Gold Rush talks with Ron Wellman about the 2014-15 sports season and the future of Wake Forest athletics
Wake Forest Athletic Director Ron Wellman
July 2, 2015
As another busy and productive year in Wake Forest athletics comes to a close, Gold Rush’s Jay Reddick had a conversation with Ron Wellman about the season highlights, how they fit into Wake Forest’s legacy and what they mean for the future.
Gold Rush: It’s been a big year in many sports with big-time performances all over campus, starting with the ACC field-hockey title. Jen Averill and that squad seem to attract excellence consistently. What does the high profile in that sport do for Wake Forest as a whole?
Wellman: All ACC championships are extremely valuable and raise the profile of our overall program. When an ACC championship is won by any of our teams, everyone in our department and many other constituencies benefit. It is especially valuable in today's world when every ACC championship game is televised nationally. In fact, many of the regular-season games are televised nationally and those offerings will increase in the future. Jen continues to produce quality squads. Winning ACC championships (this is her fourth, along with three NCAA championships) is a reflection upon her coaching excellence and, frankly, her expectations of our program. Developing teams that are national contenders annually is an earmark of our field hockey program. There is every reason to anticipate similar results from field hockey in the foreseeable future.
Gold Rush: The football and basketball squads didn’t have the best records, but it seems like all three are in the process of building something special. What are Dave Clawson, Jen Hoover and Danny Manning doing right?
Wellman: All great coaches have certain skills that are critical to building a championship-caliber program. At Wake Forest, it is important that all of our coaches and personnel understand, appreciate and support the ideals, standards and values of the University. Jen, Danny and Dave all pass that test with flying colors. Other qualities that are evident with great coaches are the ability to recruit, develop athletes to their full potential and create a culture within their program that will promote cohesiveness and individual and collective excellence. Jen, Danny and Dave do all of those things exceptionally well.
Jen has recruited three consecutive top-25 classes; Danny's first class is currently rated in the top 25; and Dave has recruited the highest-ranked class ever at Wake Forest. They all have demonstrated outstanding recruiting ability.While it is too early to evaluate their other abilities while serving as our head coaches, there is every reason to believe they will do equally well in developing their athletes individually and collectively as well and eventually producing championship teams. We have some very exciting years ahead of us with Jen, Danny and Dave leading our programs.
Gold Rush: Those three teams also turned out some great individual performances, with Dearica Hamby and Kevin Johnson showing they’re among the country’s best seniors.
Wellman: All coaches will tell you that you don't win unless you have great players. Dearica and Kevin are examples of the type of athletes we need to attract to Wake Forest. Dearica and Kevin were not All-Americans when they arrived on campus, but they were talented athletes who developed tremendously while they were here. That is the model that has typically produced great teams for us. It is the model that we will continue to use to get us to the top of the ACC not only in those sports but also with all of our sports. Developing the talented athletes who come to Wake Forest to realize or even exceed their potential is the way we will win in the ACC.
Gold Rush: This seemed to be a year with a lot of great individual triumphs — from track and field stars such as Jessie Merckle and two-time ACC champ Nyki Caldwell, to tennis’ Noah Rubin and more. What will stick with you from watching this year?
Wellman: There are many moments that were exciting this year. You've mentioned three outstanding athletes who led their teams to excellent achievements this year. Jessie and Nyki both have developed tremendously since they became Demon Deacons. On the other hand, Noah was recognized as the best high school tennis player in the country last year. He has not disappointed since he has been here! We won the NCAA regionals and advanced to the Sweet 16 with Noah playing No. 1 for us throughout the year. That is quite a year for a freshman playing No. 1 for you. We have other programs that are on the verge of challenging for ACC championships. Watching those teams develop this year was very satisfying. We fully intend to have a number of our teams competing for championships in the ACC as well as nationally in the very near future.
Gold Rush: The departure of Jay Vidovich for a Major League Soccer job had to be difficult, but it seems like Bobby Muuss has stepped in and represented the school well. How important was it for you to get a guy like Bobby, with a Wake Forest background and a winning history?
Wellman: We were disappointed to lose Jay as he had been an outstanding coach for us for 23 years. When Jay decided to coach in the MLS, we were fortunate to attract Bobby Muuss to lead our program. Bobby was an assistant coach for us under Jay for many years and certainly understands Wake Forest. Bobby helped recruit the classes that won the NCAA championship. He had outstanding success as the head coach at Denver. He has a proven track record as a head coach and at Wake Forest. He will do very well for us.
Gold Rush: As for facilities, the soccer-field renovation has gotten underway. What is the status of the other ongoing projects?
Wellman: Great facilities are critical to the success of any program. Our golf programs and tennis programs have both taken huge leaps forward with improved facilities. The Arnold Palmer Golf Complex and the new Leighton Tennis Courts have to be the best in the country. Even though we have the same golf coaches as we have had for many years, our recruiting, as a result of the facility improvements, is in the midst of an incredible uptick. All four of those programs will attract highly ranked classes this year. Each of those coaches attribute their recruiting successes to their improved facilities.
Our primary facility goal now is to build the Sport Performance Center, which will connect to the McCreary Field House. We have an exciting opportunity to successfully complete the fundraising for the Sport Performance Center. We plan to release that information sometime this summer.
We also want to continue to renovate the coliseum and build a practice gym for our basketball programs. Fundraising for the renovation of Gene Hooks Field at the Wake Forest Baseball Park has gone exceptionally well, and we hope to begin that renovation project sometime this summer.
We have numerous other projects on the books that are important to our program. We will announce those projects soon.
Gold Rush: Wake Forest’s service programs have always been top-notch. It has to make you proud to see how many Deacons are helping in the community.
Wellman: Our staff and student-athletes recognize that we are very fortunate, and even privileged, to have the opportunity to work at Wake Forest or compete for this University. Each year our staff gathers together to volunteer our services to those in our community who are not as fortunate as we are. We get a tremendous response from our staff that day as they are anxious to find a meaningful way to give to those who are less fortunate. Likewise, our athletes volunteer their services throughout the year. This year we will be close to having 90 percent of our athletes volunteer. That is an amazing percentage for college students and we are thankful and appreciative of their desire to help others.