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Gary Parrish Takes His Turn Beating The Sendek-NCSU Horse

I am not sure what to make of this both from a timing standpoint and the "isn't this horse dead?" perspective. The best that I can figure is Gary Parrish had lunch with Greg Doyel, asked him for a cheap way to get some quick hits on his column and Doyel told him to write about Herb Sendek and NC State. I am also not sure why I am going to take the time to defend NCSU fans here except it seems like it would make for a good discussion among the historically knowledgeable folks in the THF community.

First an excerpt:

Because Sendek really has pulled off a rarity.

He's not only doing better than the previous coach (Rob Evans) at his new school (ASU), but he's also doing better than the coach (Sidney Lowe) his old school (N.C. State) hired to replace him after his old school -- and its fan base -- decided it no longer appreciated his talent. The way Sendek was treated looked silly then, and it looks even sillier now considering the Wolfpack have finished 10th, 12th and 10th in the ACC standings the past three seasons with zero NCAA tournament appearances and 15 league wins.

How does that compare to Sendek?

The Wolfpack finished third, fourth, second, sixth and fourth in the ACC in his final five seasons with five NCAA tournament appearances and 46 league wins. So it's not even a comparison, really. And to all the N.C. State fans who like to highlight Sendek's not-so-great record against in-state rivals North Carolina and Duke, I would just remind you (for the 487th time) that almost anybody would have a not-so-great record against UNC and Duke, and to judge Sendek at N.C. State against those two monsters would be like me judging myself against Brad Pitt and George Clooney.

I'm finishing a distant third in that race every time.


Because I'm not Brad Pitt or George Clooney, that's why.

Just like N.C. State isn't North Carolina or Duke, and that N.C. State didn't realize that three years ago now has the school picked by many to finish last in the ACC this season (that would make four consecutive 10th-or-worse finishes) while the coach it ran off spends his days being appreciated 2,100 miles west. To be clear, I can't tell you Sendek will return to the 2010 NCAA tournament because he lost his top two players from last season's team. But what I can tell you is that he won't finish last in his league or get fired come March, and that, by definition, means he's doing better than the guy hired to replace him at the school he left behind when said school's fans wouldn't get off his behind and just let him win.

For reasons that pass understanding the national media types cannot let this go. It would be nice if NCSU and ASU could meet in the NCAA Tournament so we can put this to rest.  The main problem is most of the national writers have no idea what they are talking about concerning the mentality of NC State's fan base.  Parrish and others try to simplify the situation by saying "Well NCSU was winning, going to NCAA Tournaments and they will never be UNC or Duke so they should just accept that quality of life for themselves." The problem with that oversimplification of the situation is it ignores decades of history not to mention the unique dynamics found in Triangle college hoops.

I know and work with many NC State fans as well as interacting with others in the blogging world, some of them on this site. The very reasoned approach they all offer on Sendek is that yes, there was a certain level of success there but simply having that level is not enough.  Simply finishing 3rd through 6th in the ACC is not enough.  Going to the NCAA Tournament is not enough and constantly losing to UNC and Duke without any hint of being competitive is not enough. Why? Because once upon a time NC State won two national titles, boasted a player still considered one of the best in ACC history with David Thompson and from time to time won against UNC/Duke when it counted. While Parrish makes a reasonable analogy comparing himself to leading Hollywood men, such an analogy ignores the historical context.  It does not account for the Wolfpack fans who remember the good old days of the 1970s and 1980s. If Parrish had won a couple of Oscars then I doubt his ego would be placated finishing 3rd to Clooney or Pitt.  That is what it is like for NCSU fans when they look at UNC or Duke.  They believe their two national titles grants them the right to at least entertain high expectations and I really do not think they are wrong to share that belief.

Interestingly, what happened during the 1980s is illustrative of what Wolfpack fans probably consider an acceptable quality of fan life.  NCSU was not  significantly better than they were under the last five years under Sendek with the exception of some exceptional moments.  While there were seasons like 1984 when they missed the NCAA Tournament, that came after winning a national title. In 1987 when they were 6-8 in the ACC but ended up winning the ACC Tournament over UNC.   NCSU went to at least two other Elite Eights scattered among some fairly mediocre tournament performances following the 1983 title.   For every down year in the 1980s for NCSU you can point to a major accomplishment to balance it out.  With Sendek it was constantly being average or at best good without those exceptional moments.  Besides that the style of play was boring and the team often sputtered down the stretch.  Wolfpack fans I have talk to about this say it became increasingly difficult to really behind a team that was struck with apathy as the wrong time. Included in that was perception Sendek did not take the UNC game seriously enough which is a fatal flaw with a fan base who carries a deep seeded hatred for all things UNC.  In fact, Parrish and others often forget the sequence of events that precipitated the end of Sendek's tenure: A four game losing streak that started with a 24 point loss to a young UNC team followed by back-to-back losses to Wake Forest in the regular season finale and ACC quarters finals during a season in which the Deacs were the worse team in the conference. After ten years absent of anything noteworthy, to finish a season that carried high expectations in such a manner would crush the soul of any fan base.

The bottom line is most NCSU fans I know would still opt to have Sendek leave because the issues went well beyond "we want more."  It also went beyond Sendek himself. What happened with spring of 2006 was a smaller battle in a larger war between the NCSU fan base and athletic department leadership.  Clamoring for Sendek's departure was more of an indictment of Lee Fowler by NCSU fans than it was simply "wanting more" in basketball. The hope was such a shakeup would lead to overall change in the way the athletic department approached the state of NCSU athletics.  So far that has not been the case.

Like all fan bases NCSU fans have their flaws and while there are many of my fellow Tar Heels who are quick to call Wolfpack fans delusional for wanting more, I am of the opinion that their rich history gives them cause to seek more.  The reality of college basketball in this present decade might nullify the Wolfpack's ability to get back to national prominence.   However that should not preclude them from dreaming nor is it the purview of writers like Parrish to condemn them without understanding the way of things in the birthplace of ACC basketball.