Wake Forest University Athletics announced Sunday morning that Athletic Director Ron Wellman is set to retire on May 1, 2019, ending one of the longest Athletic Director tenures in the country. Wake Forest Athletics also announced Wake Forest alumnus John Currie as Wellman’s successor.
Wellman has been the face leading Wake Forest Athletics for almost 27 years dating back to his hiring as the school’s Athletic Director in 1992. Over that time span, Wellman has overseen the development of national powerhouses in golf, tennis, men’s soccer and field hockey. Wellman also hired football Head Coach Dave Clawson, who has led Wake Forest through a football renaissance with three-straight bowl wins.
Wake Forest enjoyed facility improvements under Wellman with the Sutton Sports Performance Center and Shah Basketball Complex set to be the newest additions to the athletic facilities in 2019. During his time at Wake Forest, the school has raised more than $400 million in donations to athletics.
“Ron has led Wake Forest athletics with grace, integrity and a commitment to excellence without pretension,” said President Nathan Hatch. “He has overseen the most successful period in our athletics history, currently ranking first in the Directors Cup in the ACC, while achieving a student-athlete graduation rate of 94 percent. It has been an honor to serve Wake Forest alongside a leader of extraordinary conscience and character like Ron.”
News first broke Saturday night that Wellman intended to retire, per David Glenn of The Athletic. Despite a prolific career leading Wake Forest Athletics, Wellman hasn’t had much success bringing the school’s men’s basketball program back to elite status as of late. From 1991 to 2010, the men’s basketball program consistently figured among the ACC’s best, making the NCAA tournament 14 times over the 20-year span. However, the basketball program has had little success over the past nine years. Wake Forest has a total record of 116-166 since 2010, while going to the NCAA tournament only once, in 2017, when it was knocked out by Kansas State in the First Four.
Wellman hired Jeff Bzdelik and later Danny Manning as basketball head coaches but neither of the signings has proved to be a slam dunk. The Deacs haven’t had a 20+ win season since 2010, which was the last season before Bzdelik was hired as the head coach. Some of the major complaints by the fanbase are that the program has grown stale over recent years and that a new approach is needed. Wellman himself acknowledged recently the situation of the basketball team.
““That [basketball] program — one of our great coaches was sitting here [during the press conference]. Dave Odom. We need to get back to that level of success. I’m convinced that we can,” said Wellman. “[The recent losing trend] It needs to be resolved. We need to do better. I am confident that we will.”
Here is where John Currie enters the picture.
Currie, 47, graduated from Wake Forest in 1993 and started his college athletics career under Wellman. He has served as athletic director twice at Kansas State University (2009-2017) and at University of Tennessee (2017). In 2013, Currie won the Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year Award and the Bobby Dodd Athletic Director Award for his efforts at Kansas State.
“Today is a very humbling day,” said Currie during the official announcement. “My wife, Mary Lawrence, and I are grateful for the confidence that President Hatch and the Board of Trustees has shown us to make this dream come true. Ron Wellman has been my long-time mentor and is responsible for everything I have in my professional life — the most important of which is the ethical foundation that has sustained me over the last 25 years.”
Currie’s body of work is very impressive, especially given how young he still is. At Kansas State, Currie was tasked with replacing basketball head coach Frank Martin, who left Kansas State in 2012 to be the head coach at University of South Carolina. The pressure was on Currie to keep the high level of basketball success, as Martin had taken the Wildcats to four NCAA tournament appearances over the previous five years, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2010.
Currie then hired Bruce Weber, who has since led Kansas State to four NCAA tournaments over his first six years, including an Elite Eight appearance last March. Weber also has positioned the Wildcats as one of the contenders for the Big 12 Conference Championship. Currie’s choice of Weber is definitely proving to be a wise one. During his time at Kansas State, Currie has earned high praise from other athletic directors in the Big 12.
“John Currie is a perfect fit for Wake Forest. He is an alum, his wife is an alum and he is one of the brightest young people in college athletics. For him to have a chance to come home to his alma mater is special,” said University of Texas Vice President and Director of Athletics Chris Del Conte. “It is big news for John Currie, but [it is] even bigger news for Wake Forest. [Currie] is prepared to lead Wake Forest into the future.”
Chief among Currie’s first decisions as Wake Forest’s athletic director will be whether he should keep or replace Manning, who has an $18 million buyout as a result of his recent contract extension.
Wellman will retain athletic director duties over the transition period until May 1, when Currie is expected to fully take over as the new athletic director. Currie will be only the sixth athletic director in Wake Forest history since the school implemented the position in 1937.
“Over the next several months, you’ll see me out and about, listening and learning, reacquainting myself with old friends, meeting new ones, all to better understand our challenges and opportunities,” said Currie. “Being the athletic director at Wake Forest is our [my wife and my] dream come true. It is the biggest challenge of my career to follow a legend like Ron and to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of my fellow alumni.”