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Can ‘Two NCAA Titles’ And ‘Reasonable Expectations’ Coexist?

April 11, 2011

Are State fans too unreasonable?

It depends on whom you ask, apparently. One of the overriding themes of the State coaching search was State fans' expectations. One national columnist in particular, Jeff Goodman of Fox, routinely referenced State's "insane" expectations in his tweets and articles concerning the search. 

Goodman's perceptions are shared with most outside the program, sadly. It's rare to find someone without a deep appreciation of the history of the ACC that doesn't think State fans have a screw loose. For every fantastic article from ACC historian Al Featherston on the NC State program, there are 10 national writers who know little-to-nothing about State's history and how it relates to the ACC. I wouldn't be shocked if there were a few national writers who didn't know we'd won anything prior to 1983.

It's the world we live in. History matters little if the present matters little. As an example, UNC's past is routinely touted, but if they were on the back-end of 20+ years of mediocrity, do you think folks would care much about the '57 and '82 titles? Probably not. They've kept things rolling, and as such, their past is still relevant.

State, however, is viewed nationally in the same light of the San Francisco Dons…a school with two ancient titles and little to show for it currently.

That's why State fans, especially those in their 40s, 50s and older, are in such a predicament when it comes to setting their expectations. On the one hand, these fans lived through the greatest 20 years of State's history (1970-1990), when State stood-toe-to-toe with UNC and had more titles in the bag than Duke. They've spent the last 20 years watching the program implode, founder, begin to show signs of life, only to fall once again. 

If you lived through the glory years, what kind of impact should the last 20 years have had on your expectations?

It's tough to fault someone who saw State topple the giant of college basketball and witnessed the moment in NCAA history that taught everyone to never stop dreaming for "never giving up" the dream of getting back to that point. How can you tell someone who saw their school win the highest of prizes in the sport not once, but TWICE, that getting back to that point a third time is unreasonable?

Yet, it's impossible to brush away 20 years of mediocrity as though it's just the result of a bad recruiting class or two that put us behind schedule. People have been born, grown and died within that timeframe. The better part of four U.S. presidencies—two of which lasted two terms—have transpired within that timeframe. The internet as we know it was formed within that timeframe.

To say our successes from prior to 1990 are "irrelevant" to today's world is to do injustice to the meaning of the word "irrelevant."

And it this "irrelevancy" that has so many folks outside our walls telling us to temper our expectations (or rather, shouting down those that refuse to do so).

So how do you get the concept of "reasonable expectations" to live peacefully in harmony within the mind of a fan who lived the glory of yesteryear?

I don't know that I have the answer, quite honestly. (I know that's not much of a payoff.) It requires staying grounded in reality—a good place to start is taking a cold, educated look at how the game of basketball has changed over the last 20 years—while never forgetting that if things progress as planned, anything is possible. There's no rule against dreaming of big things…just so long as you know where you'll be when you wake up the next morning.

While we shouldn't have passed on the chance to pursue some A-list candidates with ties to the school, we have to realize that the NC State job as it stands in 2011 requires a great deal of rehabilitation. In terms of prestige, we're much closer to Iowa State than Ohio State, as much as that may pain some of our diehard supporters.

I don't agree with Debbie's "Scarlet Letter" that she released a day prior to Gottfried's hiring, but I think even she was taken aback at how far down the totem poll the State job has fallen in terms of desirability, and almost certainly that's what prompted it. (State had the good fortune of landing a coach shortly thereafter…a letter like that could've seriously damaged the prospects of hiring anyone after that point.)

Getting back to the level we were in 1990 will require much more work than just a few recruiting classes and some improved Xs and Os. It'll require consistent Sendekian-like achievement over the course of half a decade or so to start putting the program in that class of teams that expects to go to the NCAA tournament every year. People may not want to hear that, but it's true, and I believe you can win at Sendek's level without alienating the State fanbase like Herb did. Embrace the rivalries, play fun basketball and play to the community, and we will get with a consistent first-weekend team as long as there are signs of continued growth in the future. (No one is happy with stagnation, regardless of play/personality/etc.)

If there's anything good that can come from the way the Sendek era ended and the subsequent five years of the Sidney Lowe tenure unfolded, it's that success at that level—while not the ultimate goal—does have some value, and that there are plenty of coaches out there who never routinely reach that level. That's not to say Sendek shouldn't have left when he did, or if Gottfried stagnates as a one and done guy after 10 years, there should be no shame in moving on at that time. Just that getting to that point is no small feat…just ask Seth Greenburg.

Take heart in this: one coach with the right staff and the right players can make some serious noise in a short timeframe. Steve Lavin did just that in his first year at St. John's (another historically strong program who's fallen on hard times in recent memory), and the parallels between Lavin and Gottfried's career paths leading up to their present jobs is something you can look to as hope that things can change quickly. Is Gottfried "that" coach? We shall see, but I like the way the assistant coaching staff is shaping up, so at this point I've seen nothing to dash those hopes.

"Hope" is a powerful thing, and something tough to let go of. Having them dashed is never fun. But if you, Joe Statefan, can find a way to remember and honor our proud past while tempering your expectations in the short-term, the skewed perception of State fans as being "insane" should start to fade.

Or if that doesn't suit you, you can take a morbid approach and think of it this way: In another 30 years or so, all the folks who remember our glory years will have died off and the expectations of folks like my son and daughters will naturally align themselves with the present.

(Let's just hope it doesn't come to that.)

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian Schuch permalink
    April 12, 2011 3:47 am

    Well said. You are a brilliant writer and I look forward to every post.

    • Anonymous permalink*
      April 12, 2011 3:20 pm

      Brian, thank you very much for those very kind words. I hope to be able to write more in the future!

  2. Sbas2 permalink
    April 12, 2011 2:59 pm

    definitely, as time goes by more and more of us who experienced the 1974 National Championship and the 1983 National Championship are going to pass on. However, one good coach can bring the program back to a state of prominence rivaling UNC and Duke. For example, had Calipari taken the head coaching position in 2006, i have no doubt that State would have reached that point by now.

    • Anonymous permalink*
      April 12, 2011 3:19 pm

      I will always have a negative opinion of how well Cal would’ve done here. Certainly he would’ve been light-years ahead of Lowe, but my guess is as soon as the Kentucky job opened, he’d have probably bolted for that or worked us over for more money like he did Memphis.

      Now, I suppose we might’ve been in a position to get Sean Miller at that point, so maybe history would have worked out in our favor any way. But I don’t get the sense he would have ever been a long-term solution for us.


  3. Anonymous permalink
    April 14, 2011 11:09 pm

    For a basketball school at our level, it comes down to getting lucky enough to pick a great coach – once we’ve got one, he won’t go anywhere – unlike the Richmonds and Xaviers of the world. So, that’s the good news. The bad news is that we just aren’t at the level of UNC and Kentucky – where great coaches leave their jobs to coach at those schools.

    Valvano never should have been kicked out – and the morons that did that to him should be crucified. That’s what got us in this predicament in the first place. Not enough has been written about that situation – why it came about, who was behind it, and what the end result was.

    I believe that Gottfried has a great chance to make us relevant again in the college basketball world (regularly in the top 25). I just think that he won’t go far in the NCAA tournament on a consistent basis. He’s shown a clear trend where he doesn’t win tournament games – except for the year he had a no. 1 team. Butler’s coach is amazing… getting so far with so little talent! We should be hiring his assistant coach!

  4. Clonina permalink
    April 15, 2011 8:18 pm

    Thought-provoking, as always. I still hold, however, that we have a somewhat unique situation here. We have the fan support, the facilities, and the administration to make some dramatic strides forward. I still believe that only Miller and Smart were actually offered the job – Miller was an absolute longshot at best. And if Smart is one of the coaches who doesn’t know his history, doesn’t do his homework, and can’t see the forest for the trees, I for one am glad he turned it down. I like Coach Gottfried’s message and vision, and it would be hard to imagine a better first couple of weeks on the job.

    We shouldn’t expect to be Final Four next year, but everything is in place for the right coach (or coaches) to build an exceptional program here. Is Coach Gottfried “the one”? Only time will tell.

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