COLLEGE PARK MD - FEBRUARY 20: NC State Wolfpack head coach Sidney Lowe motions to his team against the Maryland Terrapins at the Comcast Center on February 20 2011 in College Park Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
There's not much point in re-previewing N.C. State. The Wolfpack are 2-3 since they last played the Heels, and nothing much has changed in the interim. (Although Richard Howell will be out with a concussion, another blow.) The team is still young, flawed and floundering. And Sidney Lowe will almost certainly be out of a job come Spring.
State fans aren't waiting around to look over replacements, however. And I truly believe they can bring in a good coach, unlike last time when they were well and truly screwed. But first, it might be a good idea to get my biew of the Herb Sendek saga out of the way, in three easy-digestable bullet points:
A Subset of State Fans Never Liked Herb Sendek. Towards the later seasons of his tenure, it became all about his success against Duke and Carolina, and various comparisons to previous tenures. But a lot of fans didn't like him back in 1997. He was quiet, played a slow-paced, cerebral game – his first matchup against UNC had a final score of 45-43 – and he played off the importance of the UNC and Duke games. With good reason, mind you. He inherited an awful program from Les Robinson, and the smart thing to do was downplay it and focus on winnabe games that first season, but it wasn't what State fans wanted to hear. They want the return of Jim Valvano, in attitude as much as success. (After al, if success was the only metric, they'd be comparing everyone to Norm Sloan.) Sendek was never that guy. You still see it in some of the comparisons between Sendek and Lowe, who have similar conference records after five seasons. This ignores the state of the programs they tok over of course, but Lowe remains better loved than his predecessor, even now.
State Would Be Better Off If Sendek Had Not Left When He Did. Putting aside how much of the departure was "forced" versus "abandoned," the fact remains that Sendek was a popular coach among other coaches. (This was, in fact, a common complaint of State fans. Other coaches liked him, they said, because they could beat him.) And he left with a streak of five NCAA appearances, and faces Duke and Carolina every year. A lot of coaches are going to avoid that job, if they think success as they see it will only get them fired. Heck when you can't reel in a guy like Calipari who was itching to climb up the coaching ladder, you're in trouble. The coaching search that followed overestimated the desirability of the job at the time, and was a huge failure.
That Being Said, Had Sendek Stayed He Still May Not Have Been the Coach the Last Few Seasons. It's quite possible Sendek had peaked in Raleigh, and it's even more possible he knew it, and left ahead of his firing the following season. He's had some success at ASU, with three 20+ win seasons, but he's only made one NCAA tournament, and this season has been a disaster. Wolfpack fans may have been right to want him fired, but a year or two away from the NCAA's would have appeared justifiable, and State could have gotten a much better hire out of it. Could Lee Fowler have managed that without a full-on fan revolt? Doubtful, but Fowler couldn't manage much of anything.
Below the cut, the good news.
The good news is, letting go of Lowe is a much more reasonable decision. He's only managed two NIT appearances in his tenure, and State won't see a third this season, when expectations had them NCAA-bound. The job has a lot of things going for it, and they should be able to make a good hire. I'm a little worried the expectations are creeping out of control again. There are a lot of good names out there, but there are also people suggesting Jamie Dixon, Bruce Pearl, Tubby Smith, Billy Gillespie, and Sean Miller.
This is the kind of insane thinking that made the last coaching search so fun. None of these guys are coming to Raleigh. Jamie Dixon has a great job where he can succeed without the downside of the State job; he's in the same boat Rick Barnes was five years ago. Pearl has the same situation at Tennessee, plus a school willing to go to the mat for him when he violates NCAA rules; why even consider him? Tubby Smith fled a high-profile job where he was never liked and suffered from lofty expectations – do you think he wants that again? Gillespie, of course, replaced him at Kentucky and was crushed; I'm not sure why you'd want him. And yes, Sean Miller has State ties, but because he was Herb Sendek's assistant. He'll never, ever, ever, come to Raleigh.
If State fans insist on this kind of search again, thing are going to go poorly. There are a whole list of good up-and-coming coaches to consider – and to be fair, a lot of State fans are making those sorts of lists – and those are the types of guys they should get. You don't win games in the ACC with the name of your hire, you get the right guy and let him build a team. Gregg Marshall is a particularly tempting prospect, but I'd like to throw out a dark horse: Dino Gaudio. Sure he was just fired by Wake, but the consensus is that was incredibly hasty. He took the Deacons to two NCAA tournaments in three years, and even this year's squad looks like it has some talent (that he recruited) buried amongst the awfulness. And he went 2-2 against Carolina. And that's what matters, right?
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