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Ramsey: Former Air Force, CU boss Jeff Bzdelik should never have been a college coach

March 26, 2014 Updated: March 27, 2014 at 1:11 pm
Caption +
Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik sits on the bench during the second half of a second round NCAA college basketball game against Pittsburgh at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Thursday, March 13, 2014. Pittsburgh won 84-55. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Three troubling mysteries of modern America:

Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone in the murder of John F. Kennedy?

Why is Madonna popular?

What was Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman thinking when he hired Jeff "Buzzy" Bzdelik as basketball coach in 2010?

Buzzy, the former Air Force and Colorado coach, labored nearly two decades with NBA players and spent three seasons (2002-2005) performing admirable work as coach of the Denver Nuggets. He never should have departed his NBA life.

He failed to understand the college game. He struggled to relate to college players, fans, journalists and administrators. He ranked as a spectacularly incompetent recruiter.

On March 20, joyful Wake Forest students "rolled the quad," a romantic way of saying they tossed toilet paper into bare trees in the center of campus. This practice normally is reserved for especially massive football or basketball victories.

This was a different kind of victory. The students rejoiced after Buzzy's resignation, which followed the Richard Nixon model of resignation. Buzzy had no other choice.

A strange, sad college coaching saga had ended.

Buzzy departed the University of Colorado four years ago after stumbling along with his Buffs to a 10-38 record (26.3 win percentage) in conference play. He failed to win a conference road game and never finished higher than eighth in conference, but Wellman, that man of mystery, wanted him to coach at Wake.

Let's say this about Buzzy:

The man is consistent.

At Wake Forest, Buzzy and his Demon Deacons bumbled to a 17-51 record (25.0 win percentage) in conference play. Under Buzzy's vague direction, Wake won two of 34 conference road games, including 27 losses by 10 or more points.

And here's the most baffling twist to the Buzzy tale. To clear the way for Buzzy, Wellman fired Dino Gaudio, who finished 44-18 and 20-12 in the ultra-brutal Atlantic Coast Conference in his final two seasons.

Let's be clear: Buzzy steered the Deacons from winners to losers. He transformed the program from proud to pitiful. This explains all that toilet paper flapping in the breeze on the Wake campus last week.

Buzzy's journey from the NBA to college began with promise. In 2005, he inherited an Air Force team jammed with disciplined, experienced talent. The plate was fully set for Buzzy at the academy. Five players on the roster had been or would be named to the all-Mountain West first or second team.

He won 50 games in two seasons, including a 22-10 record in the MWC, and directed the Falcons to the 2006 NCAA Tournament. But he offered glimpses into the troubles that would trash his career.

He failed miserably as a recruiter, which explains why the Falcons lost 31 of 32 conference games from 2008-10. He clashed with a long list of Air Force employees.

And he complained about his players. I remember several conversations with Buzzy when he wondered why one of his Falcons failed to find the nerve to take a big shot or properly box out for a crucial rebound or pass out of a double team.

Life in the NBA spoiled him. He expected players to understand the game. I almost told him, more than once, he had been hired as a basketball professor. He needed to hear the words. He struggled to see it was his job to teach basketball to these young cadets.

He abandoned the Falcons on a sunny day in the spring of 2007. He could see the disasters just around the bend. He fled to Boulder.

His earliest days as Colorado coach foretold all the gloom ahead for him and the Buffs and, really, the Demon Deacons.

At Air Force, Buzzy had been recruiting a Palmer High junior. This junior boasted a matchless work ethic and outlandishly long arms. This junior could fly in the air space high above the rim.

This junior was named Reggie Jackson.

For months after moving to Boulder, Buzzy declined to recruit Colorado's best high school player. Jackson wanted to play for his home state's university. Buzzy never offered a scholarship.

After competing in camps the summer after his junior year, Jackson emerged as a national superstar. Virtually everyone wanted him, and this list finally included Buzzy.

It was too late. Jackson instead signed with Boston College. Jackson became a first-round NBA draft pick. Jackson is an emerging star with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Soon, Buzzy again will labor as an NBA assistant, and there will be a night when he looks across the court and sees Jackson soaring through the air on his way to shaking the rim.

Buzzy never belonged on a college bench.


Twitter: @davidlukeramsey



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