In a profession distinguished by the wearing of sport coats almost as loud as the men inside them, Carl Tacy of Wake Forest is a visible aberration. A non-smoking non-drinker who is usually rogued up in a brown suit, Tacy is the least colorful, softest spoken and most underpublicized coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
While his peers fulminate against officials and unleash fiery pep talks, Tacy is as bombastic as the village librarian. He seeks team unity by making his players have breakfast together every day, and Vie also takes his squad on an occasional picnic. Another Tacy rule requires any player with less than a 2.5 academic average to attend 90-minute study periods three times a week.
Compared to his rivals, Tacy's lack of sartorial flamboyance makes him look like a man on the way to a funeral, which is appropriate. The way the Demon Deacons have been playing this season, there have been plenty of wakes for Wake's nationally ranked foes.
After last weekend, when the Deacons knocked off second-ranked and previously undefeated Maryland 96-93 before 15,311 fans in Greensboro Coliseum, Wake Forest had beaten three ACC rivals in the space of eight days. All had been rated ninth or higher in the national polls.
Unfortunately for Tacy, Wake Forest's success at squelching status seekers has on one occasion victimized the Deacons themselves. The day after Wake rose to No. 7 national ranking as the result of back-to-back victories over North Carolina (No. 3) and North Carolina State (No. 9) in the Big Four tournament, Wake was upset 63-58 by Virginia for its only defeat of the season. "Our players' concentration had been disrupted by the polls and by our game coming up with Maryland," Tacy says. "We have to learn to live with that kind of situation and handle it better."
Before the season, close observers of the ACC would have bet that the situation Tacy would have to deal with most often was defeat; Wake Forest was a makeshift team, woefully short on experience. Tacy did have Skip Brown, a 22.7-per-game all-conference guard, but his supporting cast needed work.
That is exactly what Tacy prescribed for Jerry Schellenberg, a 6'6" junior from the teeming metropolis of Floyds Knob, Ind. After he was moved to guard last season, Schellenberg was repeatedly embarrassed on defense and suffered ball-handling problems, two facets of the game he worked on in the off-season. In the Big Four tournament he scored 55 points, was named the Most Valuable Player and was the main reason Wake Forest was able to win even though Brown was out with an injury.
Another pleasant surprise for Tacy has been the improved play of Daryl Peterson, a 6'8" senior center who has hauled down an average of nine rebounds while raising his scoring by almost 11 points per game.
The Deacons are strongest on defense, but they run a good fast break, have a solid bench and are blessed with an assortment of accurate perimeter shooters, as Maryland discovered to its sorrow. Schellenberg and Brown led the Deacons with 22 points apiece in that game. Peterson and Forward Rod Griffin, whose two free throws with 11 seconds to play put the game out of the Terrapins' reach, each added 21.
Although Wake Forest never trailed, this was far from an easy win. A 34-point career-high performance by John Lucas brought Maryland back from an 11-point deficit to within a point in the final two minutes. During the frenetic closing seconds, the teams traded free throws before Griffin's clutch shots clinched the victory.
According to Tacy, Wake's shift from its usual zone to a man-to-man defense was decisive and he received little argument from Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell. "Their defense took our fast break away," Driesell said. "But we can't afford to get down too much, just as we can't afford to celebrate a win too much. That's the way it goes in this league."
The game was Maryland's first in ACC competition after a rather soft pre-conference schedule, and it left the conference without an unbeaten team. Eight days earlier there had been four, and the change can all be blamed on the Demon Deacons.