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. RickJ 02/15/2006 at 8:45 AM #

    Any Hall of Fame of coaches would include a large collection of colossal A-Holes. From my view, Tom Reed was the biggest prick to every set foot on our campus with Lou Holtz a close second. There may be one, but I don’t see a coaches personality being that great a predictor of their success.

    stOrmin – You have stated a view I have been unable to communicate nearly as well. The football head coaching position was not a very attractive job when Chuck was hired. There is a reason that Holtz & Rein left after 4 years of success. Earlier this year, I posted that out of 117 Division I football teams, I could name 20 programs with better inherent advantages than NC State. The last 2 programs on my list are Texas A&M & Washington. There are a slew of other programs that are about even with us with Virginia Tech included in this group. To put this in perspective, in my view there are 6 Division I basketball programs out of 334 with better inherent advantages than NC State (UNC, Duke, Kentucky, Indiana, UCLA & Kansas).

  2. Rick 02/15/2006 at 9:23 AM #

    “I don’t trust Lee Fowler to have that kind of championship vision, though.”

    This is the truth.
    It is not about wins and losses for LF. That much is obvious.

  3. Clarksa 02/15/2006 at 9:33 AM #

    IMHO, We would not be having these types of discussions if we had won against UNC (and Wake) the last two years. I also understand what Stew has to say about Fowler and why the “is Chuck the right man for the job” dissusions are pointless. We (NC State athletics) are still recovering from the hangover of the ’90s where athletics at our university were glorified intramural sports teams. We have all been asked to make an investment in the university through LTR’s and I still believe that we have positioned ourselves for success in football, basketball, and now baseball.

    PackPride71, I agree with stOrmin, shame on you. I can’t believe a fan of a school would put up such garbarge and “remove all doubt.” I personally think you should turn in your Wolfpack credentials and never root for the Pack again.

  4. BJD95 02/15/2006 at 9:50 AM #

    It’s premature to call for Amato’s head. The late season semi-recovery bought Amato another season to turn things around. But it would be equally nonsensical to ignore the warning signs about the program. NC State is much bigger than any one individual.

    That is, no sticking our heads in the sand, like MOC talked about.

    It’s ridiculous to talk about “what if we played Duke instead of VT” and similar nonsense. We skipped teams from the top (Miami), middle (UVA), and bottom (Duke) of the ACC. Our conference schedule was completely fair – we just performed badly against it.

    Stop making excuses and start demanding results.

  5. VaWolf82 02/15/2006 at 10:24 AM #

    The late season semi-recovery

    This is a topic that I wish I knew enough to write about. It’s easy to see what they did with the offense….they quit trying to win games with the offense and made sure that the offense didn’t lose any more games. Who came up with the philosophy change and why was it instituted? What goals did the coaching staff for the last five or six games of the year? Was the major focus winning or was it an attempt to get Stone ready for 2006?

    The change in defense is much harder for me to understand. If the defense that showed up the last half of the year been seen earlier, then last year would likely have been better. What changed and why did it take so long to make the change?

    Based on what I’ve seen from Lee Fowler, I find it hard to believe that Amato’s job was in jeopardy….regardless of what results were achieved last year’s.

  6. Herb 02/15/2006 at 11:19 AM #

    Good post (and not just because it echoes my own thoughts on the program).

    I think Chuck will be a victim of his own success – raising so much money and improving our facilities so greatly.

    Jacklegs like Lee Corso can trash our fans and talk about how much Chuck has done for us, but the truth is, it was us that ponied up the money for the facilities – not Chuck. And we’re not wrong for expecting a return on our investment. Things really have changed from the 90’s; we’ve raised our level of investment in the program and raised our expectations accordingly.

    The other way Chuck’s success will do him in are in regards to hiring a new coach. The situation when MOC left really doesn’t apply here. We have dramatically better facilities to attract a big time coach. There’s absolutely no reason to think we can’t compete with every school that isn’t on the Notre Dame/U of Florida level. And the argument that if we fire a coach for mediocre results we won’t be able to hire a decent replacement is patentely ridiculous – I think coach understand that they might be fired for mediocre results.

    When it comes right down to it, Chuch didn’t pay for those facilities and he won’t take them with him. So the real question will be what his team can do on the field in 2006.

  7. RickJ 02/15/2006 at 11:33 AM #

    VaWolf82 – Generally speaking, I feel that offenses in football tend to get better as the year goes along while defenses tend to wear down. You are correct in pointing out the mystery of our defensive performance last year. My only explanation is that the Virginia Tech game took a lot out of our team. Tech had 232 total yards against our defense and our offense gained 438 yards and we somehow managed to lose with turnovers & penalties. I wonder if the defense starting feeling sorry for itself as they saw a repeat of 2004 brewing and took the next few games off. I do think the team really pointed to the Tech game as a springboard to a great season and were devastated by the result.

    It is hard to lose a game when the other team gains under 250 yards and we have done it repeatedly in 2004 and through the Wake game in 2005 after Amato challenged the defense to step back up. At this point, as you say, we went into a shell offensively and the results saved the season such as it was. I assume the coaches as a whole agreed with this approach but certainly the final call was Chuck’s. I think their main motivation was to win as many games as possible as opposed to getting Stone ready for next year.

  8. VaWolf82 02/15/2006 at 11:46 AM #

    In the games that Stone played, I didn’t see him do anything that Davis could not have done. That’s why I think that playing Stone was a major goal of the last few games of the season. Obviously to have any chance to win with Stone, the offense had to be dramatically changed. Maybe the intention was to see what he could do…maybe it was to get him ready. It would just be interesting to know some of the details.

  9. Mr O 02/15/2006 at 12:04 PM #

    “I am not trying to run CA out of town. I hope he stays and turns us into what we should be – a top 10 team and top 2 in conference.”

    Huh? We should be a top 10 team and top 2 in the ACC with 3 perennial top 10 teams already in the ACC?

    What evidence from the history of our program suggest we “should be” a top 10 team? What is it about our program and resources that suggest we “should be” a top 10 team?

    I certainly believe it is theoretically possible. But, no matter how you look at it becoming a top 10 program is a long shot at best. I believe we should strive for it, but I don’t understand the attitude that we are somehow entitled to being a top 10 team. We don’t have the tradition. We don’t have the natural recruiting territory. And in terms of facilities, we have improved in this regards, but ours aren’t any better than most top teams in major conferences.

  10. Mr O 02/15/2006 at 12:11 PM #

    I also don’t understand the comments about stop making excuses and demanding results.

    Does that mean that we should threaten to withhold our donations if our teams don’t win enough games and/or if our administration doesn’t fire the coaches the fans want fired?

    Sometimes sticking with a coach works in the best interests of a program(Va Tech w. Beamer). Sometimes firing a coach works in the best interests of a program(Texas hiring Mack Brown…of course he could also be an example of the benefits of sticking with a coach after he supposedly couldn’t win the big one).

    I equate demanding results as drawing lines in the sand and setting clear consequences or actions should that line not be reached.

  11. Mr O 02/15/2006 at 12:23 PM #

    Here is an example of some of the points I was trying to make. As everyone knows Maryland is struggling this year in basketball and they went to the NIT last year. So now you have Maryland fans questioning a coach who took their program to the highest level in the history of Maryland basketball. Now you have fans crediting Steve Blake for the national title and not giving Gary Williams any credit for it. Here are comments from a Terps message bord:

    “How many more years does he get? Seriously.

    I donate a lot of money to the Terrapin Club. I am a Top Terp. I expect to see a quality product. The team of the past two years is a disgrace. I like a lot of the players but they have no clue how to play basketball.

    I am tired of hearing that you can’t teach if they don’t want to learn/listen. You picked them, you make the big money figure out a way to teach them.

    I have thought for a long time that the HOF Gary stuff was a joke. Please tell me why he deserves it. When he got here the program was at the bottom, I could have made it better than where it was.

    I became a season ticket holder in 1992. In the first 12 years of having season tickets I missed 1 game. I have missed more games than I have been to this year. So yes, those 6 lower bowl empty seats you see are mine. Prior to this year, I had a partial season skybox for the two years prior. It wasn’t worth it. The product isn’t there. Call me a fair-weather fan if you want but I enjoy quality basketball not the crap that we’ve had to watch for the past three years.

    This team sucks and Gary is responsible. Do you think that a CEO would still be in charge of a company if he had three years like Gary’s had? The guy needs to step-up or step-aside.

    Until Gary proves that he can actually win something, I’m crediting Juan and Steve (along with others) with the National Championship. Until Gary proves he can win without them, I am saying that they just took Gary along for the ride.

    First it was Exree’s fault, then Steve’s (not a team player), then JGil, then McCray. Whose fault will it be next year?”

  12. VaWolf82 02/15/2006 at 12:45 PM #

    Until Gary proves he can win without them, I am saying that they just took Gary along for the ride.

    First of all, they are ignoring the S-16’s that spread out over a number of seasons and focusing strictly on the struggles of the last three. However, that does not mean that the Terp fan is completely wrong either. Dave Odom and Norm Sloan are two that come to mind that never accomplished anything of note after the biggest star of their tenure left.

  13. BJD95 02/15/2006 at 1:09 PM #

    VaWolf – I think the entire team got a boost when Stone was in the lineup. He’s more of a natural, charismatic leader. And I think the team was generally demoralized by thinking the offense was going to lose the game with Davis playing. Fans got the same feeling – fair or unfair, I think it was a real factor.

    O – what I am talking about is not laying back and accepting mediocrity. Don’t whine about the conference competition (and face it, our division didn’t have any dominant – or even very good – teams at all last year), or the fact that we have to recruit other states. If that’s all we expect, that’s all we’ll ever get. If 2006 is another subpar year, nobody should feel like they can’t express their displeasure in whatever form they wish – letters to the chancellor, talk radio, the internet, etc. Frankly, I don’t think a populist uprising will be necessary, given the level of grumbling among the big donors. In a way, I’m very happy that Amato didn’t kiss ass and earn brownie points – just maybe he’ll be judged on the merits as a result.

    How old is Chuck Amato? 60ish? Why do we need to give him much longer to lay a foundation for his FUTURE dynasty when he doesn’t likely have that many more years in him? He’s not a 45-year old Frank Beamer (and it’s not like there are many similar stories to his out there).

    Don’t EVER fall for the demeaning talk of Corso et al that “you’re just little old insignificant NC State – you should be happy with weak OOC schedules that obtain eligibility for minor bowls more often than not.” It insults our university, and it is most certainly not what we spent $$ for facilities in order to achieve.

    We have everything structurally necessary in order to compete at the highest level. That means being over .500 in the ACC more often than not, winning our division at least periodically (and challenging for it regularly), and the occasional conference title. Call me crazy, but I don’t think that’s too much to ask. And if it’s more than Amato can deliver, then we need somebody else to give it a try.

  14. Jon Smith 02/15/2006 at 1:15 PM #

    You don’t need tradition to become a top 10 team. Miami was nowhere near the top 10 until the early 80s. VT was mediocre for a long time before they reached the top 10.

  15. class of '74 02/15/2006 at 2:09 PM #

    ^Excellent points. Everything is in place to have a national contender all we need is the coach. Now lets see if it’s Chuck or time to chuck’em.

  16. Mike 02/15/2006 at 2:15 PM #

    Mr. O…….Idont think at all it is unreasonable to expect top 10 and top 2 in ACC every year. Yes, there will be a year or two when we fail to ahcieve that, but the idea is there. We have proven we can play with top 10 teams (when we play them instead of MTSU or any other directional schools) and we have the talent to match up. Our inconsistency hurts us in the games we should win and end up losing. We played toe to toe with Ohio State, VT, FSU, and others. Everyone had to start somewhere as Jon says above. Once we get there, we can stay there. The staff has been able to bring in top recruits, add depth, and with good coaching, should be able to develop this talent. If we get the good coaching we have the facilities now to attract top talent. So what that we did not get top NC recruits. Florida rejects are better than blue chip NC players in most cases. When NC players are worthy, we get some of them. TA, Baker, Pressley, Williams and the list goes on. I expect us to be top 10 and top 2 ACC becasue we have shown we can.

  17. st0rmin 02/15/2006 at 2:33 PM #

    Facilities, money, passion, and coaching don’t equate necessarily to a national program. In my opinion, several factors weigh against us in our pursuit to the promise land. A. NC High School Football – 1. The lack in depth of NC high school football. In other words, it is too many teams fighting for the 30 or so, including out of state teams. 2. UNC and NCSU have never won consistently enough to make their game something every kid in NC wants to play in. 3. The lack of spring football in high school. A kid from Florida has had approximately 80 more practices than NC kids. IN OTHER WORDS, we must recruit outside this state (Chuck’s plan is right). B. Football Passion – ECU is the only school in this state beyond us who has football passion. Yes, we have it, but why? Is it for real or just something we have jumped on as our adminstration has seemed to acknowledge that we can’t beat UNC and Duke in BB? Phrased differently, if we started winning big-time in BB would our fan base support football as passionately?

  18. RickJ 02/15/2006 at 2:57 PM #

    If NC State had the same football coach as the following 12 schools – Florida State, Oklahoma, Texas, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Southern California, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee & Notre Dame –How often should that coach at NC State be expected to outperform these schools over a five year period?

  19. Chris 02/15/2006 at 3:16 PM #

    “Is it for real or just something we have jumped on as our adminstration has seemed to acknowledge that we can’t beat UNC and Duke in BB? Phrased differently, if we started winning big-time in BB would our fan base support football as passionately?”

    I believe it’s for real. People have fallen in love with football around here, and barring a complete and toal collapse of the program (losing seasons every year for the next 2 or 3 years), I don’t expect it to change. We have an energetic, passionate fan base who is very hungry to win, and who have invested a LOT of money in both b-ball and football to see it happen. I don’t think you’re gonna see fans fall off one bandwagon or the other if one program achieves greatness and the other doesn’t. I think you’ll see continued and equal support for both as a matter of fact.

  20. Mr O 02/15/2006 at 3:42 PM #

    Jon Smith: Miami had a natural recruiting territory in S. Florida with relatively little competition in S. Fla at that time. Va Tech is the rare exception. Of course, if Va Tech had listened to fans who stopped making excuses and demanded accountability, then Beamer would have been fired long before they ever became a top 10 program.

    In the grand scheme of things, we haven’t spent that much money compared to top 10 programs over the long haul. Our facilities also aren’t any better than any top 10 programs. We may have a nice operations building, but we don’t have an 80,000+ seat stadium with a fanbase to fill it every week. Again, NC State supporters are going to have to continue to ante up if we truly want a top 10 program though personally I see and hear more people talking about what they have contributed for LTRs instead of what they want to contribute in the future.

    BJD95: I don’t need the lecture on how to view NC State football or basketball. I just think it is a lot more complicated than what most fans make it out to be. If it was as easy as firing a head coach, then there would be constant change among the top 10 every year. Instead, the top 10 programs in the country remain relatively the same year in and year out. Schools will have some down years(like Okla. this year), but over five and ten year periods the top 10 doesn’t change much.

    And if Amato doesn’t deliver, then what? Currently, Amato is 10th in compensation among ACC schools(BC and Duke pay less). I have no issues with us firing Amato in the future. But in reality, the result will probably be that we will get a coach from a similar background as Amato and similar in terms of experience. We will probably pay the next coach more and the next coach may very well be an upgrade over Amato, but it is unlikely that it is going to be the “big name” coach that most people want NC State to hire.

    So looking back UVa, UNC, Maryland and NC State all went the “alumni route” last time around. Wake hired a successful mid-major coch and GT got a former NFL coach.

    Now each coach is on the hot seat even with each coach having succeeded at some level:

    Amato’s top 12 season, Fridge’s ACC title and BCS bid, Groh’s recruiting, Buntings solid rebound from a bad start, Gailey’s streak of 7 win seasons and bowl games, and Grobe making Wake competitive every week.

    Building a top 10 program in football for a school with no tradition and no natural recruiting advantage is extremely difficult and complex.

  21. class of '74 02/15/2006 at 3:46 PM #

    ^of the 12 schools listed I believe FSU is the only one not to have had a losing season in the past 15 to 20 seasons. With the 85 scholarship limit in place, it becomes very difficult to stockpile talent as was once the case. This makes it just that much easier for a NCSU or VPI to rise up and compete. All we need is the right coach.

  22. BJD95 02/15/2006 at 3:54 PM #

    ^^ I didn’t say the job was easy. Just that if Amato can’t get it done, we need to try somebody else. The current of thinking I hate most (and I’m not implying that you think this way) is that a coach should be fired only if he’s incompetent, or that he or she failed to do a job that should have been easy, or at worst of moderate difficulty. Head football and basketball coaches are not compensated like “employees for life” who ought to keep their jobs as long as they do decent or pretty good work.

    I also don’t think the expectations I laid out are overly rigorous – do you? If so, what should we expect? If Amato is doing “the best he can”, is that enough for you? In short, where substantively do you disagree with me? This is Amato’s 7th year, which is a decent length of time to prove oneself, IMHO.

  23. VaWolf82 02/15/2006 at 4:27 PM #

    VaWolf – I think the entire team got a boost when Stone was in the lineup. He’s more of a natural, charismatic leader. And I think the team was generally demoralized by thinking the offense was going to lose the game with Davis playing.

    I’m more of a nuts and bolts kind of guy. Touchy-feely answers don’t usually do too much for me. You may be right….but it sounds more like a cliche than a real explanation.

    Looking at the change in offensive philosophy, the coaches certainly didn’t trust Stone to win games. It’s hard to imagine that the players had a substantially different view than the coaches. At least this off-season, no one is mis-using stats to prop Stone up for the fall.

  24. RickJ 02/15/2006 at 5:02 PM #

    “of the 12 schools listed I believe FSU is the only one not to have had a losing season in the past 15 to 20 seasons” – I’ll take this to be another way of answering my question as “Zero”. VPI is a great model for our program.

  25. class of '74 02/15/2006 at 5:33 PM #

    ^I’d be very happy with a VPI level program and I suppose 95% of wolfpackers would too.

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