Wake Forest agrees to deal, will hire Steve Forbes from East Tennessee State

Wake Forest has its hire: Steve Forbes will become the university’s next men’s basketball coach. Forbes will replace Danny Manning as the program’s leader; Wes Miller of UNC Greensboro was a strong contender for the job, too. This is the first major hiring decision for Wake Forest director of athletics John Currie.

For the past five seasons, Forbes, 55, has been East Tennessee State’s head coach. Under Forbes, the Buccaneers experienced tremendous success — with a record of 130-43 (.751) and two Southern Conference titles.

Prior to taking the East Tennessee State job, Forbes was a long-time assistant coach throughout the college basketball ranks. He spent time on Billy Gillispie’s staff at Texas A&M (2004-06). After that, Forbes was an assistant for Bruce Pearl and Tennessee (2006-11), one of the best runs in program history. Forbes then spent two seasons on staff with Gregg Marshall at Wichita State (2013-15), before heading to East Tennessee State.

While at Texas A&M and Tennessee, Forbes built a reputation as a strong recruiter. Can he bring that to Wake Forest now?

Forbes also has experience in the junior college ranks. The Iowa native was both as an assistant and head coach at Southwestern Community College and Barton County Community College. After leaving Tennessee in 2011, Forbes became the head coach at Northwest Florida State (2011-13).

While at East Tennessee State, Forbes assembled four top-100 KenPom teams. This season was the high-water mark; the Bucs (No. 53 KenPom) won the Southern Conference with a 30-4 record (16-2 Southern Conference).

In each of the last two seasons, his teams have also ranked inside the top 75 nationally in terms of adjusted offensive efficiency. During the 2019-20 season, the Bucs shot 55.2 percent on their 2-point attempts, which ranked 11th best in Division I.

According to a report from Evan Daniels, Chris Paul and Tim Duncan — two former Wake Forest stars who went on to prolific NBA careers — had roles in the university’s hiring process.


Turn it around

Wake Forest is a proud basketball program in an elite conference. Things, however, haven’t been great in Winston-Salem for over a decade now. With Jeff Bzdelik (2010-14) and Manning as coaches (2014-20), Wake Forest posted just two winning seasons over the course of a decade.

The Demon Deacons have gone to just one NCAA Tournament since Dino Gaudio left: 2017 with Manning. Since the 2005 NCAA Tournament, Wake Forest has just one win in an NCAA Tournament game — back in 2010.

Fan apathy has turned into a major issue as well. With a small undergraduate enrollment, it’s no small task to fill an arena that seats well over 14,000. On-court success — or lack thereof — is a major influence here. Television revenue may reign supreme, but money lost at the gate still matters, too.

Wake Forest finished its 10th straight season with an average attendance under 10,000 people per game. Once a raucous environment, highlighted by the apex of the Skip Prosser era, The Joel has turned desolate in recent years. Wake Forest averaged under 7,000 people per game during the 2019-20 season.


What’s Next?

The most important task for any college coach in 2020 is roster management. No matter the situation, that’s a tricky task, with a sets of variable that are always changing; however, late in the offseason, with a global pandemic to deal with, is no walk in the park, especially.

Forbes must try to nail down a roster for next season, and then proceed to make inroads with 2021 prospects.

Earlier this week, several members of Wake Forest’s 2020 recruiting class asked for a release from their letters of intent. Rising sophomore guard Jahcobi Neath entered the NCAA transfer portal, but left open the possibility for a return to Wake Forest. Can Forbes get Neath, who averaged 5.3 points and 2.2 assists per game, to reconsider?

The biggest item to handle, though, involves All-ACC center Olivier Sarr. The 7-footer didn’t enter the 2020 NBA Draft, and he’s yet to put his name in the transfer portal. If Sarr returns, Wake Forest has it offensive hub for the 2020-21. From there, it becomes a (slightly) more simple process — at least in the short term — for


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After his freshman season, Neath enters 2020 NCAA transfer portal