Potential Wake Forest Basketball Hire: The Wes Miller Tier
Could the next head coach of Wake Forest already have a 336 area code? IntroductionThis is the second of four articles that Blogger So Dear will have exploring the candidates who could be the next Wake Forest head basketball coach. I solicited names from Twitter, friends, family, co-workers, and pretty much all other corners of the internet to compile a list of 23 coaches who are at least within the realm of possibility for our next hire. The tiers are as follow: The Home Run TierThe Wes Miller TierThe Mid-Major TierThe Red Flag TierMost of these are self-explanatory titles, as they encapsulate most of the candidates who fall within it. I wrote about the “Home Run Tier” yesterday in an article that touched on six candidates who, while will likely not end up at Wake, could be a possibility if the circumstances worked out. If Wake hired any of those six then I would be very happy and of the mindset that we are on the right track for the future. This article will focus on the “Wes Miller Tier”, which, as you can probably guess, features exactly one coach, and his name is Wes Miller. There are a few reasons that Miller gets his own tier above the other mid-major coaches who Wake Forest could potentially entice to come to Winston-Salem. Primarily it is his age, ties to Wake Forest, ties to the ACC, and perhaps most importantly, he is a very realistic candidate to go after. Unlike the coaches in the “Home Run Tier”, I would put our chances at landing Miller pretty damn high if we choose to go this route. He seems to be almost a perfect intersection of great coach and great possibility to hire him. Let’s take a look at the credentials and history of Miller for those who need a little brushing up on him! Wes Miller - UNC-GreensboroTo assuage any concerns that I have gone soft on my dislike for UNC, let’s get this out of the way - GO TO HELL CAROLINA. That being said, despite Miller being a Goat, there are a lot of reasons why Wake Forest should give him a very long look at being our next head coach. All jokes aside, I could not care less about where a possible coach went to school. As I stated with Wojo yesterday, if they help Wake Forest get back to where we all think it should be then sign him up. If the worst thing we ever have to hear is that Wake couldn’t win a national championship until it hired a Duke or UNC alum then so be it. That can go right next to the banner in the rafters. BackgroundFollowing his stint in Chapel Hell he became an assistant at Elon, where he worked under current Wake Forest assistant Ernie Nestor, and then moved on to High Point, where he was an assistant under Scott Cherry. Before the 2010-11 season he was hired as an assistant at UNC-Greensboro, and would become the interim head coach the following season after head coach Mike Dement resigned. He took over in the midst of an eleven game losing streak, but eventually led the Spartans to a 10-8 record in the Southern Conference. He would win the Conference Coach of the Year award for his efforts. Overall Miller has a 136-121 record at UNC-Greensboro. At age 36 he is still one of the youngest coaches in the country, but already has 8 years of head coaching experience under his belt. Not only that, he was given the time to develop his own identity as a head coach and turn around a struggling mid-major program. Taking a team from 315th in KenPom to 82nd in 5 seasons is a very good accomplishment at any level, much less at UNC-G. What is pretty interesting is that it was not exactly a quick turnaround for Miller in Greensboro, who had fallen on some tough times after brief success under former coach Fran McCaffrey and a couple of good seasons under Dement. His first three full seasons after the ‘11-’12 season saw final KenPom rankings of 286, 315, and 285, but in 2016 the tides began to turn. Despite finishing with just a 15-19 record, the Spartans finished 220th in KenPom and it was clear that they were on the upswing. In 2017 Miller led the Spartans to a 25-10 record, the first 20-win season for UNC-G since 2002, and the first season above .500 since 2008. Despite winning the SoCon regular season, a loss to East Tennessee State in the finals of the conference tournament sent the Spartans to the NIT, where it would lose to Syracuse in the first round. Last season the Spartans made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001, finishing with a 27-8 record (15-3 in the SoCon), and nearly defeated Gonzaga in a monumental 13 vs. 4 seed upset. He would finish 82nd in KenPom’s final rankings. For reference, Wake Forest finished 89th. This season UNC-G has picked up where it left off, and is 22-3 through 25 games. They are currently 82nd in KenPom, and are 11-1 in the SoCon. The SoCon actually features four top 100 teams, and the Spartans only loss came to No. 28 Wofford in a 29-point beatdown. How He Does ItA look at his tempo shows that he originally came into coaching attempting to play at the pace of his former coach Roy Williams. His first three teams ranked 9th, 5th, and 24th nationally in possessions per game. He has since slowed things down, ranking 317th nationally last year, and 168th this year. This shows me that he has taken what he learned from his coaches in the past and made it his own. He can work with the roster that he has and figure out the best way to utilize their talents to run a successful program. Defensively he likes to get after it in an aggressive man-to-man D, and the Spartans rank 8th nationally this season in TO% (forced turnovers). This would be a welcome change in Winston. Last season I took a look at how the staff drew up plays for their stud shooter Francis Alonso against Wake Forest. Despite a close loss to the Deacs, Alonso went off for 31 points on 7-10 shooting from behind the arc. A lot of this had to do with the play design and ball movement to get him clean looks on off-ball screens. His roster right now is full of 3-4 year guys, and even at the start of his tenure he didn’t take a ton of transfers, and to my knowledge any community college/junior college players at all. To me this is not at all about doing things the “right way”, and everything to do with “will that translate to Wake Forest?” The answer to that question in my mind is yes. Possible ConcernsThe biggest concern I have with not just Miller, but a lot of guys on this list, is whether or not he can recruit at an ACC level. While we do not have any solid proof of this yet since he has not been given the opportunity, my guess would be that he probably can. His ties to Roy Williams and UNC would come in handy, as would the fact that he has already been scouting the area for the past 10 years. His name is known, his brand is known, and he would be attending the same events that he is already going to as the UNC-G coach, but would be able to recruit with the Wake Forest/ACC moniker now. I don’t think recruiting would be an issue for him. Another possible issue that people would bring up is his age. While he is definitely still young at 36, he already has almost double the college head coaching experience of several guys on this list and has had the chance to grow and learn what works best for him. A longer term potential downside would be the chance that UNC wants to hire him after Williams retires in Chapel Hill. Personally I think this is something that we don’t even worry about. If Miller were to come here after this season and put Wake into a position where UNC still thought he was an excellent hire five years down the road then so be it. Odds are that we would be in a great spot to hire another excellent coach in that situation. We can’t be concerned about what MIGHT happen in a few years when our future is dependent on making the right hire right now. His unique relationship with Wake Forest and the ACC is something that we absolutely should leverage, which I will expand upon in the next section. Fit With Wake ForestIn my mind he would be the perfect fit for the Demon Deacons. His parents are long-time donors to Wake Forest and the 50,000 square foot athletic facility dons the family name, after Kenneth D. Miller (his father and Wake Forest trustee). He knows exactly how the academics and athletics work at Wake Forest, likely has at least a surface level relationship with the athletic department, and hopefully a soft spot for the Demon Deacons as well. Not only has he already built up a mid-major program at age 36, but he is local too, so he’s not starting over with relationships on the recruiting trail or elsewhere. His intensity and passion for basketball and ACC hoops as an alum of UNC and lifelong fan of Wake Forest is something that is very important in my mind. I have a feeling that he would like to step into an opportunity to turn the Demon Deacons back around and make them competitive in the ACC. Overall I think he is an extremely good fit. As I do more research on each candidate I become less infatuated with age because even guys in their mid-50s and early-60s have 10-15 years of coaching if they do well. Miller is a bit of an exception to this though, because if he does well at Wake then he could be at the helm for a very long time and become the face of Demon Deacon basketball for many years to come. ConclusionIf it is not evident yet by now, my conclusion is that Wes Miller would be an outstanding hire for Wake Forest after this season. It’s not just because of his age, just his ties to Wake, or just his success at UNC-Greensboro, but rather the combination of all three that makes Wake a perfectly sensible destination for his next coaching gig. Is there a risk in hiring a 36 year old who has never had a major conference coaching job? Of course, but I don’t think that risk is much higher than going after a 45 year old who has four years at a mid-major job either. The upside is also tremendous as well. Once again, the guy has almost a decade of head coaching experience already and will continue to learn on the job. I have no doubt that if he were hired then he would fill his staff with guys who complement him and would help him with the intricacies of high major conference basketball. He also has a great support system that he can rely on given his basketball background. There is actually a very solid argument that Miller could have fallen in the “Home Run Tier” because of how good of a fit he would be for Wake Forest, but alas he has his own tier, and I would feel very comfortable that we are on the right path if he were hired in a few months. He would bring excitement, enthusiasm, and a renewed passion to Wake that is much needed, and that’s something that cannot be overlooked.