our program and not discuss other schools negatively. We have plenty of positives to discuss about our program with our recruits. The direction of our program is continual improvement. The metrics that are important to us are trending upward. For instance, our overall attendance improved 11% last year; our student attendance increased 55%; our freshmen played over 60% of the minutes available which is the highest percentage by far of any ACC school and the highest we can find in D1. We have excellent players returning and we are adding quality players as well this year. In addition, the 2014 class is shaping up well as Jeff and his staff are involved with outstanding prospects. There are many significant reasons to be encouraged about our future and some outstanding recruits recognize that our program is advancing and will be a championship contender in the near future.

DeaconSports: With a large segment of the fan base being highly dissatisfied or apathetic to the program, how can you convince them (and recruits) that he is not largely in a "lame duck" status? What steps are you prepared to take to ensure said fans/recruits that Coach Bzdelik and staff retain your confidence?
Ron Wellman: I am very confident that Jeff and his staff will lead our program to championship level in the near future. He has built the type of foundation that he was asked to establish and that traditionally has allowed us to compete for ACC championships. He and his staff have recruited well as demonstrated by last year's class which was highly ranked nationally. Not only are those rising sophomores very good players, they are also outstanding people who represent our program and university well. This spring our team GPA was 2.96 which is the highest team GPA our basketball team has achieved since we began keeping records of team GPA's in 1988. This year's recruiting class is another group that will have a positive impact upon our program. Although one of those recruits, Greg McClinton, tore his ACL in January, we anticipate each of our freshmen as well as transfer Coron Williams filling roles for us that will cause our team to continue its improvement. Jeff is regarded as an outstanding teacher and tactician. Our players, both individually and collectively, improved throughout the season last year. That only occurs when a coach has the attention of his players; they listen to him; they work hard for him. Jeff's players have done exactly that. They have also continued their hard work and improvement this summer. Our fans will see continued improvement this year.

DeaconSports: How concerned are you with the apparent lagging attendance (especially among the student population) at the Joel for games and the effect it could have on raising money for the extensive renovations required by the Joel Coliseum?
Ron Wellman:Actually, as referenced earlier, our student attendance improved significantly last year. There are a number of reasons for that improvement. First of all, it was exciting to go to games at the coliseum. We beat four of the top six ACC team including the #2 ranked team nationally by 15 points. Our record at home was 11-5. That record has improved each year that Jeff has been with us. In addition, our students and all of our fans appreciated the effort that our players gave each game. Our fans could see that our players were working hard and giving a good effort. If they hadn't, the individual players and the team would not have continued to improve throughout the season. Finally, our students relate to our players. The basketball players are good students; they take their academics seriously as demonstrated by the team GPA this spring. The players are active on campus in activities beyond basketball. They have good relationships with our student body. As a result, our students have returned to the coliseum to cheer for not only our team...but also their friends. That's important at Wake Forest.

DeaconSports: Speaking of which, how are contributions to the athletic department going recently?
Ron Wellman:Our Deacon Club Annual Fund donations increased 3% this year. In a challenging economy we were very pleased with our donors' response to our request for support. The Deacon Club donors recognize that they are providing a unique opportunity to our student-athletes as their donations to the Deacon Club Annual Fund go to athletic scholarships. It is an opportunity to attend one of the nation's finest academic institutions while competing in the the ACC which we believe is the best conference in the country. Additionally, the university will be kicking off a capital campaign this fall. A significant portion of that campaign will be for athletics. The silent phase of the campaign has been extremely encouraging, both for the university and athletics. There is every reason to believe that we will be very successful in the capital campaign as well as continuing to grow the Deacon Club Annual Fund.

DeaconSports:Wake Forest fans and alumni have legitimate concerns about the recent performance of the basketball program considering that the current staff is 11-44 in ACC play. How do you go about restoring confidence for those fans without replacing the current staff?
Ron Wellman: Many of our fans recognize that the team has improved each year that Jeff has been our coach. We must build a program with certain values and standards for us to be successful at Wake Forest. There are no shortcuts. Jeff has made every decision for the long-term welfare of our program and, as a result, our program will continue to improve this year and subsequent years. We have the foundation and players that will allow us to do that. We expect to contend for and win ACC championships. We are headed in that direction without taking shortcuts. As a result, our program will remain at a high competitive level annually.

DeaconSports: The two major revenue producing sports of Football and Basketball have both underachieved recently, how do you respond to those who hold you at least partially responsible for those records?
Ron Wellman: As the Director of Athletics, I am ultimately responsible for everything that happens in the department. I am pleased with the direction and what the future holds for both the football and basketball programs. Our football program was poised last year to return to the competitive level that we all desire. Unfortunately, the team, and especially the offensive line, was decimated with injuries and we did not have the depth to replace our injured players adequately. Jim Grobe stated that last year's team was the most injured team that he had seen in over 30 years of coaching. I agree with his analysis. That is not an is a fact. We need to remain healthy or at least not decimated with injuries to compete for championships. We anticipate returning to championship contention this year. In basketball, the improvement will continue this year and we anticipate returning to our traditional competitiveness.

DeaconSports: No NCAA tourney in 3 years, no bowl game since 2008/09 (my mistake we actually went in 2011), and serious dissatisfaction with the direction of both programs, what can you tell them to give them some hope things will get better?
Ron Wellman: Actually we went to the Music City Bowl in 2011 so we have been to a bowl since the 2008 season. Our football team will be a much better team this year. Jim and his staff know what it takes to contend for and win championships. They have demonstrated that throughout their tenure with us. We expect to return to that level this year. We have really good players returning. This club has a good number of fourth and fifth-year players which is the hallmark of Jim's most successful teams. We also have 15 starters returning from last year. Our fans will see a team that will return to the style of play that Jim used when he first came to Wake Forest. We will be a very physical team that emphasizes the running game more than we have done in the last few years. As our fans will remember, our rushing game is very certainly is not "three yards and a cloud of dust" approach. It will be fun to watch...and will produce a season that our fans will enjoy.

I'm not sure that it's necessary to repeat the reasons that our basketball program is on the right track and will continue its improvement this year.

Overall, we have some very exciting and good years ahead of us, not only in football and basketball but in all of our sports. This is a good time to be a Demon Deacon!

DeaconSports: With respect to Football, are you satisfied with the job Coach Grobe and his staff have done recently at Wake Forest?
Ron Wellman: There is no one associated with our program that is satisfied with the recent results, including Jim and me. We went to the Music City Bowl in 2011. We expect to go to bowl games so whenever we don't, it is a disappointment. At the same time, I have great confidence in Jim and his staff to return us to that level of achievement this year.

DeaconSports: Recently having purchased the LJVM Coliseum from the City of Winston-Salem, what renovations are essential for the Joel to make it an ACC caliber and Wake-Centric venue for the Basketball program?
Ron Wellman: There is much to be done to make the facility a Demon Deacon coliseum. We first have to address the infrastructure and systems issues. There are many areas that need improvement. Electric, plumbing, HVAC and other systems will be upgraded before we can begin to "Deaconize" the Joel. While we make the systems and infrastructure improvements, our fans may not notice those initial changes. We will begin a Strategic Facility Plan this year to determine exactly what the venue should be in the future. There are many questions that need to be answered. For instance, what is the right capacity? What amenities do our fans want but don't currently have? What seating opportunities do our fans want? How do we phase the improvements? How do we finance the renovations? All of these questions and more will be answered through the Strategic Facility Plan. We will involve our fans in this process...and it will ultimately lead to a great facility for our teams and fans. When people drive by the coliseum or walk in the facility, they will know that it is a Wake Forest Basketball facility.

DeaconSports: What new renovations to BB&T Field and Groves Stadium will fans notice next season or that are in the plans for the immediate future? Are there any other additions or improvements being planned or considered for any Wake Forest athletic facilities?
Ron Wellman: There is a long list of renovations and improvements that we anticipate at BB&T Field as well as many of our other facilities. We want to do something really special on Deacon Hill at BB&T Field. We envision continuing our renovation of the Wake Forest Baseball Park that will tie in with Deacon Hill...and allow both facilities to be used on football and baseball game days. We also want to renovate Bridger Field House as it has been 15 years since our last renovation...and it is a facility that is in high demand and utilized practically every day.

Other facilities that are currently on the drawing board are a new strength and conditioning center where all of our teams will train; the tennis stadium (want to build a permanent center court stadium); Spry Soccer Stadium (new competitive and practice fields); golf house which will house our coaches' offices; volleyball renovations when Reynolds Gymnasium is renovated and becomes the campus recreation / wellness center; new field hockey turf. The list is long but we are determined to give our student-athletes and coaches the facilities that give them the opportunities to compete for ACC and national championships.

DeaconSports: With the competition about to exponentially increase due to the addition of Syracuse, Louisville, and Pittsbugh in Football plus Notre Dame in Basketball, how confident are you that you have the staffs in place to successfully compete in the coming years to an enhanced ACC?
Ron Wellman: Very confident. We have coaches who understand, appreciate and support the standards, values and ideals of Wake Forest. They also are excellent coaches who know how to recruit prospects who will succeed athletically and academically at Wake Forest. There is a high correlation between athletic and academic success for our student-athletes. Therefore, we must recruit student-athletes who will succeed in both areas. Our coaches are doing exactly that.

DeaconSports: What do you see as the future for Ron Wellman in the next 2-3 years? Do you have any plans to add any additional duties to your position at Wake Forest or even seek one outside of Wake Forest?
Ron Wellman: This is an exciting time for our university and athletic department. The capital campaign will last for the next 4-5 years. The results of that campaign are critical to our future success as a university and department. There is every reason to believe that we will have a very successful campaign. In addition, I am extremely excited about our athletics future. We have some very good years ahead of us in all of our sports and I am looking forward to those years. It will be fun!

DeaconSports: Thank you for spending some time with DeaconSports, we appreciate it

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