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View from the 'ville
Thursday, April 6, 2006

By Al Myatt

Sendek's trump card leaves Pack groping for an ace


The question immediately following N.C. State's second round loss in the NCAA Tournament seemed to be whether the Wolfpack would ditch Herb Sendek. Few considered that the sneaker might be on the other foot.

State athletic director Lee Fowler endorsed Sendek's performance and so did the university faculty. The school newspaper staked out the opposing viewpoint and said the axe should fall.

Sendek seemed less popular than rival coach Roy Williams with a portion of the Pack fan base. They faulted the caliber of his recruits, his structured half court offense, his non-conference scheduling and even his low key personality.

Herb had gotten the ship righted from most external perspectives with five straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, but his struggles, particularly against the Big Four, created significant dissatisfaction in certain quarters of Packdom.

Then came the scoop provided by CBS during Semifinal Saturday in Indianapolis. Herb was heading off to underachieving Arizona State, where the humidity is low and so are the expectations.

The squeaky wheels among the Pack fan base could not contain their glee.

Herb did the math and after ASU had missed on Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, he gave the Sun Devils a fast "Yes."

As far as his NCSU legacy is concerned, he didn't win an NCAA championship like predecessors Norm Sloan or Jim Valvano, but he didn't lacerate the program on NCAA barbwire either.

There's something to be said for graduating players who stay on the right side of the legal system, which hasn't always been the case with NCSU hoops.

Someone once said that Sendek resembled Lee Harvey Oswald and if you agree with the Kennedy conspiracy theorists, he also was unfairly blamed. The Pack program was gradually strengthening with the continuity of successful leadership.

Now the program stands to lose portions of a solid recruiting class and 20-win momentum as it makes a transition in leadership.

A college teammate of mine from eastern Tennessee used to say, "Talk's cheap, it takes money to go to the store."

Money definitely figured in creating a couple of significant coaching vacancies in the region.

Brad Brownell flew the coup at UNC-Wilmington on the eve of the Final Four and Herb opted out of the cauldron at N.C. State a day later. The grass was greener elsewhere. So was the cash.

Superficially, both exits appear to be less than lateral moves until you look at the terms of financial commitment. What was right about Wright State for Brownell? Well, he jumped his take from $168,000 annual base salary at UNCW to $1.32 million over six years. Sendek went from $800,000 at State to a reported $1.3 million annually in Tempe.

Fringe benefits? Brownell won't have to answer to Seahawks athletic director Mike Capaccio, a former director of basketball operations at UNCW who moved past Brownell in the chain of command. Sendek may even enjoy listening to some sports talk radio in the desert or going to the grocery store if he can so much as get the Sun Devils into the Big Dance.

The normally stoic countenances of the departing coaches may even express a rare smile as they glance in their rear view mirrors.

The failure of the State fan base to embrace Sendek despite a degree of success indicates that Fowler needs to enlist a substantive personality who will be revered like Everett Case, feared like Sloan or cheered like Valvano.

The new guy can't continually send the Pack faithful to the RBC Center parking lot muttering about repeated losses to Triangle neighbors. State seems to have been losing that battle for the better part of three decades.

It's a demanding job description. Top choice Rick Barnes of Texas has turned a blind eye to the beckon from his home state. Fowler would probably do well to take Rick Pitino and John Calipari off the speed dial as well.

A savvy coach — and State isn't looking for anything else — would examine the circumstances that drove Sendek off and say, "No thanks." It's a tough room. Working conditions are better elsewhere.

Dave Odom and Jim Larranaga are proven program builders but may be a little beyond the ideal age range when contemplating an extended assignment in Raleigh.

"We're going to have to take somebody who is on the rise at a mid-major or a top assistant at a major program," a Wolfpack graduate told me after church on Sunday.

That's what happened last time. State aimed higher but wound up with the balding guy from Miami of Ohio. Herb tried to win the fans over. He even danced at midcourt to show there was a little bit of party animal in that corporate suit. Maybe there was, but it wasn't a wolf.

The circumstances of the NCSU job opening could provide more extended drama than any cage coaching search in the area in recent years. UNC-Chapel Hill athletic director Dick Baddour had resounding misses both before and when Matt Doherty was hired, but there was little suspense when Doherty was replaced.

Fowler must either find the resources to bring in a name coach or subject himself to initial criticism for a lesser choice.

There has been a major change in Raleigh but there is the potential for things to remain very much the same.

State needs to discern the up-and-coming entity who is ready to emerge in command and forget about a marquee name who will excite the fan base for the duration of a lightning bug's glow.

If Fowler needs a working model, he can take a look at Florida.

UNCW seems poised to go the prominent assistant route. Joe Dooley, arguably the most successful coach at East Carolina in the modern era, got a sparkling endorsement from his current boss, Kansas coach Bill Self, as he interviewed with the Seahawks this week.

Is Dooley hard-working? Self said he was glad the former ECU coach was married and had a child to go home to or he might not leave the Jayhawks' office.

Still, one wonders if the Seahawks could get past the ECU entry on Dooley's resume.

The frontrunner for the Port City post is apparently Texas assistant Rodney Terry, who was an assistant at UNCW on Jerry Wainwright's staff during his career ascension.

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

Dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

02/23/2007 12:30:10 AM


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