Wake Forest fires coach Danny Manning after losing stretch

Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning gestures to his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Boston College in Boston, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Wake Forest fired coach Danny Manning on Saturday after losing seasons in five of his six years and only one NCAA Tournament appearance.

The decision came more than six weeks after the Demon Deacons lost to Pittsburgh in the opening game of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, capping a third straight losing season.

Manning, a former No. 1 overall NBA draft pick, went 78-111 in Winston-Salem with a 30-80 mark in ACC regular-season games. Those league struggles included a 6-49 mark in league road games and 1-6 in the ACC Tournament.

Athletic director John Currie said in a statement the change came after“a “comprehensive review” of the program. Currie said associate head coach and program great Randolph Childress will lead the program in the interim.

Manning had said after the Pitt loss on March 10 that he “absolutely” expected to return next season, as well as in subsequent interviews amid the coronavirus pandemic that had led to a shutdown of college and professional sports.

“I wish the program nothing but success going forward,” Manning said in a school statement Saturday.

The Demon Deacons appeared to be trending upward in 2017, when sophomore John Collins led the Demon Deacons to a 19-win season and a .500 league mark along with a spot in the NCAA’s First Four.

But Collins left to become a first-round NBA draft pick, while junior Dino Mitoglou left to play professionally in Europe. And over the next few seasons, key players such as Bryant Crawford, Doral Moore and Keyshawn Woods left with eligibility remaining to pursue professional careers or play elsewhere in college.

It happened again in the past two weeks, with junior Chaundee Brown announcing he would enter his name into the NBA draft as well as the NCAA transfer portal.

Amid that turnover, Manning’s program never was able to build on the 2017 run, going 11-20 in each of the following two seasons.

Along the way, once-rowdy gameday environments at Joel Coliseum during the Chris Paul and Skip Prosser eras a decade earlier grew quiet amid large swaths of empty seats. And games against in-state ACC foes Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State often drew significant numbers of fans wearing the blues or red of the visitors.

Retiring athletic director Ron Wellman announced last March that Manning would return despite a third 20-loss season in five years, saying that he expected Manning would “take the steps needed to show improvement on the court” as the school transitioned to Currie as Wellman’s successor.

There were positive moments in 2020, namely Manning’s first wins against Duke (in a double-overtime comeback victory) and UNC in February. But overall, Wake Forest won just 13 games, two more than a year earlier.

Manning was the top NBA draft pick in 1988 after leading Kansas almost single-handedly to a national championship so unexpected the group was nicknamed “Danny and the Miracles.”

He played 15 seasons in the NBA before getting into coaching, first on Bill Self’s staff at Kansas and then spending two seasons as head coach at Tulsa before taking over at Wake Forest in 2014.