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My Christmas Wish: Succeed Greatly, Or Fail Miserably

December 21, 2010

As State winds down the non-conference portion of its basketball season without any key victories, we have some folks rekindling the now-five-year-old debate: Should State fans have run off Herb Sendek?

The Ghost Of Sendek Past reared his bald head two weeks ago in a column from Seth Davis, who made a point to hammer State fans for its treatment of Sendek in one of his columns. He made the statement that Sendek is a perfect example of a coach who “fired his fans.”

We saw him again during the Arizona broadcast, when Tim Brando and Mike Gminski addressed Herb’s tenure and Brando incorrectly asserted Sendek led State to multiple Sweet 16s, and Gminski (again) posited that State fans would rather have Sendek back (or something to that effect).

The next day, Brando appeared on The David Glenn Show (Hour 2, in case you want to listen), and this is what he had to say with regards to those comments:

Well, #1, he got you to NCAA tournaments, where you haven’t been since he left. Two, he got you to a Sweet 16, and I don’t care if it was on a lucky shot or not, everybody in the NCAA Tournament from time to time get’s a lucky shot, either against them or for them. And #3, this shouldn’t be a personality contest, because Herb’s never going to win that. He’s just a hell of a coach.

And as for G-Man, there was no way he was going to get around having to discuss this yesterday because I was going to bring it up. Hard to do when Sean Miller, who was an assistant with Herb for five years–who is the total package and one of the great young coaches in America, having taken Xavier to an Elite 8 before he goes on to Arizona–and to have Archie–who played here–on his staff, it’s a little hard to escape bringing that up during the course of a game with NC State, yeah it was going to be brought up.

You know the funny thing is, and I know today’s modern fan wants the coach to be The Perfect Package, and really Sean Miller is more that than Herb. Sean engages with the media, he’s really good with the fans, he likes to spend time after games with…Herb didn’t do those things; he seemed aloof. I get that. I understand why some State fans…but I’m sorry, there was only one Jimmy V, and you’ll never be able to fill that package. And I’ve felt that way about NC State fans…not just that way in basketball but in football, too, that they…you know, Tom O’Brien…if you spend some time with him…not that dissimilar than Herb Sendek. He’s a tactician, he had been at a military academy, he knows the game, just go out and win, get us to bowl games…I mean, where do you draw the line of distinction between Herb and Tom O’Brien? I think they’re pretty similar.

It’s just the Basketball Guy…they want to see the second coming of Valvano, and it’s not going to happen. There was only one Jimmy V. They never adequately replaced him at my old place at ESPN; I worked with Jimmy, I know. But in fairness, Herb Sendek…just be careful what you wish for sometimes, is sort of the point. And if State fans are upset with that, so be it.

The truth is, at this place, you can be in…he was…Herb was actually alright being in the shadow of Dean, and of Roy, and of K. He was alright with that. He could function and get you to the NCAA tournament. The FANS of NC State are the ones that are uncomfortable being in the shadow of Dean, and Roy, and K. But I mean (laughs) wouldn’t you like to be back in the NCAA whether you in the shadow or not? I think that’s the point. Some fans don’t like it, but it’s true.

A lot to attack there. A lot that’s already been attacked before. Just ’cause I’m a sucker for going after folks like this, here’s a bulleted list:

  • For the life of me, I will never understand the “but wouldn’t you rather be back in the NCAA tournament than this?” argument. One, just making the NCAA tournament is not the goal of ANY coach in America. It’s to WIN the NCAA tournament. To settle for less is a loser mentality. Two, after 10 years, Herb was a known commodity. A good coach, but not a great one. Would I rather be in the NCAA’s than not? Of course! But if you ask me would I rather stick with a coach forever who will never win an NCAA title or keep searching for one that will even if subsequent coaches will fail in the interim, I take the latter choice. Brando–and others–make the false argument that having moderate success trumps failing while trying for great success.
  • “Being in the shadow” of Duke and Carolina have NO bearing on whether State can be great again. Let me state that clearly: BEING IN DUKE AND CAROLINA’S SHADOWS HAVE NO BEARING ON WHETHER STATE CAN BE GREAT AGAIN. Yes, State lives in the toughest neighborhood in college basketball. State’s responsible for that, in fact. But being great in college basketball depends on three things: recruiting, coaching and consistency. Recruiting is no longer a local endeavor. It’s nationwide. Most of State’s talent comes from the Atlanta area. Miami’s Frank Haith routinely recruits players to Corral Gables from the Triangle. Raleigh players John Wall and Rodney Purvis left (or will leave) N.C. to play college basketball elsewhere. It’s no longer necessary to lock down your state’s talent in order to recruit at a high level. As for coaching, any coach worth their salt would relish the opportunity to tangle with Roy and K regularly at one of the game’s historically great schools. And consistency just comes with retaining the right coach for an extended period of time. NO WHERE in that formula does the “shadow” of K and Roy and Dean and whoever else prevent State from competing at a high level.
  • Brando’s wrong on a few assertions: One, State fans don’t give a shit about personality. Honestly. He plays the Jimmy V personality card as if that was the main reason for our discontent. If you were the fan who put that in his head, shame on you. Further, I’m not sure why he brought up O’Brien as part of that argument…was it to say State fans have embraced O’Brien and should’ve done so with Herb? Guess what: we embraced O’Brien when he WON. WINS, Timmy, WINS. That’s what it’s all about. Not meaningless non-conference cupcakes or squeakers against the dregs of the league, either. Titles. THAT’S where Herb failed…not his personality. Chuck Amato had personality; he was fired for failing to win. Bottom line: It’s a downright INSULT to a fanbase to assert that they value personality over wins and losses or championships. We all love V, but V is dead, he’s not coming back, and no one that I’ve ever talked to has said, “You know, if we just hire someone with a great, flashy personality, I’ll be happy with that whether they win or not.”
  • Also, has anyone discounted N.C. State’s trip to the Sweet 16 on the basis of Hodge hitting “a lucky shot?” Who on EARTH would make such a ridiculous assertion? I give Herb Sendek all the credit in the world for that win and advancing that far. It was one of my favorite memories as a State fan. But it also just happens to be the pinnacle of Herb’s coaching career in nearly two decades, one he never seriously threatened to duplicate. Again, that’s the crux of the argument: lack of sustained high success.

So there’s that…Brando’s transcript.

And his re-kicking of the Herb Hornet’s Nest brings me to the point of this piece: how I hope this season plays out.

I’ve tried to determine what would be the best outcome for State this season given where we stand right now. In my mind, there are three paths before us: one, where State regains Tracy Smith to the lineup and gels, rattling off 10 or more conference wins en route to a top-3 finish in the league and Sidney’s first trip to the dance.

Two, where State regains Tracy Smith and completely disintegrates. The offensive and defensive woes continue and the team finishes with 6 or fewer wins and a losing record.

And three, where State regains Tracy and improves moderately, and because of a down league, the Pack manages to about .500 in conference but just misses out on making the tournament because of no quality out of conference wins.

Path #3 is where State basketball CANNOT go, because a near-miss in making the NCAA’s will result in a fanbase rift much like we saw in 2006, perhaps even worse.

There are many State fans who firmly believe it’s “NCAA OR BUST” for Sidney; anything less is a fireable offense. There are many others who are rooting like hell for Sidney to make it happen, and given the strength of his recruiting lately and his historical ties to the program, are willing to give him more time with this young, talented team if they just miss out on the tournament.

These two factions will spill their arguments out on message boards, on the radio and around the water coolers of the Triangle as they try to make a case for how new AD Debbie Yow, faced with her first major coaching decision, should act. It will be just as nasty as it ever was under Herb, and because it will center around one of the program’s most beloved sons, it will hurt much, much worse.

So my Christmas wish this year is this: I say to you, Sidney Lowe, either flip the switch that transforms this team into the caliber of one worthy to finish top 3 of this league, a solid lock for the NCAAs and a serious ACC title contender, or flame out spectacularly.

Don’t give me–and us–any doubt at the end of this year which direction this program should go. I can stomach a losing season similar in fashion to 2007 if it means we, as a fanbase, can unite at the end of it and thank you for your hard work in trying to restore your alma mater to an elite level while we take things in another direction.

What I can’t stomach–and what will lead to another nasty split among State fans–is if the decision is a tough one. Either make it crystal clear for all of us that you can win at a high level with talent or not, because having lived through the five years of strife from 2001 to 2006, warring factions among your fanbase is not healthy.

It only leads to messes like the Herb situation that State fans–to this day–are still being taken to task for from folks like Davis, Gminski and Brando.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2010 2:10 pm

    Excellent work.

    • admin permalink
      December 21, 2010 2:42 pm

      Jim, thank you, and thanks for following me over to the new site!

  2. Ed M. permalink
    December 21, 2010 2:31 pm

    This blog may be your best work yet. Seriously, it conveys how I, and I’m sure the vast majority, of the fan base feels.

    • admin permalink
      December 21, 2010 2:48 pm

      Thank you very much Ed. I appreciate that.

  3. Clarksa permalink
    December 21, 2010 4:51 pm

    Nice work…I also fear path #4 and that is NC State gets in via the expanded number of teams in the NCAA tournament and then the “NCAA or bust crowd” turns into the “that wasn’t good enough because we slid in due to the tournament expanding and a weak ACC so fire Sid because he’ll never be a good coach” crowd.

    • admin permalink
      December 21, 2010 7:59 pm

      I appreciate the kind words Clarksa, and your scenario is just as ominous as path #3. Personally, I think I would be inclined to keep Lowe in that situation, but it would likely mean we backdoored our way to some wins to sneak in, and would that be appreciably better than just missing it? No. And the debate would rage on…

  4. December 21, 2010 6:43 pm

    Nice work. I agree about Sidney either needing to find success or move on.

    I could accept the arguments of Gminski, Brando, and everyone else if only they could acknowledge Herb Sendek’s attendance problem at Arizona State. This season he is averaging 7,196. Last season they averaged 7,765 in a 14,000 SEAT ARENA (the size of Wake Forest’s). For more than half of their games they had fewer than half of the seats full, and only surpassed 10K on 2 occasions all season. Tonight they play Long Beach State. I wonder what the number will be for that game…

    Until someone can address Herb’s continued failure at putting an interesting product on the court, arguments like the V-resurrection reflect poorly on the media’s understanding of the true situation in Raleigh.

    • admin permalink
      December 22, 2010 11:43 am

      DM, very good point about Herb’s current situation. It’s been largely ignored to this point, or should I say, it’s been selectively ignored. Brando was quick to point out that Herb has taken the Sun Devils to a tournament appearance already…but ignored the rest of the context.

      In that sense, does that mean if Sidney had snuck into a tournament bid one time over the last five years, all is well? It’s a very myopic way to make very broad statements like Brando does.

  5. Core permalink
    December 21, 2010 7:01 pm

    I share your opinions on end of season scenarios entirely. Winning or losing will provide the true indicator of what direction this program needs to take. The bubble scenario will further inhibit this program and fan base of truly becoming great and elite.

    And in reference to the HWSNBN bashing by the media, it’s “the gift that keeps on giving the whole year round”.

  6. packalum08 permalink
    December 22, 2010 8:13 am

    Spot on commentary. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    • admin permalink
      December 22, 2010 11:38 am

      Thanks, I appreciate that. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. sbas2 permalink
    December 22, 2010 10:10 am

    outstanding article. i would add one more thing: if State dosen’t make the NCAA tournament, Lowe does the honorable thing and resigns thereby avoiding the issues from Paths 2 and 3.

  8. Scott permalink
    December 22, 2010 10:21 am

    Spot on. Flame out or succeed greatly. Sadly, based on our recent history, i think Coach Lowe will do just enough to keep his job. Either sneaking into the NCAA’s or just barely missing. The fans would be split horribly, but I think that would give Debbie Yow reason to keep him for another season. But, we will see. I am not optimistic right now. But, if we run off a few wins during this down time, I know I will regain the optimism, even if it will be unwarranted. That’s just how I roll … beating Del St, Al A&M, SD, Elon and Wake will heal a lot of hard feelings, but reality will set in shortly after.

  9. Travelwolf permalink
    December 25, 2010 12:00 am

    Excellent article – hopefully others will link to this one. I believe you summarize well the feelings and thoughts I’ve had through the last 14 years – esp. now. Lowe may be a good coach, but that’s not enough for us – as it wasn’t good enough for Clemson and BC after last season. With as much talent as we have, a great coach would have these players playing well by the end of the season. If we are still performing poorly on defense and offense by the end of the season – I’ll think that it’s time for a change. Well, as always, it will be an interesting season!

    In order to find a prince, you’ve got to kiss a few frogs… hopefully, you get the analogy…

    • admin permalink
      December 28, 2010 8:55 am

      I’m all about kissing some frogs. Wait, what?


      Thanks for stopping by and reading!

  10. Scott permalink
    December 28, 2010 8:37 am

    fail miserably is looking more and more likely. we will see. only the end of the season will tell us.

    but i am starting to feel like the scene from Vacation when they are driving on a closed road but Clark refuses to believe it … “no, no, no, the road isn’t closed. when they close a road, they put up big signs … like this one!” *crash*

    • admin permalink
      December 28, 2010 8:57 am

      We’re at a place now where EVERY game is a referendum on Lowe’s coaching ability…not just the “big” ones. From here on out, every time the Pack squeaks out a win against a much lesser opponent or gets blown out by an equal or greater opponent, the drumbeats will get louder and louder.

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