Sit back and get dedicated for a moment. You can’t skim this entry. You can’t loaf through this one. This is one of those to which your mind must be committed to absorbing and investing the time to read the links and the text.
In the early part of this decade our blog followed some up-and-coming college basketball coaches that weren’t as well known as they are today. Obviously, the hope was to turn some attention in Raleigh toward movers and shakers that would be great fits for NC State when Herb Sendek finally found a way to bolt town as we knew he would despite Lee Fowler’s wet dreams.
In the end, we all know the NC State situation developed as follows:
* Lee Fowler ardently supported and retained Herb Sendek in an unprecedented manner after five consecutive seasons of failing to make the NCAA Tournament while simultaneously criticizing and alienating NC State fans and consistently degrading the basketball program and fanbase to the media.
* Unlike leaders such as Ron Wellman at Wake Forest (with Dave Odom) and Dave Braine at Georgia Tech (with Bobby Cremmins), Fowler never found a way to control the coaching situation at NC State. He failed to create a graceful move that was in the best interest of NC State’s program AND Herb Sendek. Instead of proactively CREATING a strategically timed transition that could be controlled with a hand-selected new coach ready, Fowler blindly supported Sendek at all costs and therefore failed to position the Wolfpack’s program for the future by placing the selfish needs of Lee Fowler Herb Sendek over what was best for NC State.
* Despite five years of contract extensions amid supposed fan pressure after earning 4 of 5 NCAA Tournament berths while placed squarely on the NCAA’s bubble, Sendek ‘coincidently’ chose to leave NC State in the one season where he was losing seven of his eight top players and the program was going to be stocked with inexperience.
* Inexperienced at coaching searches because of his status-quo management style and unfamiliar with the college basketball landscape because of his lazy work ethic, Fowler was caught unprepared for the ensuing coaching search. After failing to land two top candidates who had previously expressed extreme interest in the position (Rick Barnes and John Calipari), Fowler was oblivious as to where to turn and was hellbent on landing a ‘name’ for media attention. Instead of turning to a tier of candidates like Gillispie, Sean Miller, Mark Turgeon, John Pelphrey and others after missing on Calipari, Fowler continued to taint the remaining candidate pool with public misses of horrible fits like Steve Lavin and John Belein.
From the 1999-2000 season through 2006 when Coach Sendek bailed on NC State, the folks at StateFansNation and the readers that we represented endorsed a Wellman-Braine-like strategic transition where Coach Sendek could/would go get another job (like Dave Odom at South Carolina) while NC State could be positioned to control our next coach. If the obvious top candidate (like Barnes & Calipari) would somehow not fit the time frame then there were plenty ‘next generation coaches’ that would fit the profile well.
Unfortunately, this kind of strategic management that comes from corporate America and not the old boys clubs of Tennessee and Eastern North Carolina was far too complicated for a simpleton like Lee Fowler. It represented way too much work that couldn’t be done from a golf course of Fowler’s Lake Gaston retreat.
Two specific names that we followed with vigor for years were then little-known coach of UTEP, Billy Gillispie (you know him as Kentucky’s Head Coach today) and Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Bruce Pearl.
(Since we won’t be talking about Gillispie much in this entry then I submit this link for you die-hards. Let’s see…we tagged KENTUCKY’s future head coach five or six years ago; and Lee Fowler was oblivious to the guy just two years ago when he was making national waves at Texas A&M. But…of course….he KNOWS Basketball)
Ahhh…but what did we know? Obviously, we don’t know basketball like Lee Fowler. Why control your program and be prepared for transition when you can argue with your fan base and ultimately get left at the alter by ‘your guy’ in a year when the coaching candidate pool wasn’t what it was a few years earlier?
Well…today, ESPN has logged a fantastic biography on (now) Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl. It is fantastic. And, you have to read it. You HAVE to. It gives you a lot of baseline information that you need to know about the guy.
Next, you have to go read this article written by Jeff on March 30, 2005. I’m not kidding. You HAVE to read this thing that was written THREE YEARS AGO. You also need to make sure that read the second section that has quotes from a national radio interview with Pearl.
As RIGHT as Jeff obviously was back then, he really underestimated Coach Pearl who is now finishing his third year at Tennessee:
Iâ€™ve been watching Pearl and his program from the periphery over the last couple of years and have been more than just a little impressed with what I have seen. Therefore, I wanted to go on record as recognizing this as a great hire for UT. It will be interesting to watch their program develop.
For kicksâ€¦I will predict that within four years from today, the Tennessee basketball program will have very strong momentum after appearing in at least two consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and will be obviously established at the top of the 2nd tier of SEC Basketball schools just under Kentucky and Florida- a tier currently inhabited by Alabama, Mississippi State, and LSU.
Ok…maybe he hedged a little. As convinced as SFN was in Pearl’s ability to succeed, we admit that we cushioned more than was needed in our prediction.
Fowler’s UT Irony
There is more irony in this 700th chapter of our favorite book – “What could have been at NC State if only most leaders in Raleigh weren’t lazy morons” – than anyone really can handle.
* Pearl has a huge connection to NC State as he was once married to a woman related to Norm Sloan (niece? cousin?) He brought is UW-M team to the RBC a few years ago and openly praised the tradition and history of the NC State program. Many close to him and familiar with the situation felt as though he was launching trial balloons and signalling his obvious interest for NC State to be the place where he would take his next step.
* Lee Fowler is from Tennessee and played basketball at Vanderbilt. He also was an assistant coach on the Memphis State teams (TN) in the early 1980s that ultimately were put on massive NCAA probation and had their wins forfeited and 1985 Final Four vacated. (Not to mention the time in federal prison that Fowler’s mentor and head coach, Dana Kirk spent)
* Today, Memphis and Tennessee have a fantastic basketball rivalry as evidenced by this year’s big #1 vs #2 showdown that included John Calipari. After being spurned by Todd Turner for the NC State job when Les Robinson left, Calipari heavily pursued the NC State job two years ago. Calipari was such a ‘done deal’ that Lee Fowler had literally ordered nameplates for the doors and offices of Calipari and his staff. Ultimately, Fowler and NC State found a away to screw up the hire and Calipari now has a monster of a program at Memphis.
* Fower interviewed for the Tennessee Athletics Director position (along with at least a half of a dozen others who have turned him down) while serving as the NC State Athletics Director.
* The only reason that Bruce Pearl was available to coach at UT was because UT had the proactive vision to push out their previous coach, Buzz Peterson.
* Peterson failed to secure an NCAA Tournament berth in four years of opportunity when the leadership at UT decided it was time to make a change. Peterson was 14-17 in his 4th season.
* At NC State, Herb Sendek failed to make an NCAA Tournament for FIVE consecutive season. NC State was 13-16 in fifth season where his squad was obviously all ‘his’.
* Tennessee fired Buzz Peterson and hired Bruce Pearl. Lee Fowler’s chose to retain Herb Sendek and NOT hire a litany of coaches like Barnes, Calipari, Pearl, Gillispie and many others that were easily available at various points in time from 2000-2006.
I find it hilarious (and scary) that Lee Fowler thinks that the folks at Tennessee (or any school) would WANT to hire an Athletics Director who chooses NOT to take measures to control and improve his athletics programs. If anything, the Peterson-Pearl move is a perfect example of the exact opposite philosophy of ‘leadership’ that Lee Fowler practices.
After almost eight years of Fowler’s leadership, NC State’s athletics administration has chosen to fire less than three coaches amongst all program that we can recall.
In that same time horizon, the University has executed and planned in excess of $150 million of facility upgrades that does NOT include the $166 million RBC Center. Additionally, NC State’s athletic booster club has grown to be one of the five largest clubs in all of America with some of the most rabid support found anywhere.
In spite of all of this – after eight years of Lee Fowler’s leadership – NC State is easily the WORST overall athletics program in the entire Atlantic Coast Conference while winning fewer ACC Championships in all sports than any other member institution during Fowler’s tenure.
Comparing the results and the management practices of Fowler’s dream job in the Tennessee Athletics Department to the results and the management practices in Raleigh — I wonder if the guy really ever keeps himself up at night wondering why he doesn’t get any of the other jobs for which he interviews?
Probably not. We’ve seen the impact of what staying up at night and actually having to work does to the guy. Remember the 25 pounds he lost during the NC State coaching search due to stress caused by his incompetence? How many times have you seen that from other ADs?
Well, I guess we can add that to the long list of the differences of our AD and those of other schools.
On second thought…
…check out the following quote from Bruce Pearl on ESPN’s national morning radio show from the entry I made you read.
Pearl commented on Buzz Petersonâ€™s firing. Said that (paraphrase), â€œBuzz is a SUPER guy, but that he was just over .500 in four years. Face itâ€¦if I am just over .500 in four years here then I will be gone, too. You know this going into the profession and when you are hired by a big school. Tennessee has national championships across the board. They are successful in almost ever sport here and there is no reason that we shouldnâ€™t be in basketball.â€
I take back everything I have said.
OBVIOUSLY, Bruce Pearl would not fit in at NC State.