Understanding Wolfpack Fans, Part I

This is about the Wolfpack sports fan, rabidus waitilnextyearis. Despite the fact that there are countless thousands of these creatures in North Carolina alone, experts working at media sports desks still know surprisingly little about them.

Wolfpack fans can be found in Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturdays, are known to frequent Bojangles restaurants, seem to prefer Fuquay-Varina, do yardwork on the weekends in March, and can occasionally be spotted in Wal-Mart stores asking “Do you have anything in red?”

With this column I am beginning a new series that I’m sure will wind up testing my patience – exploring the myths (and they are Legion) about Wolfpack fans. Heaven knows no reporter wishes to undertake this Herculean task (specifically, it’s the horses[qua]t equivalent of another Augean stables). These experts generally can’t get past their first intellectual roadblock regarding Wolfpack fans, that being, “Hey, they don’t like Carolina — or even Duke!” So it’s no surprise they are unable to write with anything approaching familiarity regarding these mysterious creatures who wear red, not blue.

Today’s myth I’d like to tackle is one that we see quite frequently in the winter. It’s the idea that NC State fans judge a coach just on his personality. It’s usually expressed in this fashion: NC State fans don’t like Herb Sendek because he doesn’t have the personality of Chuck Amato or Jim Valvano.

Let’s examine this statement. Yes, there are a great many (significantly greater than 50) NC State fans who don’t like Herb Sendek. Yes, there are a great many Wolfpack fans who like Jim Valvano and Chuck Amato. It’s true that Chuck Amato and Jim Valvano both have larger-than-life personalities. And it is true that Herb Sendek doesn’t have the personality of Chuck Amato or Jim Valvano.

But does it follow that the coach’s personality is what determines whether NC State fans like him? Does a coach need a larger-than-life personality for Wolfpack fans to like him?

Of course not. That’s rock stupid. Let me demonstrate by using the same ridiculous reasoning with a different thing that Amato and Valvano have in common that Herb doesn’t. Herb’s name doesn’t end in “o” – does that suggest NC State fans would like him better if his name were Sendeko?

If the experts were willing to investigate the matter further (read: at all), they might ask if there is any coach with a subdued personality that Wolfpack fans liked. It wouldn’t take long to discover Dick Sheridan. The gentleman’s coach. Taciturn, meek, so nice he couldn’t even dump 70 points on Mack Brown when he had the chance and instead called a second half full of dive plays – the man is beloved among Wolfpack fans. Yet even though they coached a few years together, he was the antithesis to Valvano.

So much for the myth. So what else could it be? Why do NC State fans like Valvano and Amato but not Herb?

Here’s a novel idea: wins. Herb has coached here nine years, and in that time he hasn’t won a title nor made it past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, to which he has gone only three times. Valvano coached one year more than Herb, and in that time he finished first in the ACC regular season twice, he won the ACC championship twice, he saw several Sweet Sixteens, a couple of Elite Eights, one Final Four and one National Championship.

Amato, while not yet winning a title, has given NC State’s lowly football tradition its winningest season and has gone to bowls four out of five seasons. His last season, however, was a losing season – but he was able to recruit well regardless, so Wolfpack fans have continued high expectations for his teams. If Amato has another year or two like 2004, however, don’t think his personality will keep Wolfpack fans from grumbling. Just the same, if Amato gives NC State another 2002 or better, well — when Wolfpack fans start showing up to work in big gold sunglasses and loud red shoes, don’t think it’ll be Chuck’s demeanor that sold ’em.

In conclusion: Because NC State fans wear red, not blue, and cheer for a team that hasn’t been to a Final Four in over 10 years, the experts have a hard time conceiving that Wolfpack fans care about winning. To be sure, Wolfpack fans aren’t as shameless about their concern for wins as Carolina fans. After all, it was just three years ago that Carolina fans were lining up to buy True Blue: Matt Doherty Returns to Carolina Basketball. If you blinked, you missed the Carl Torbush year(s). And they’re still reviewing the tape to determine whether “Welcome, Coach Bunting” actually preceded “Fire Bunting!”

Nevertheless, even though they’re not as brazen about it, the simple fact is, NC State fans do care about winning. Once you realize that, you’ll see why the Personality of the Coach Myth is a myth. Let Herb hang a banner, and Wolfpack fans will put bumper stickers on their cars with a list of the teams Sendek’s team just beat. And that list will be called “Herb’s Daytight Compartment!”

General NCS Basketball NCS Football

8 Responses to Understanding Wolfpack Fans, Part I

  1. BJD95 03/06/2005 at 9:27 AM #

    Good article. It’s not exactly advanced calculus, one wonders why the MSM seems to have such a hard time “understanding” this.

  2. Sammy Kent 03/06/2005 at 10:05 AM #

    Well put. Unfortunately it won’t destroy the myth, (even among some of our Wolfpack faithful) because it is just too strongly ingrained into the psyche of the Tar Hole media. They would rather continue to perpetrate all their prejudices than to actually find and publish the truth. The Holes and their media minions have a hard time with the fact that Wolfpackers just want to win… or if they concede that such an attitude exists it means “win at all costs (even cheating)” in the case of State, or worse, that it is wholly without rational thought because State just needs to accept and know its place….which is beneath Carolina and Dook. In their mind only Carolina is justified in having such an attitude….they are entitled to dominance as a birthright, and they are the only ones that are. Then people wonder why we hate the Holes and why we hate the Carolina media.

  3. JB34 03/07/2005 at 9:50 AM #

    This was just a super, super entry!!!

    I don’t expect the media or the critics of those that are tired with the Fowler/Sendek regime to understand…but, there is a HUGE (and undiscussed) difference between judging a coach’s “personality” and judging the impact of coach’s personality on his ability and desire to effectively “market” his program.

    I don’t care if Herb is boring. I do care if his supposed “focus on family and basketball” is code for his lack of interest in participating in events (both grass roots and mass media in nature) that promote goodwill within the NC State community as well as promote the program nationally.

    I don’t care if Herb has a dry personality. I do care if ESPN television and radio don’t want him on their shows and never mention him and our program.

    I don’t care that we run the “Princeton offense”. But, evidentally the offense precludes us from getting in tight with some top talent. We’ve been running for 3+ years now. Why doesn’t Herb MARKET the offense in a different way? For years, he has allowed the media to refer to it as the “Princeton” offense. We are NC State. We are in the ACC. We carry a much bigger stick than friggin Princeton. Why not hammer home the marketing package of the “NC State” offense as opposed to allowing other people to define us so easily?

    Nobody cares about his “personality”. They care about the impact of his personality on his ability (and desire) to put a face on what really is NC State and to market the program.

    It’s just easier for some people to ignore the details and to paint broad strokes of finger pointing instead of acutally thinking through the issue.

    The issue with his personality has nothing to do with us “liking him”. The issue with his personality is that it precludes him from doing certain things like marketing to help the program succeed.

  4. Archive 03/09/2005 at 11:51 AM #

    Had to share one of the greatest posts that I have ever seen on Pack Pride:

    Posted by: Grownup
    Re: When Should a Coach be Fired?
    Posted: 3/9/05 11:16:54 am

    I’d like to bring a different perspective to this issue. One that also is emotional.

    Jim Valvano was a coach who reached out to fans. He had an ability to make us feel a part of his team. We knew about injuries. We knew about problems on the team. We knew about the points in a basketball game where he felt momentum shifted. He shared his tactics. He shared what worked and what didn’t. His willingness to share these moments made us all feel like we were sitting around a dinner table as family. We were a part of those teams. We walked to our cars after games to hear Jim Valvano’s perspective on why we just won a game and we ran to our cars to hear why we lost. We all felt we knew Coach Valvano. Valvano did that better than anyone. And when his downfall began, we all backed him against whatever evil forces lined up against him. He was part of our family and we would not countenance people speaking against him. I was never so angry when he was forced out. I was never so happy to see him do well in the next venue, TV. Most people remember the miracle 83 team and the trips to Sweet 16s and the like. Most have forgotten that Valvano’s record is one game over .500 versus the ACC.

    Coach Amato is similar. He came here with the same notion. It takes all of us in this together to win. We needed to upgrade our facilities. He was not uncomfortable asking us for that. Amato has not had a lot of success on the field. But there are few of us who want him gone. He has made us a part of his family. There is much about Amato that reminds us of Valvano. He doesn’t do it as well as Valvano (“You people” irks us a little) but he shares his program with us.

    Herb Sendek shares his program with few. Pack Laddie, Kennel, the Deals, Murphy, a priest, a few others, are some of a very select few that Sendek allows in. The rest of us are out in the cold. We are fed coachspeak. We are told to wear red, support the team emotionally and financially, and leave the game to those who know basketball. We are on the outside looking in.

    To those Sendek has included in his family, the internet crowd is dismissed as a throng of lunatics. The posters are speaking against their family member and the insiders will not countenance it. They see the injuries and the illnesses as reasons, not excuses. But to those of us on the outside, we see a program that isn’t winning, isn’t exciting, with a standoff-ish coach and an arrogant AD.

    I have employed people for over 20 years. The way to get a group of people to work best together is to give them all the sense of ownership. It’s not money. It’s not power. It’s feeling like you are in the know and we are all in this together. Sendek eschews this sentiment. He has made his own bed. Coaches Valvano and Amato believed in the larger team. Coach Sendek is insular. He will never get the fans behind him. He doesn’t think he needs to. He can’t change who he is. I believe those were his exact words.

  5. JPS 03/10/2005 at 11:14 AM #

    Wow. Spot-on, Grownup.

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