As a soldier in the enemy camp let me first say, I like Herb Sendek. He is a good guy who runs a clean program. NC State basketball is better than it was 10 years ago and I think Sendek should get credit for that accomplishment. Bill Guthridge was also a nice guy, who ran a clean program. He almost ran UNC into the ground by failing to recruit anyone decent for three years. So I can understand where the growing swell of discontent is coming from in Wolfpack nation. They are not merely content with winning consistently and seeing the Wolfpack seeded somewhere on Selection Sunday. NC State fans want to be in the thick of the elite ACC Title race. They would like to split games with UNC and Duke each year. They desire to be right there on the last weekend of the season looking at a top three finish and then see an ACC title every so often and perhaps even a Final Four.
1. Beating Duke and UNC
It would be nice to win more than six time against Duke and UNC over a 10 year span. There is little wrong with wanting to be ultra-competitive with your two regional neighbors. That being said, there is no historical grounds for that kind of expectation in the last 30 years. The NC State hey day was in the 1950's and the early 1970's. The David Thompson years in the 70's were some of the finest basketball produced anywhere at anytime. Unfortunately for NC State that is the only time they have produced at that level. UNC and Duke have consistently put teams on the floor that were comprable or nearly comprable to the two best years of NC State basketball. Ever since then NC State has repeatedly been on the short end with both UNC and Duke especially by the time either Duke or UNC were in the Final Four almost every year. Even Jim Valvano, who State fans hold up as a paragon of passions and coaching genius, did not beat Duke and UNC that often. I am not saying it is impossible for NC State to rise to that level but I also think that there is a misconception that it is place NC State has been consistently in previous decades. With the exception of the early 70's NC State at present is almost as good, if not better than NC State in the past. Of course everyone talks about the national title in 1983 but everyone also needs to remember that Wolfpack team had 10 losses and go into the NCAA with the automatic bid.
2. Level Ground
The best way to describe Herb Sendek's 10 year tenure is that it has been one of slow climbs and lengthy plateaus. When Sendek inherited the program it was in shambles. NC State faced NCAA violations followed by a coach, Les Robinson, who had no business coaching in the ACC. For Sendek to resurrect the program from that state to 5 straight NCAA appearances is no small miracled. But for all the progress NC State enjoys it always seems to be followed by a length leveling and a tad of regression. NC State made the tournament last year and went to the Sweet Sixteen. The Pack also had 13 losses when the 1st round game was played. It was not a stellar season and they were actually chosen ahead of two other ACC school in the conference standings. Someone in the committee liked NC State, a lot. NC State got over the NCAA hump but has floundered there even though they did hit the Round of 16 last season. As for ACC titles, a lot of that futility has to do with the fact Duke will not give it up. The Blue Devils have win 7 of the last 9 so measuring progess on ACC titles is a little silly. UNC went from 8-20 to national championship without winning three in one weekend and that is just fine with most Tar Heel fans. The persistent level ground is frustrating for NC State fans. They want to see steady progression and very little drop off. I can understand that and think it is now a valid criticism but one that can be easily remedied by a good performance in the coming tournament.
3. Fire or Ice
Not Chris Corchiani or Rodney Monroe but the question of passionate coaching versus a quiet demeanor. Wolfpack fans have long complained that Sendek fails to raise the roof enough from the sideline. The four game losing streak which has included some lackluster performances and fail execution opens the debate even wider on whether Sendek has the necessary passion to motivate players to win big games or any games at this point. Coaching intensity is a two edged sword, just ask Matt Doherty. Doherty learned from Roy Williams and was extremely intense as is Williams. The difference? Doherty did not properly gauge his intensity and it became abusive plus he had zero credibility to act that way. Williams comes in right behind him with the same players and engages them with a more measured level of intensity which was still pretty hot and was able to move them to a national title. Williams had a winning pedigree and exprience to know when to break clipboards and when to calm down. He has been quoted as saying that this season he has done that less because of the malleability of his team but if anyone was watching Duke-UNC I they say him ripped the starters for a serious lack of effort in the 2nd half. The result? UNC rallied from 17 down to lead Duke by 5 before losing late. State fans see those kinds of result and wonder if someone like Roy were coaching NC State when they fell behind Wake by 17 last Friday and brought some intensity to the players, would it make a difference? The problem with a getting a new coach based on this argument is you may wind up with a Matt Doherty and not Roy Williams.
For a very long time I have held that Sendek should keep his job and progress at NC State was as good as they could expect. I think based on the historical argument, Sendek is a fine choice and keeps NC State on the even course. However, I can see the validity of the argument that says plateaus are not good enough and I have seen firsthand how Sendek allows his players to play in a funk without any kind of serious action to correct it. NC State fans have seen glimpses of brillance in their long history and there is nothing wrong with desiring comprability with UNC or Duke and beginning the season the way those two schools do with expectation of a national title. Herb Sendek has brought State from ruin and built a great foundation. The reputation squandered by poor program management under Valvano has been restored. NC State sits on the cusp of opportunity to move upward to a higher level of college basketball. I am sorry to say Sendek will not be able to take them on that course. If NC State wants to be a perenniel player in the ACC and NCAA tournaments with the possibility of winning it all then they have no choice but to force Sendek's resignation and find a coach who can bring the fire, recruit the players, graduate them, give Duke and UNC a run for their money, and put NC State into the ACC/national title conversation each year.
Sorry Herb you pitched a great six innings, it is time for someone else to bring it home.
Copyright 2006, BCB