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 â€“ 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 Amatoâ€™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 â€“ giving â€œstarâ€? treatment to players like Mario Williams and Toney Baker, which only magnified the more negative treatment he was giving to the â€œrank and file.â€?
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, itâ€™s unlikely youâ€™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 â€“ Cignetti, Stroud, and Dixon. Itâ€™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 weâ€™ve heard over the years about Cignettiâ€™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 Barryâ€™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 â€“ 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, â€œsignificant concernâ€? does not equal â€œhopelessness.â€? Next up â€“ 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.