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Forbes says he couldn’t pass up Wake Forest’s offer

Joe Avento • Updated Apr 30, 2020 at 6:30 PM

Steve Forbes says he hated leaving East Tennessee State, but when an opportunity like Wake Forest opens up, you have to seize it.

Forbes was announced as Wake Forest’s new basketball coach on Thursday, ending a successful five-year run at ETSU.

“When you get a chance to be a head coach in the most historic basketball league in the country, I just couldn’t pass that up,” Forbes said in a telephone interview Thursday evening. “When you reflect back on it, coming from a town with 1,104 people and one stop sign to being a head coach in the ACC? That’s pretty good.”

Forbes was 130-43 at ETSU. His teams won two Southern Conference tournament championships. This year, the Bucs finished 30-4 and didn’t get to play in the NCAA Tournament because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Forbes said. “I haven’t slept much. ETSU is a great place and it’s a great city. The fans are as good as they come.”

Forbes is replacing the fired Danny Manning, who was reportedly making $3 million a year.

Wake Forest doesn’t release contract details.

Forbes hopes ETSU will hire Jason Shay, his loyal assistant throughout the five years at ETSU, as his replacement. Shay and Forbes have worked 12 years together, going back to their days as assistants on Bruce Pearl’s staff at Tennessee.

“I think Jason deserves the job,” Forbes said. “He’s put the time in. He’s got the experience. He helped build that program. We all did — side by side. He knows the team. He knows the school. He knows the league.

“He’s one of the smartest coaches in the country Xs and Os wise. He’s the perfect candidate for the job. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’m hopeful that that happens.”

Forbes hasn’t officially announced his Wake Forest staff yet, but he hopes to bring B.J. McKie, Brooks Savage, Frank Davis, Mike Starke and his son Chris Forbes along with him. McKie and Savage were assistant coaches under Forbes. Davis was the director of basketball operations, Starke was the strength coach and Chris Forbes was a graduate assistant.

Shay is welcome too, if he doesn’t get the ETSU job.

“Jason has a job here with me if he wants it,” Forbes said. “I’m hopeful it doesn’t come to that. I’m hoping he’s the next coach at ETSU.”

During the interview process, Forbes spoke to many people connected to Wake Forest, including NBA stars Tim Duncan and Chris Paul.

“I was on the phone with a lot of people, which really ended up helping me make a decision,” Forbes said. “When you go through all that you listen and learn. The more I listened, the more I felt comfortable that I would be a really good fit to be their head basketball coach.”

The negotiations came to a head Tuesday when Wake Forest Athletic Director John Currie called Forbes and asked if he could meet him in Montreat, North Carolina, that evening.

The offer came the next afternoon.

“I really didn’t make the decision about the job until really late last night,” Forbes said.

Leaving ETSU, where Forbes had become a legendary figure, wasn’t easy, he said. Telling ETSU President Brian Noland was even tougher.

“I had a really hard talk, very emotional, talking to Dr. Noland,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for Brian Noland. It was hard telling we weren’t going to be working together. It’s not like we won’t be friends. We’re just not going to be walking though that tunnel in Freedom Hall anymore. It was hard.”

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