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August 8, 2007

Wake Forest names Gaudio new head coach

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Dino Gaudio has taken over for Skip Prosser before.

More than two decades ago, Gaudio replaced Prosser at a parochial high school in West Virginia and eventually led that team to a state title. On Wednesday, Wake Forest chose Gaudio to again take Prosser's place, this time to replace his late mentor in the cutthroat Atlantic Coast Conference.

"Just like this situation, he left me good players," Gaudio said. "Following him was a terrific tribute. He laid the foundation, set the table and it all worked out, and I hope the same thing happens here."

Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman, who signed Gaudio to a five-year contract, praised the 50-year-old Gaudio for his strength during the two weeks of grieving that followed Prosser's July 26 death from an apparent heart attack. While making such a long-term commitment to a coach with a career record of 68-124 might appear unusual, Wellman said he never considered hiring an interim coach.

"That is the worst-case scenario for a coach to be in," Wellman said. "What you're saying is that you're a lame duck. And how you coach is after every (game), the players start thinking you're a lame duck. ... That was not an option that I was interested in whatsoever.

"Quite frankly, I expect that to be the first contract (of many) for Dino," he said. He declined to discuss the value of Gaudio's deal, as is the practice at the private school.

The speedy hire also appeared aimed at emphasizing stability and continuity to a recruiting class that's ranked as one of the nation's best. Among the commitments are five-star forward Al-Farouq Aminu of Norcross, Ga., and five-star center Ty Walker of Wilmington.

"The best way I can say it is, I feel really excited about this year, and I feel really, really, really excited about the next four years," Gaudio said, taking care not to break NCAA rules banning coaches from discussing high school players. "I think that's all I'm allowed to say."

Wellman outlined his search plans during a meeting with current staff members last Friday, the day before Prosser's burial in Cincinnati.

"My priority was to secure a basketball coach that would do the things that they had laid the foundation for," Wellman said.

A nearly four-hour interview with Gaudio on Monday led Wellman to strongly consider him that night, and a day later he finalized the decision to promote Prosser's longtime assistant.

"Nobody is going to be more driven, more motivated to complete the task that we set out a few years ago," Gaudio said. "We'll make certain that what we started, we're going to finish."

Sophomore point guard Ishmael Smith said the players were relieved that Gaudio was promoted, because there was a lingering worry about having to learn the new systems and schemes of an unfamiliar leader.

"Coach would want us to keep fighting, keep pushing, put this behind us and move on with coach Gaudio," Smith said.

Prosser and Gaudio first paired up in 1980-81 at a Catholic school in the northern panhandle of West Virginia. The native of Yorkville, Ohio, took over the program at tiny Wheeling Central in 1984-85 after Prosser left to join Xavier's staff, and a year later, won a state championship.

They reunited in 1987 under Pete Gillen at Xavier and stayed together until 1993, when Prosser took the head job at Loyola of Maryland and Gaudio accepted a similar position at Army. Gaudio went 36-72 in four seasons with the Black Knights before moving to Loyola of Maryland, where he was 32-52 before he resigned in 2000.

He rejoined Prosser at Xavier in 2000-01, and the two moved to Wake Forest together the following season.

Prosser's death following a midday jog stunned the college basketball world and left Wake Forest's close-knit campus in disbelief.

"I have a very heavy heart in how this opportunity presented itself," Gaudio said. "You know how much Skip meant to me. He was my best friend, he was my mentor, he's the one I turned to for advice, and he always looked out for me. Maybe he's looking out for me right now."

An example of how close the two were: Gaudio was nervous Tuesday night when calling Prosser's mother to tell her he would take over for her son. He shouldn't have worried.

"She was like, 'Terrific!' She was excited, and she made me feel so good," Gaudio said. "I said, 'Grandma Jo, you're still in this family, and I still need your advice."'

For more coverage of Wake Forest, visit DeaconsIllustrated.com.

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