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Tale of Two Coaches

"It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times? Stupid monkey!" -Montgomery Burns, The Simpsons

Remember a few weeks ago before the season even started and every day NC State's Chuck Amato got a question about the hot seat? The Sunday before the season started the N&O devoted a huge article to examining Chuck Amato's hot seat status. On the opening Thursday night ESPN showed coaches they thought was on the hot seat and Amato was among them. SI's Stewart Mandel called Amato the worst coach in America and the N&O's Grey Blackwell created another cartoon lampooning the coach as being in deep trouble. All signs were that Amato was walking the plank. A 1-2 start did not help things nor did a reccurence of Amato's foot-in-mouth disease on the issue of non-qualifers. In fact Tom Sorenson at the Charlotte Observer served up an article calling for Amato's head marking the first time the media had called for his ouster. So the media decided, on their own, to offer constant reasons for Amato's departure while ignoring a contract extension, the support of prominent NC State blogs, a winning record, and accomplishments off the field.

Consider John Bunting at North Carolina who endured whispers about his future but saw nowhere near the attention Amato "enjoyed" on the issue. Bunting's record was far worse than Amato's despite a winning record against the same. The program itself was riddled with questions and appeared to be floundering. However, the media attention and the hot seat designations all fell on the coach in Raleigh while Bunting continued largely untouched by the media spotlight. That all changed on Saturday when NC State found a way to right their season by beating Boston College behind a first time starter at QB. UNC found another way to get the living pulp beat out of them losing 52-7 to Clemson. Almost in an instant or the media equivalent of an instant Amato was out of the woods and Bunting had been queued up as potentially the next ex-UNC football coach. The fans were angry, the media began actively considering the question and offering up scenarios for how much the buyout might cost.

Then it hit me. For reasons unbeknownst to the world in general the media manufactured(for the most part) a hot seat situation for Chuck Amato, whose program was enduring some questions but was in less danger than John Bunting whose program had needed only one series of bad games to set the fan base off. The question is why? Why did the media feel it necessary to put Amato on the chopping block while leaving Bunting largely unscathed from such consideration?

1. Amato's Personality

Amato has a lightning rod of a personality. It is not uncommon for him to make...well...interesting statements to the press. There was also the whole red shoes and shades period. Amato is an excitable coach whose program had been successful for a period but slid into a few average years. In other words he was an easy mark to put on the hot seat because he was totally recognizable and the media knew it would lead to all kinds of hijinks when Amato was cornered. Bunting is like the quiet kid in the class who never draws attention to himself. Putting Bunting on the hot seat would have drawn very little reaction from him. Even this week we have seen how he calmly tosses out the same "we will get better just be patient" mantra he has for six years. If you start talking hot seat with Amato he basically flies into a tizzy and gives you all sorts of juicy soundbites. Why do you think the Buzz and the Bull replay Amato's press conferences more than Bunting's?

2. Expectations

When Amato came to NC State he came in talking huge dreams. National contender status was thrown about a bit and the idea was planted that NC State could be a perrenniel top 25 power and major bowl contender. Based on these expectations the donor money flowed in and NC State added the facilities to go along with the dream. For a few seasons it looked like those expectations would be met but following the Philip Rivers departure times got leaner in Raleigh. It almost seems like the media is hot seating Amato as kind of a "ha-ha you were wrong" move. There is no way to prove this but it is almost like the media is lording it over Amato that the program has not reached the point he promised it would reach. Why else would they constantly mention how average NC State has been since Rivers left or focus on the fact he had six defensive players drafted but only went 7-5 last season? Yes, these are real criticisms along with Amato's game management and media skills but they do not seem to be any worse than Bunting's tenure which has failed to produce wins or bowl appearances as well as decent pro prospects other than one that Bunting never played. Then again Bunting has never set a bar for success as high as Amato set his so there is really no story with Bunting wallowing in mediocrity. Amato's initial success and subsequent slide created the circumstances the media could blow out of proportion in an effort to create a story.

3. Fan Base

If the Herb Sendek fiasco taught the media anything it was that Wolfpack nation could be easily stirred up into a frenzy. Also there seems to be enough support for Amato that any talk of his dismissal would become a divisive issue. Once the fan base was good and worked up all anyone had to do was write any article calling Amato into question or in Sorenson's case call for his job and the fans would flock to read whatever drivel had been written. Also consider that football matters more to NC State fans in general than it does to UNC fans. NC State is at a point where it is trying find itself athletically and there is a belief that NC State can be a football school more so than UNC which is steadfastly a basketball school. So calling for Bunting's head in the preseason would have drawn little from the UNC fan base. Granted the frenzy is pretty hot now, my own blog stats show serious activity even before I posted my case against Bunting. I imagine it is nothing compared to what you would see from NC State fans if the calls for Amato's ouster hit the fan like they did for Bunting. Apathy in the Tar Heel fan base is so prevalant that there are 12,000 empty seats at Kenan for the opener. There was simply no value in calling Bunting out in the preseason because the fan base simply would not have responded in the same way Wolfpack nation in reference to Amato.

4. Total Misread

And it is also possible that the media completely misread the situation at NC State to the point they were willing to hang Amato out even though he was in a better position than Bunting was in Chapel Hill. Of course the media still might end up being right. NC State still need to work some things out. Also the media is playing the role of total hypocrite here since they picked NC State to finish 5th in their division and then springboard that into calls for Amato's job. It is also obvious that no one thought Bunting was in any trouble at all or at the very least that trouble would be reserved for next season. The expectations were that both NC State and UNC would find the next to last slot in their respective division and when it was all over Amato would be facing a firing line and Bunting with a record of pure, unadulterated mediocrity would somehow survive. If I was a member of the media I would cop to one of the three reasons instead of admitting I missed the boat by such a wide margin.

5. It Was Easy

All of these aforementioned reasons point to one thing and that is in hot seating Amato the media decided to take an easy route and go after the more visible coach with the unpredictable mouth and temper as well as a strong but easily riled fan base. Putting Amato on the hot seat was a juicier story by far and had the greatest potential for coach/media shenanagins as well as a angry/divided fan base. The other dirty secret is that UNC fans, for the most part, want Bunting gone. A suggestion in the preseason that Bunting might be in trouble would have been met with a strong ho-hum from Tar Heel Nation. Bunting is too nice and calm to actually instigate a tirade in the direction of the media so there would be nothing but positive spin instead of excited utterances and an occasional foot flying into a mouth every other week. The point here is it defies intellectual honesty to believe that Amato was in deeper trouble than Bunting when the fact of the matter was neither one was in trouble unless they really hosed the season up. Both fans bases were willing to wait because they liked what they heard from preseason practice. Now that actual games have been played and performances evaluated it can said that the hot seat for Bunting is very real and Amato should manage his way through to next season.

The bottom line here is that the whole hot seat controversy prior to the season is a wholly manufactured scheme designed to sell papers and create web traffic. Since most of the really crazy and devoted fan base plus a few balanced bloggers like myself are very willing to read most anything posted on a website which reference their favorite team it becomes real easy to entice a few thousand hits on a site by simply calling a coach out even without a single snap being played. What is happening now at UNC is the real deal since it is based on real game results from this season taken within the context of the last six seasons. Had Amato lost to BC in horrendus fashion Saturday night it would interesting to see which coach got more of the hot seat clamoring in the media. At any rate it is a sad testimony on the place sports journalism has reached that it feels a need to create these kinds of buzz words and special situations without fully considering the facts or allowing at least a few games to pass to see which way the season might be headed.

Then again all of these people have so little to actually talk about that hot seat talk makes for good filler even if it is not so much based in reality. Of course they are only giving the masses what they want to hear and that is some idea of where the next trainwreck might be so they be sure to go and watch.

And last I checked there was no intellectual honesty in that.