Throughout Mark Gottfried’s entire career at NC State, weather concerns have been an issue.
Just a few months after the announcement that Gottfried was hired, the coach was scheduled for a tandem skydive into Carter-Finley stadium during the September 17th home football game. Cancelled, due to weather concerns. January 26th, 2013. NC State is hosting UNC, College Gameday is in town. A downpour of snow in Raleigh brings doubt if the game will be played, however, it was. And of course, early January of 2017, weather concerns postpones NC State’s game with UNC one day, a game which would feature the second largest defeat in NC State basketball history (51 points).
Weather concerns…or in NC State’s case, the concern as to whether or not Mark Gottfried was the right man to lead the Wolfpack men’s basketball team for years to come.
February 9th, following the teams sixth consecutive loss, it was announced Mark Gottfried would not return as NC State’s head coach, but would finish out this season from the sideline. This brought a sigh of relief from NC State faithful, but was met with puzzling reactions from national media and other NCAA coaches.
This begs many questions. Why move away from Gottfried, a coach who led NC State to four NCAA tournaments and two sweet sixteen appearances? What else could a fan base want? Who does NC State think they can land for the job? Hey, who would even possibly want that job?
To first address the issue of the firing itself, it is clear that it is the right move. Sure, 4 NCAA tourney appearances in Gott’s 6 year tenure was almost unprecedented at NC State, a program that had only made 5 tourney appearances in the previous 20 years. Only Duke and Carolina had more NCAA tournament appearances in this time period than the Pack. What has Mark Gottfried built at NC State? There is not a fan in Wolfpack nation that can look at this basketball program and see any stability or growth. Every year brings about a new exodus of players. Tyler Harris, Rodney Purvis, Tyler Lewis, Kyle Washington, and Cody and Caleb Martin all transferred away. CJ Leslie, Zo Brown, TJ Warren, Trevor Lacey, Cat Barber, all left for the NBA before they probably should have (save maybe Warren).
These are major red flags. Gottfried amazingly was able to restock and reload year after year, but ever since the 2012-2013 season, when the Pack entered the season as preseason #6 (#6!!!), Gottfried and his Wolfpack have just been chasing the dragon that was the high of those expectations. So sure, the 4 NCAA appearances were beyond commendable. 2 Sweet Sixteen appearances, knocking off #1 Villanova in the second round, these will all go down in NC State folklore. But what about the drastic decline of the success of the program over the last 2 seasons. How about the sub .500 ACC record? Is this the pillar you want to see holding up the Wolfpack basketball program for years to come?
Are the expectations of the NC State faithful too high? What gives NC State, the redheaded stepchild of UNC and Duke, any reason to believe that they belong in the same breath as these blue blood powerhouses, nevertheless within 20 miles of them?
It’s the banners. It’s the ’74 and ’83 National Championships. The 17 conference tournament championships. It’s memories of Norm Sloan, David “Skywalker” Thompson, Jim Valvano, and the Sidney Lowe to Lorenzo Charles heave that all basketball fans see on repeat during March Madness. NC State fans have had that taste of success, and despite how long is has been, see no reason to abandon the hope of returning to greatness. Actually, forget greatness, most NC State fans would settle for relevancy at this point.
So where does NC State go from here? The finger will be squarely pointed at Debbie Yow, who is under contract in Raleigh until July of 2019. Yow has often been criticized for her lack of…”people skills”, if you will, with numerous sources citing disagreements between she and her coaches. She personally ran Gary Williams and Ralph Friedgen out of Maryland in her time there, consequently bankrupting Maryland’s athletic program, bolstering its departure from the ACC. Gary Williams despised Yow so much that he even went as far to warn head coach candidate Shaka Smart of the cons of working for Yow, when NC State was searching to replace Sidney Lowe. With an AD at the helm with this sort of reputation and no certainty as to who will replace her, will a bright, young coach want to dive into this program? What happens when the new coach flounders in his first 2 seasons, and the newest incoming Athletic Director decides to change course and bring in their own coach? It is far less than appealing, and a problem that can really only be dealt with by the board of trustees at NC State.
The writing is on the wall for the future of NC State. Derek Whittenburg, who is serving as the Assistant Athletic director in Raleigh, seems like the logical replacement for Yow. He has spent time on the bench with Gottfried, and NC State seems to have been grooming him for the Athletic Director job ever since his move to his new position. Wolfpack nation is familiar with putting former players in positions of power (see Sidney Lowe), but Whittenburg is a beloved figure in NC State athletic history, and at least seems likeable and gives off the impression that he has his finger on the pulse of the program.
So, best case scenario? Yow either retires early, paving the way for Whittenburg to replace her. Or at least Whittenburg, or whoever else, is named as her successor soon, to provide a landscape of the future for prospective coaches. Allowing an incoming coach to settle in and have a relationship with the next AD, so the coach at least feels they have a fighting chance to keep his job following the transition away from Yow.
As for the incoming coach, and maybe this is just me being hopelessly optimistic, this is a chance to seize control of a program that is yearning to leap into the national spotlight again. Forget being in the shadow of UNC and Duke, do all coaches not want to claim the opportunity to bring the third power of the triangle back to greatness? The fan base is there, the financial support is there, and if Mark Gottfried and Sidney Lowe showed anything in their time in Raleigh, it’s that big time recruits WILL come to Raleigh.
Archie Miller of Dayton is obviously target number one, and NC State is already rumored to have been in touch with Miller’s camp, though they would never admit to it. Miller is a perfect fit for Raleigh, coming back to him and his wife’s alma mater. Miller still loves Raleigh and has already showed aptitude as a coach, going 137-60 in his time at Dayton in 6 years, including a trip to the Elite Eight. Miller has also been rumored to have interest in the Ohio State job if it becomes available. Oh, and he is under contract until 2023.
Gregg Marshall of Wichita State is another name floating around. Marshall has virtually turned Wichita State into a perennial powerhouse. However, NC State reached out to him during its coaching search post Sidney Lowe, and Marshall and Debbie Yow did not quite get along. Kevin Keatts of UNCW seems like the most likely choice if the Miller hire does not work out, but expect Levelle Moton of NC Central to get a chance to make his case. Moton knows the triangle basketball scene well, and has a reputation as a true players coach.
Whatever NC State ends up with, it should not look back with regret. The Mark Gottfried era had run its course, and the program had maxed out. In fact, it was already in a state of serious regression. Barring some dramatic run in the ACC tournament, the Wolfpack will likely be a first round exit from the tourney, and the coaching search can begin. Expect NC State to be one of the first vacancies to be filled this offseason, the advantage of firing Gottfried early. NC State will have spoken to all possible candidates before other programs cut bait with their coaches.
All Wolfpack nation can do is sit back, grab a bag of popcorn, and pray for the best. The last 2 years of Debbie Yow’s contract in Raleigh could change the outlook of the athletic program for years to come. Wallowing in mediocrity, a meteoric rise to competency, or a crash into bankruptcy, the future is unclear. All the Wolfpack fan can do is hope for better weather.