Flashback: Feb 9 & 10, 2001

The following article originally appeared in the February 10, 2001 edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer.

I had originally planned to share this this article and some comments on February 9th to observe the ‘anniversary’ of the day that Lee Fowler came clean with the public and proclaimed that wins/losses and on court performance was no longer a component of the evaluation process of NC State’s coaches. However, we had the opportunity to run this amazing contribution from Michael Byrne and there was no way that I was going to try to pre-empt that.

I will share the article and then log some comments over the next few days:

Sendek will be back with Pack
Chip Alexander; Staff Writer
The News & Observer

RALEIGH — N.C. State athletic director Lee Fowler, intent on quashing rumors about the future of Wolfpack basketball coach Herb Sendek, was both blunt and emphatic on Friday.

“Herb Sendek will be our coach next year,” Fowler said. “I didn’t want it to get to the point where everybody is speculating this way and that way. We feel, of course, a lot of frustration with an 11-10 season. But we think Herb’s the right guy and he’s got a four-year contract left after this year – one that the board of trustees signed off on about four months ago.”

Fowler’s announcement came two days after the Pack knocked off sixth-ranked Virginia 90-80. Fowler said he told Sendek about his decision to go public on Wednesday morning, hours before the ACC game at the Entertainment and Sports Arena.

“I said, ‘I know this doesn’t surprise you since you have 4 1/2 years left on your contract, but Friday I’m going to tell everybody,’ ” Fowler said. “The Virginia win is great. It always helps when you beat a top-10 team, but this had nothing to do with having a win. I want all the speculation and behind-the-scenes stuff to stop because I think it’s very important to move this program forward to let people know who the coach is going to be. We’ve still got scholarships left for this coming year, and I don’t want that sort of stuff to hurt what Herb’s trying to do for next year.”

Fowler said NCSU chancellor Marye Anne Fox did not ask or encourage him to make an announcement. “I know how she feels about this situation,” he said. “We’ve talked. She didn’t request this at all.

“It wasn’t six months ago that our board of trustees, who are either alums or major players at this university, felt like [Sendek] deserved two extra years. So three months later, because of some tough losses, you don’t start speculating about someone being gone at the end of the year.”

Sendek, in his fifth season at NCSU, has an 84-68 overall record but is 24-49 in ACC regular-season games, finishing 6-10 in the league the last two seasons. State was 20-14 overall last year, reaching the semifinals of the NIT, and the university, at the urging of former athletic director Les Robinson, awarded Sendek a two-year contract extension through the 2005 season.

Fowler was named athletic director in September. A member of the NCAA’s men’s basketball committee, he knew little of Sendek other than what he had heard from Robinson, another committee member.

But Fowler, who played college basketball at Vanderbilt and later coached at Memphis, has closely observed Sendek in practices. Fowler has seen Sendek before and during games and has talked basketball strategy with the coach. “Herb’s a great guy and good person,” Fowler said. “He’s a guy of character, and I think he’s the right guy for the job.”

Fowler said much the same last month, after the Pack stumbled to an 0-3 ACC start. He asked State fans to be patient, saying he believed Sendek was building a strong foundation for the program. Still, the chatter continued. Internet chat rooms and forums were filled with speculation about Sendek, about his job status should the Pack have a losing season.

A week ago, a caller to Sendek’s radio show asked if he would resign if the Pack didn’t reach the NCAA Tournament this year. Other callers questioned his basketball tactics, the use of his younger players, questioned the way he motivates his players.

Fowler said he doesn’t read the Internet but that he does read his e-mails and letters. Some of it has been nasty and negative, he said, but quite a bit of it has been supportive of Sendek.

Fowler said he has talked privately with State supporters and alumni who have expressed concern about the basketball program. But he eventually felt it necessary to speak publicly and end any doubt about Sendek’s status.

“I’m one of those people who is proactive instead of sitting back and reacting to things,” he said. “I just want people to know Herb’s our coach.”

Sendek, who held his weekly news conference before Fowler’s announcement, was unavailable for comment. He recently expressed appreciation for Fowler’s public support.

Fowler said unrealistic expectations this year may have led to uneasiness and frustration among the Wolfpack faithful. NCSU last appeared in the NCAAs in 1991, losing to Oklahoma State in the second round.

After reaching the semifinals of the NIT last year, the State players seemed optimistic that the NCAA drought would end this season. Several players talked openly about it in preseason interviews.

“We’ve been to the NIT four years in a row and somebody made the statement one day – and everybody took it as solid – that we’ve got to go to the NCAA this year and if we don’t, we’re going to have a bad year or situation,” Fowler said. “But [the program] has improved each year. It’s improved in the league each year. Whether it will improve this year remains to be seen, but I think [Sendek] is building a program. Not as fast as some people want it to be, but when it gets there I think it will be as solid as any in the country.”

Another person who believes that is North Carolina coach Matt Doherty, who said Friday that Fowler’s move was appropriate – and for Sendek, deserving. “That says a lot about Lee Fowler and I think N.C. State,” Doherty said. “They will be good. They’ve got good players coming in. They’ve got good players returning. If they stay healthy in the future and don’t have some of those distractions, they’ll be as good as anybody in the league. It’s right there.”