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Profile of a Possible Savior: VCU head coach Will Wade

Wade is a little bit basketball nuts, and I don’t mean that in a bad way.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Virginia Commonwealth v Oklahoma Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Important Questions, In Rough Order Of Importance:

1. Has he coached teams that have won a national title, made multiple deep NCAA tournament runs, and/or consistently been highly ranked?

No. Will Wade is only 34-years-old and is in his fourth season as a head coach. He was a member of the VCU coaching staff when the Rams made their Final Four run in 2011 but hasn’t been around long enough to build his own program to that sort of level. VCU made the NCAA tournament in his first season as the Rams’ head coach and went 1-1.

2. Has he built a program from the ground up?

The VCU gig has been anything but a rebuilding job since he took over for Shaka Smart when the Rams were already established as one of the top programs in the Atlantic 10. His tenure at Chattanooga was so short, he hadn’t even gotten to putting up the drywall yet.

3. Has he substantially improved the program from when he took over?

At Virginia Commonwealth, no—more like he maintained the level of quality that he inherited. In Smart’s final season with VCU, the Rams finished 30th in the Pomeroy Ratings; in Wade’s first, the Rams finished 31st. This season they are 41st. Wade did win the A-10 regular season title his first year, something Smart never did at VCU, surprisingly enough. (Smart did win two A-10 tourney titles there.)

At Chattanooga, he inherited a program that was coming off two straight losing seasons. In Wade’s second and final year there, the Mocs were 22-10 (15-3).

4. Has he succeeded at more than one head coaching job?

As alluded to above, absolutely, albeit in short stints so far. He clearly had Chattanooga in an upward trajectory before heading back to VCU and he’s kept the Rams near the top of the A-10 standings.

5. Does he have significant high-major experience as either a head coach or an assistant?

None. Wade’s extremely young career started at Clemson, where he was a student assistant and then became a graduate assistant. There he met Shaka Smart, who was an assistant for Oliver Purnell at the time. Wade never played college or pro ball.

He got his first real assistant gig at Harvard thanks to another connection he’d made at Clemson, and he spent a couple years under Tommy Amaker before going to VCU as an assistant for Smart. That takes us up to his two years at Chattanooga and his subsequent move back to Richmond.

6. Is his team one of the best in its conference right now?

The Rams are currently tied with Dayton with a 12-2 record in the A-10. They finished 14-4 in the league last season.

7. Do his teams actually play, what is this thing called, "defense"?

Inconclusive, with some positive indicators. After all, how conclusive could this analysis be with only 3+ years of data? The Chattanooga team he inherited was terrible defensively, ranking 322nd in defensive efficiency the year before he got there. The Mocs had improved to 186th by Wade’s second season, which is a significant step forward, though that still ain’t good defense.

At VCU, again, he’s been able to establish what Smart established. VCU was 24th in DE last year and ranks 37th this season. Good defense to be sure, and consistent with the last handful of years for VCU under Smart. Wade has continued the “havoc” culture and style they established under Smart.

8. So how about offense?

Above average at VCU—certainly good enough that when paired with a good defense makes for a pretty damn solid overall team. Strange note: VCU is 58th in offensive efficiency this season. It finished each of the last two seasons at No. 58. (Illuminati!)

Wade’s teams haven’t been heavy on the three-ball. His VCU teams haven’t among the fastest in the country, but they’re hardly in UVA territory, either. That’s not an issue.

9. Any indication that he can recruit McDonald’s All-American-type players?

Wade has a reputation as a strong recruiter, and in two years at VCU has signed a couple of consensus four-star prospects. Not McDonald’s All-Americans, but definitely top-100 kids. His current 2017 class ranks 32nd nationally and first in the A-10, and it includes big man Mayan Kiir, whom you may remember NC State also wanted. This is probably the area I’d worry least about when it comes to Wade’s profile.

10. Does he have any connection to NC State, North Carolina, or the ACC?

He is a Clemson alum and has spent a lot of time coaching in the southeast, but that’s about it. Oh, his wife is a UNC alum. Hey, nobody’s perfect.

11. Any other random red flags or positives?

Remember where I said at the top that Wade is a bit of a basketball nut, in a good way? Wade loves data of all kinds—at VCU they track players’ movements in practice using GPS and also track heart rates to see who might not be working hard enough. Oh, also this, via a tremendous profile on Wade from Richmond’s Style Weekly:

Other items tracked include player sleep patterns, what they eat, their caloric burn and resting heart rates. When the team is on the road, room temperatures are always set to 68 degrees, the best for sleeping. Hypoallergenic pillows must be used and shades are always drawn. Wade wants things down to a science.

I prefer 66 personally, but I trust the science here.

Wade is also a workaholic, getting up at 5 a.m. for a jog and some meditation time, and usually doesn’t leave the office until late, according to that profile.


Would he be better than Gottfried?

Uncertain. Is Wade’s approach to coaching and maintaining a program superior? I think so, but then again I am a sucker for anybody who is big on analytics and science. The Gott Man was pretty much the opposite.

Would he take the job if offered?

Also unclear. Wade is currently under contract through 2024, and while there is no doubt that NC State can offer a significant pay raise to bring him to Raleigh, there’s always a lot more to it than that.

How would I feel if he were hired?

Pretty darn good. Is there risk here? Sure. The track record on him is short. Still, he’s won everywhere he’s coached, and he seems to have absorbed a lot from the guys he worked for, and all of those guys (Smart, Amaker, Purnell) have been successful head coaches. You could definitely talk me into Wade over Archie Miller or Gregg Marshall.

How would the fan base as a whole feel if he were hired?

Overall, happy and excited for the future, I think. As I’ve said before, there’s going to be disappointment from some if NC State hires anyone other than Miller. I think in this case, though, everybody would get over that quickly.