The State of Wolfpack Football

Yes, basketball season is in full swing – and for once, that feels like a good thing in Raleigh (although somewhat less so after Sunday afternoon). Despite the current excitement that basketball is generating, there is no doubt that many of you still have one burning question running through your mind – what the hell is going on with the football program?

Herein lies SFN’s take of the football program based on conversations and information gathered from some close to the program:

Despite the scoffing of various internet DSQ (“Defenders of the Status Quo”), you may think it has a “thou dost protest too much” feel to it. And you may be right. The unprecedented exodus of talented underclassmen from the program no doubt has several contributing factors. However, there is no doubt that Chuck Amato is at least one of the major reasons, perhaps the primary reason in some cases.

As you no doubt noticed (unless you live in a cave and your only source of in-season updates came from reading The Wolfpacker), Chuck Amato has come under increasing pressure from fans since the 2004 season. We would argue that most (if not all) of this pressure is reasonable and well-deserved.

Regardless, it simply comes with the territory; a territory to which Chuck has always paid lip service, famously imploring fans to point the finger at him and not his players when things go wrong. But, when the fingers finally started pointing in Amato’s direction in his 5th season, he responded by blaming everyone around him and becoming even more difficult to work with than he had been in the past. That goes for both players (who attest that his attitude towards them has changed markedly) and staff (which has often been the case ever since Norm Chow left).

Specifically, the focus has to be on the three NFL draft early entrants that seem at least somewhat out of the norm – Stephen Tulloch, John McCargo, and Derek Morris (listed from the most surprising to the least). Our sources have indicated that all three of these players were no longer happy at NC State, and Amato’s attitude was definitely a factor. Over the last two seasons, as the pressure to win built up, his more relaxed demeanor with his players vanished. Making matters worse, there was a growing perception that Amato played favorites – giving “star� treatment to players like Mario Williams and Toney Baker, which only magnified the more negative treatment he was giving to the “rank and file.�

In our view, this is separate from “just being a tough and demanding coach” – which is what you’ll hear from the DSQ. There’s a difference, and kids understand it. Just like Amato’s revolving door of assistant coaches, his players are now voting with their feet in many instances. Had Amato maintained a consistently firm, but evenhanded persona throughout his tenure at NC State, it’s unlikely you’d see this level of player discontent.

Let’s not forget about the mood among the coaching staff, which certainly impacts the players. Ask any former college football player (as I have done), and they will tell you just how instrumental of a role that assistants play in their development. In an atmosphere where there is disparate treatment (real and perceived), a “yes man” mentality (again, since Chow left – perhaps the last assistant who Chuck respected enough to receive brutally honest advice from), and being treated less than professionally (I can think of dozens of examples involving multiple coaches that won’t get discussed here) – and you end up with a dispirited, divided, turnover-prone staff.

Unless you are a trust-fund baby, I’m sure everyone has been in a workplace where you and/or others reported to a boss with a similar style. You might keep working under the conditions and might not mention it through official channels – but you most definitely allow yourself to look around, return headhunter phone calls, and probably don’t commit 110% to the current situation. It is a proven organizational development fact – bosses who treat their personnel professionally get better results and retention.

To illustrate the point – look at coaches who have decided to leave Amato’s staff for arguably better opportunities (professionally or personally). Again, Amato’s typical reaction has not been that of an effective manager. No “best of luck to you and your family – please keep in touch and let me know how things are going.” Instead, you get a heavy dose of petulant raving and demands to “clean out your desk and leave immediately.” The DSQ tellingly won’t deny this – but strangely they justify the childish, emotional response along the lines of “If you’re not with us, you’re against us – don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” It’s a dumb way to act in any business, but especially when dealing with the coaching fraternity. So much for building the “family” atmosphere.

There are also questions regarding whether the staff (as currently constituted) is well-suited for the task at hand. Even this substandard recruiting haul would have been much worse, if not for the efforts of only three assistants – Cignetti, Stroud, and Dixon. It’s not fair to expect three coaches to carry that much of the load, and almost impossible to get Top 20 classes that way. Given the rumblings we’ve heard over the years about Cignetti’s own issues with Amato, this situation bears watching very closely.

We held off on posting this entry for some time – as it is still not clear whether all of the staff and player departures are yet complete for this year (even while we were reviewing the final draft, Mike Barry’s time at NC State ended). We also have held back from publishing specific events or details because it is not our intention to just to make splashes – we hope you understand and appreciate that. Keep reading, and we believe time will prove that to be the case.

In summary, it is SFN’s synopsis that you should be concerned – significantly concerned – about the future of the football program. On the bright side, “significant concernâ€? does not equal “hopelessness.â€? Next up – a comprehensive look at what needs to happen for NC State to re-establish positive momentum, starting in 2006 (which could very well be the end of the line for Amato, absent significant improvement).

Jeff contributed to this report.

About BJD95

1995 NC State graduate, sufferer of Les and MOC during my entire student tenure. An equal-opportunity objective critic and analyst of Wolfpack sports.

General NCS Football

79 Responses to The State of Wolfpack Football

  1. Mr O 02/14/2006 at 10:49 AM #

    That is a good writeup. We don’t need to know everything that goes on behind the scenes to understand that there are problems.

  2. class of '74 02/14/2006 at 11:06 AM #

    I guess the real question is; can the situation be solved with the present regime in place or does it require selective pruning to once again thrive?

  3. choppack 02/14/2006 at 11:27 AM #

    The question really is – can Amato change? Losing effects folks in different ways. Amato isn’t used to these kind of results. Is he capable of allowing his assistants to do their jobs their way. I discount some of the player stuff – Baker was yanked out of the line-up after his fumble vs. So Miss and didn’t see a lot of minutes afterwords. Jimmy Johnston was often accused of playing favorites – but he could justify doing so. I think Amato can justify treating kids like Mario and Baker differently. Where I think he lost a lot of his credibility was how he treated TA.

    I don’t know a lot about the inner-workings of our football program – some things you just don’t want to know. I know enough to basically say, that the confidence of those in it (the players and staff) in the head-guy has probably never been worse.

    If Amato can learn to be humble – and to listen and gain trust in his assistants, he can build a very successful program. He is a very good task master. He can be charming – and yes, he knows how to build a program. It’s almost as if it’s all about….relationships.

  4. class of '74 02/14/2006 at 11:43 AM #

    ^”If Amato can learn to be humble”. If this is the key, and I don’t know if it is or not, but for arguments sake let’s assume it is. Then based on history going back to 1967 I’d say forget it he’s lost. Chuck has many admirable qualities but being humble has never been one of them that I know.

  5. Tom A. 02/14/2006 at 11:58 AM #

    I am not one of those who at the first sign of trouble jumped onto the fire Amato bandwagon because too often it seems that rash firings lead to disaster for a program. An example of this to me is when Nebraska fired Coach Solich despite averaging 9 wins a year. Like many it was expected that there would be a drop-off after losing a all-time great like Rivers. To me NC State is set up to becaome a fantastic program if led properly. Some of the positives for the program include (1) a newly renovated and fantastic looking stadium (2) more games on tv because of the ACC schedule with powers like Miami, VT, FSU,etc., (3) a loyal and moneyed alumni/fan base.
    However it does seem like too often the Athletic Department heads seem willing to settle for an average/solid season with a bowl than expect to strive for greatness. Sometimes as fans we are also guilty of this because it seems that it wasn’t so long ago the team was always around the 5-6 win mark and as long as State finished ahead of Carolina that was good enough.
    However what worries me the most is what seems like the ever esacalting stories of internal trouble centered around Coach Amato involving players and other coaches. If these stories are true then perhaps he does deserve to have his emplyment reconsidered because stories like these do spread throughout the recruiting world and players will not wan’t to come into a poisoned atmosphere to play. I’m not ready to through him under the bus like some beacuse I would like him to have a little more time. Let’s be honest part of the reason there have been increased games on tv and donated money for the stadium renovation is because of the excitement he helped to bring back to NCSU. So for now we should watch to see what happens and should the program continue to appear to be going in the wrong direction then a change may be needed.
    But if a new coach is to be brought in it is imperative that NCSU does not settle for someone. Go after a successful and big name coach or assistant…NCSU should never settle for second best! This is a great school with a rich athletic history and it’s time to take advantage of that in presentation and recruiting. Thanks for letting me rant aand as always GO STATE!

  6. Tom A. 02/14/2006 at 11:59 AM #

    PS Sorry about my spelling….

  7. Jim 02/14/2006 at 12:03 PM #

    You have to give Amato a lot of credit for changing the perception and expectations of the program. You have to give Amato an AMAZING amount of credit for what he has done in motivating our fanbase to buy LTRs, season tickets, club seats, and suites. He (along with the WPC) has been instrumental in the incredible building boom our football program has enjoyed, nearing $110 million in just over 5 years. Taken as a whole, our football facilities this coming fall will be in the top handful in the conference, and among the top 25 in the country. When Chuck took over in 2000 our facilities were literally vintage 1966, and among the worst 2-3 in the conference. And, most amazingly, notwithstanding the disappopinting on-filed product, we will completely fill all of the stadium expansions with paying fans in 2006. As much as I think Chuck is deserving of being bashed for other things, you have to give him his due. Nothing against MOC, but the program had entered a very dangerous malaise as he left. That 1999 apathy was far worse than the pissed-off fanbase we have now.

    Clearly his strengths as a head coach are in the fund-rasing, facilities-expansion, ticket-selling, emotion-generating areas. Producing teams that reach their potential and keeping assistants happy clearly are not his “for-tays.” What we needed most in 2000 was a fund-raising facility-expander. Perhaps Chuck will be unable to cash in on the building boom he generated. Certainly he is a victim of the wild success he has enjoyed in his string suits, which led to the far heightened expectations he has yet to meet. Ironically, the same “strutting bantam rooster” act that makes him a great fundraiser/ticket-seller apparently also makes him very difficult to play and/or work for.

    My bottom line on him is that he will be considered (to me) a good (and important) coach for NC State even if he flames out this year and leaves. What he accomplished with our fanbase and facilities is nothing short of fantastic. Can you imagine trying to compete in the “new” ACC with the facilities we had in 1999, not to mention the malaise? However it works out this year, I’m glad we hired him when we did.

  8. Chris 02/14/2006 at 12:18 PM #

    Jim, nice assessment. I think you perfectly describe the conflict that exists with Chuck. What he’s done in terms of fundraising and rekindling the passion for football was exactly what this school needed. But for whatever reason, we have not been able to capitalize on it in terms of wins. Nevermind the second rate bowl games and 7 or 8 win seasons…we haven’t really done anything that really turns heads.

    Right now, I just don’t know if I can buy the whole player frustration thing. Never in Chuck’s tenure have I felt like our players weren’t happy with him.

    The coaching thing is entirely different. Many of the moves we’ve seen have been upgrades. But many have also been either lateral moves or a step down. That’s what worries me. I have always felt like consistency among the coaching staff is one of the major problems we have had. And if, in fact, it’s a direct result of the inability for Chuck and his assistants to be able to work together….then it may just be time for Amato to move on.

    I too appreciate what he’s done, and I hope this thing can be turned around soon.

  9. class of '74 02/14/2006 at 12:40 PM #

    I wonder how much people would feel conflicted with the Chuck situation if say a Butch Davis was waiting in the wings if Chuck were to leave?

  10. VaWolf82 02/14/2006 at 12:56 PM #

    For a sports program, winning is the ultimate goal. However, there are many things that are done Sun thru Friday that directly affect what happens on Sat afternoon starting with the opening kick-off. I don’t what is going on in the Murphy Center these days….nor do I expect to in the future. But some things are the same in any business…like managing people that report directly to you. If little things are being ignored,they will ultimately blossom into big problems.

    As far as the actual FB program goes, Chuck has raised the talent level of many different parts of the team….unfortunately, QB isn’t one of those positions (and OL is another one). The recruiting classes have not yielded a complete team….there always seems to be at least one piece missing. There is no way that State can compete in the new ACC as long as it is playing without all of the “pieces”…especially the important ones.

  11. Mr O 02/14/2006 at 1:12 PM #

    Personally, I don’t think we are going to find a “big name” coach to ever take our position in football. If Chuck is ever replaced, then IMO it will be with someone who at best has a similar resume or experience equivalent(maybe he has head coaching experience at a smaller program vs. Amato’s 19 years at FSU.)

    However, hiring someone with a similar background or even a lesser background doesn’t mean the a next coach won’t be more successful than Amato.

    I really like Amato so I hope he works our issues out personally. Unfortunately, I think there is going to be so much outrage next year from the fans if we struggle that I don’t know if Amato can turn it around.

  12. Astral Rain 02/14/2006 at 1:24 PM #

    Yes, I am concerned, and I do think there are some major problems- and Amato is one bad year away from being fired (bad being 3-8). However, I do remember the same things being said about Sendek 5-6 years ago when a lot of his players transferred. This hasn’t happened as much the past 2-3 years, though I think winning a team that has done decently in the NCAA’s has helped with that. (not asgood as I want- I want Sweet 16’s every year- anything after that is gravy and luck)

    I’m thinking next year 7-4 is the ceiling though, which I am not happy about. Maybe my expectations are unrealistically high in football and low in basketball.

    As for finding a big name coach- it’s always possible.

  13. BJD95 02/14/2006 at 1:26 PM #

    I agree with Jim’s analysis, since it did not go a step farther and say (or even hint) that we owe Amato the right to stay b/c he did things right in raising fan enthusiasm, etc. I do think he was the right hire at the time it was made. However, I’m not at all sure he’s the right guy for the next phase of our program’s development. I think a different skill set is required, and I’m not confident in Amato’s ability to adapt.

  14. class of '74 02/14/2006 at 1:32 PM #

    If and I stress if Amato doesn’t work out then why not a “big name” coach? We have invested a fortune in the program and so what’s another $1-2mil when you consider the alternatives? Our best solution is for Chuck to pull his way through somehow but if it becomes clear he can’t small ball thinking is not the way to go.

  15. BJD95 02/14/2006 at 1:39 PM #

    The fact that at least some high-dollar donors are/have been irritated with Amato would seemingly make it easier to go after a high profile coach. I don’t trust Lee Fowler to have that kind of championship vision, though.

  16. Jim 02/14/2006 at 2:01 PM #

    To continue the earlier car/basketball arena analogy and apply it to football facilities, when Chuck took over we had a moped. Now we have a Corvette. Maybe that transformation is all Chuck can accomplish with his “skill set.” My point is that it was still a hell of an accomplishment, just by itself.

    Obviously Bill Cowher is the “dream candidate” should things get sideways this year. I’m not sure how realistic that is now. I know we had a good shot at him in late ’99 and damn near landed him (no matter what you’ve head otherwise). Brock can fill in the details there if he wants.

  17. choppack 02/14/2006 at 2:08 PM #

    “Amato can learn to be humbleâ€?. If this is the key, and I don’t know if it is or not, but for arguments sake let’s assume it is. Then based on history going back to 1967 I’d say forget it he’s lost. Chuck has many admirable qualities but being humble has never been one of them that I know.”

    I think he can. But you know, it’s the old adage – the key is admitting you have a problem. Until he realizes that he is difficult to work for and needs to let his assistants coach – we’ll have this issue. Part of me would hold out hope since we totally changed our playing style after the WF. Of course, the grumblings I have heard from someone close to the program since then indicate to me that the larger problem is just as bad – if not worse.

    Regarding replacements – one thing about HC jobs. It’s not just about $$. Every year there are a few marque jobs out there – if $$ is the reason someone is coming, they will leave the second they get more $$.
    Given our above average, but not limited successes and history of the last 20 years, I don’t expect NC State to be the kind of job the top coaches in the country would take if there are other larger schools in the mix. However, it’s also possible, we could be the best available job, too.

  18. Jim 02/14/2006 at 2:10 PM #

    ^^ Herb has had the support of some “major” donors through some of his difficult stretches. It’s my understanding that Chuck has basically pissed everyone off with his “F_ you” attitude and does not have this type of support “in the bank,” as it were.

  19. BJD95 02/14/2006 at 2:12 PM #

    ^ Jim, that’s 100% consistent with what I’ve heard. Herb Sendek always had the good sense/humility to know where his bread was buttered. Amato…not so much.

  20. Clarksa 02/14/2006 at 2:16 PM #

    I agreed to pay my LTR’s off over a 10 year period and in my mind, that is the 10 years I am giving Chuck Amato to turn us in to a championship football program. He basically started from scratch, increased our expectations, and built us one hell-of-a football stadium.

  21. tanstaafl 02/14/2006 at 3:17 PM #

    Not sure if I can really buy a lot of this. Not saying Amato is the friendliest person around, but most who have spoke of him after leaving have said good things. Most of the staff that left, left for opportunities. Now I don’t have the ear of all the players, but I haven’t been hearing the compaints that are described above. And I doubt there is a program in America that doesn’t have players unhappy with the coach. Amato in fact seems to draw almost all of the blame on himself. I don’t remember seeing him blaming all the coaching staff and players around him over the last couple years.

    Lastly, the use of monikers like DSQ is really in poor taste. It’s often used by people that don’t have good ground to support their opinion or want to dismiss people with a nickname. Sorry if that seems blunt, but I really got tired of prople being called “herb lover, herb hater, Amato lover, etc” and then disregarded no matter what they said.

  22. ncsslim 02/14/2006 at 3:42 PM #

    I knew Chuck in the “old” days and never supported his many attempts to take over the head coaching position. He played the part of “the Chest” and it was very difficult separating the man from the image. I believe at FSU that personna was quite invaluable in creating the swagger attached to their glory days, but I’d bet that would be about where Chuck’s impact ended. I was less than thrilled to see Chuck back in Raleigh, however, was quite surprised to see the results in the first two years. Apparently he’d learned something in Tally. It now appears he did learn something about running a program, but he’s still “the Chest”, and does not appear to have learned much about preparing a team to play consistant winning football. Learn humility? Be serious. Ain’t gonna happen. Too bad for him, too bad for us. It could have been nice.

  23. choppack 02/14/2006 at 3:53 PM #

    Jim – I remember the Cowher thing and I think that if Amato can’t succeed, we’d love Bill to come here. Timing is everything – and ultimately, I seriously doubt it was a money thing w/ Cowher. Nor do I think it will just be a money thing w/ any coach who we’d want.

    As for the program itself – I don’t think it’s fair to call it a moped when Amato arrived. He inherited decent talent – the program he inherited was like a Ford Escort – cheap, ugly, and unreliable – but at times, it met the minimum requirements. Overall, though it fell short. I’d also hesitate to call Ama

  24. st0rmin 02/14/2006 at 3:55 PM #

    Here goes. It is Chuck’s ship until further notice. If he wants to be an asshole and fire every assistant then that is his right. Until the “on-field” results call for his firing, everyone needs to shut up! Personally, I think Chuck has made only one big mistake since being hired. He shouldn’t have removed his shades and red shoes. Did I like them? Hell no!, but that is who he is. When he changed, some of his swagger was damaged. Can he recover? Yes and the recent hiring of Kravitz is a great first step. Chuck’s biggest flaw came when he fed the Wolfpack faithful (fire) the goal of winning championships. [Only if our BB coach would speak in those terms]. For the record, Chuck has the third most wins of any coach in our football history. Chuck has the third best winning percentage in our history. Chuck led us to the biggest (or at least tied) bowl win in our history – The Gator Bowl. After six years, he is averaging 7.67 wins and 4.67 losses. Furthermore, our school is only 20 games above .500 after 1067 games. Chuck is 18 after 74. Enough said? Not yet – One last thing. Is it luck that Chuck has been part of the best team (at least nationally) in our school history [1967], our last ACC championship [1979], the most wins in school history [2002]?

  25. choppack 02/14/2006 at 4:04 PM #

    st0rmin – Those are good points.

    I don’t think you’d see these posts if his results were inverted as follows 2004 his first year, 2005 his second, 2004 his third, 2003 his fourth. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take a Six Sigma black belt to see the general direction of the team. It’s important to mention that few State fans want Chuck fired now. Many of us believe that it’s possible to lead us to the results we want in football. However, it’s impossible to ignore the that we have taken a distinct tumble down from that high the Wolfpack nation experienced on New Year’s Day in 2004. In hindsight the highwater mark- with the 5-3 conference record and bowl win over a Notre Dame squad that fired it’s coach 2 season’s later – may not have really been that spectacular.

    Amato has put in himself in a position that most Wolfpack fans question whether or not he is the right man for the job. No one would have dreamed about saying this 3 years ago.

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