Take A Lesson, Lee

Lee, pull up a chair and sit down.

We’ve had our differences over the years. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. Given free reign over the athletics program I’d put you on a slow boat to China with a quickness. Trust me on this.

But thanks to a feckless decision by our Board of Trustees extending your contract, we’re stuck with each other for the next five years unless the SEC comes calling. And let’s face it – it won’t.

So. With that in mind, here’s a lesson from on how to deal with fans that are spitting mad about Herb Sendek’s latest seasonal swoon. You ready?

First, I’m proud that in your recent radio interview you didn’t repeat the “lunatic fringe�? type comments of the past, even though pseudo-journalist Adam Gold practically soiled himself with eagerness for you to trash the fans again. Despite this plus, though, your madd public relations skillz have a ways to go. In that vein, today’s lesson deals with what to say to the fans if, as most of us expect, Herb Sendek flames out against Cal or is one and done against the Coach Whose Name We Dare Not Speak.

After all, you’re not going to fire Sendek. That’s what the lawyers call a “tacit admission�? that you’ve been talking through your hat about how good Herb is for the past five years or so. Can’t have that. The SEC wants strong leaders, not weak ones. Think Noel Mazzone!

So, you’ve got to say something that defends your decision to keep Herb, on the one hand, and prevents an angry Tale of Two Cities-type mob from your office door on the other. Because you’ve finally figured out (I hope) that folks ain’t kidding this time when they say they’ve had it with Herb Sendek. What to do?

Think Bill Moos!

Who is Bill Moos? Why, he’s the director of athletics at the University of Oregon. Moos has faced angry fans, too – fans mad about Duck basketball under Ernie Kent, who’s coached there pretty much as long as Herb Sendek has at State. Some of those fans are so mad that they started a web site urging Kent’s dismissal and even suggested several candidates (Sorry, Herb wasn’t one of them, so no more of those “faux-interest�? stories to boost Herb, now).

And this at a school with no national championships (since 1939, anyway)! Imagine the nerve, huh? Think of the relationships!

But I digress. Despite all this flak, Moos decided to keep his coach. He issued a statement explaining why. And here’s where you can pick up some real pointers. What did Bill Moos say?

First, that he made the decision to keep his coach based on something other than blind support, and after apparently serious inquiry into the condition of the program: “I have come to this conclusion after two days of discussions with Ernie and others within his program.�?

The point, Lee, is that he doesn’t say stupid stuff to the effect of, “I don’t care if he doesn’t win another game this season, his job is safe with me.�? Nor does he imply that he doesn’t care about fan concerns; he spent two days discussing the results of the season with the coach and others. He wanted, you see, an explanation – something you’ve never publicly demanded from Herb Sendek.

Second, he assures the fans that the coach is unhappy with poor results and remains passionate about the program: “No one is more disappointed with the outcome of this season than Ernie. He genuinely hurts for his players, coaches and the fans. I do feel however, that he continues to possess the energy and passion that are necessary to regain the unprecedented success that Oregon has enjoyed during his tenure as head coach.�?

Now, Lee, I know you sort of did this on the radio the other day, talking about Sendek’s private passion and the like. So I’ll give you a passing grade on this one. But note what Moos says: The coach hurts for THE FANS. Remember that when the Media Relations folks start drafting that support statement, huh? And “the fans�? doesn’t mean Smedes York and Wendell Murphy.

Then, Moos sets out a logical (sort of, see below) reason supporting his decision: “I believe strongly that stability in the program is extremely important. If we had been struggling in mediocrity for the past nine years, my decision would have been different.�?

Of course, Lee, you are on boggy ground here. Despite your lipstick-on-a-pig “five-year NCAA�? protestations of elite status, much of Wolfpack Nation believes that “struggling in mediocrity�? for the past nine years is precisely what Herb Sendek’s been doing. Herb’s photo is pasted into their Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionaries next to the word “mediocrity,�? in fact.

But this ticking bomb aside, note what else Moos states here: Past performance matters. To you, apparently, it doesn’t – given your sort of airy dismissal of the first four years or so of Sendek’s tenure, as if Pete Gaudet and not Herb Sendek had actually coached the team.

Moos then continues: “[T]he past couple years have not been what anyone was expecting.�? Now, highlight this one, Lee. Expectations are part of holding people accountable for results. Most State fans think you’re running a Swedish socialist jobs-for-life program for mediocre coaches, the comically hapless former volleyball coach aside. Hell, Lee – the United Nations fires people more often than you do, by all appearances. Don’t you think you have, maybe, a little ‘splaining to do on this issue – that you expect something other than mediocrity?

I really need you to listen up on this last one: even fans who cried loudest and longest for Kent’s dismissal can’t deny that Moos imposed at least limited consequences for failing to live up to expectations: “I also bear the responsibility for the current and long term financial condition of Oregon athletics and because of that, have made the determination to forgo my option to extend Ernie’s contract past the 2010 season.�? In short, no contract extension, tied to poor performance.

Now, Moos isn’t perfect here. In fact, his reasons for retaining Kent – boiled down, stability in the program – seem a little shaky. After all, if something’s stinking up the room, you don’t keep the windows closed with the notion that fresh air would make things unstable. What Moos did do, though, is (a) communicate careful thought behind his decision, (b) emphasize that retention wasn’t a foregone conclusion, (c) express disappointment in poor results and demand improvement, and (d) impose consequences, though less than some wanted, for failure.

Take a lesson from Moos, Lee. The fans want – and deserve – something other than a blindly supportive, smugly asserted diktat from you regarding Coach Sendek’s status. Performance has consequences: something the North Carolina State Department of Athletics should bear in mind. Starting with the man at the top.

General NCS Basketball

36 Responses to Take A Lesson, Lee

  1. RedFred 03/15/2006 at 5:11 PM #

    Is there a runner who could take a copy and put it directly under Fowler’s moustache.

  2. Jeff 03/15/2006 at 5:12 PM #

    As SouthBeach said in a previous comment. Refreshing statement from the AD at Oregon

    “I also bear the responsibility for the current and long term financial condition of Oregon athletics and because of that, have made the determination to forgo my option to extend Ernie’s contract past the 2010 season. It is my sincere hope that the results of next season will give me reason to reverse that decision.�

  3. class of '74 03/15/2006 at 5:16 PM #

    The day our AD or Coach takes responsibility for what is going on will happen only when the current occupants have been replaced.

  4. Cardiff Giant 03/15/2006 at 5:30 PM #

    Thanks. This is what bugs me the most about Fowler – the sort of “what are you fools upset about” attitude he’s exhibited year after year.

  5. VaWolf82 03/15/2006 at 5:44 PM #

    But….but…..Lee knows basketball…..State will be better next year because everyone else is losing so many players to the NBA. 😉

    Good job. One of the things that worries me about LF is that he has so often given Herb blind support that it may be hard for him to back peddle now. If a change is ever made….I seriously doubt that the idea will originate with LF.

  6. TPack 03/15/2006 at 5:48 PM #

    Great work. Moos handled the situation fairly well and Fowler could learn from him.

  7. Chief93 03/15/2006 at 6:36 PM #

    “But note what Moos says: The coach hurts for THE FANS. Remember that when the Media Relations folks start drafting that support statement, huh? And “the fansâ€? doesn’t mean Smedes York and Wendell Murphy.”

    I guess it doesn’t count when Herb himself apologized to the fans for the performance in one of these last few games (unfortunately I don’t keep the detailed notes that some do, so I don’t remember where or which game–it may have been one of the Arena Club postgames–or maybe I’m mis-remembering altogether, in which case I apologize for interrupting). Maybe he and Fowler are throwing a good-cop-bad-cop routine at us, or maybe what Herb himself says doesn’t rate since our fans are all semi-literate rubes to whom he “can’t relate.” In any case, he has invariably on the radio postgame thanked the fans and often given them a portion of the credit for each win.

  8. SaccoV 03/15/2006 at 7:12 PM #

    Great post CG! One thing that I would like to discuss is if Fowler has been a success as AD (which in his own mind I’m sure he is), which of his coaching hires has been the best? Elliott Avent is the only won who has put his team on any sort of real national stage (even though Avent’s record isn’t necessarily sparkling and his tournament success hasn’t been as good as we would have liked.) Carter Jordan and the wrestling team are good but still second fiddle to Carolina. Which coach is his crowning achievement at NC State? Honestly, none are … yet!

  9. Clarksa 03/15/2006 at 7:19 PM #

    I have no doubt that if Lee Fowler would come out and issue a statement just like Moos, he would still be crucified on the “internets.” The fans only want to hear one thing from Fowler, “we have started searching for a new men’s head basketball coach.”

  10. scott 03/15/2006 at 7:38 PM #

    Nice post but…I really don’t want Lee to do the same thing Moos did…say Herb hurts for the fans & let him stay with no contract extension. NCSU shouldn’t wait another year to replace Herb. Suppose we’re picked 7th in the league next year & Herb manages a 9-7, 21-11 record. The HSSS crowd will crow about exceeding expectations, he’ll stay, & then we’ll have mediocrity again. It would be like keeping him after his 5th (13-16) season, then he goes 23-11, and we’ve had no more than 21 wins since. He needs to go NOW!

  11. BJD95 03/15/2006 at 7:39 PM #

    Very entertaining screed. I still think Fowler’s Monday comments were a step in the right direction. Maybe the “new basketball coach” presser is just around the corner…

  12. dan 03/15/2006 at 7:51 PM #

    How does the Moos response compare to the letter Sendek sent out several years back after the Thornton/Inge/black unis season collapse?

    If memories serves, it seems like it was exactly what the post author would like to see.

    I’d also second Chief’s post that Sendek has always been very gracious to the fans in his post-game and radio show comments.

  13. Cardiff Giant 03/15/2006 at 8:01 PM #

    “If memories serves, it seems like it was exactly what the post author would like to see.”

    No, it wasn’t.

    Sendek does not have the power to hire and fire himself, so to speak. Fan complaints are directed at wanting Herb fired and for Fowler to acknowledge there is an issue. Look at Katz’s blog today – NC State officials “laughed” at the notion Sendek was on his way out and sent back their same pig/lipstick stats they’ve touted on PackPride and elsewhere (see the ridiculous “One For The Thumb” report on PP).

    Kent, by contrast, was publicly and visibly whacked with the consequence of being denied a contract extension, even a rollover. That’s accountability, and that’s something that was absolutely missing from the letter you refer to – which was a “give me another chance” letter.

    And while I agree that Sendek has been mostly very gracious, Fowler quite often has been precisely the opposite, as we all well know.

  14. dan 03/15/2006 at 9:15 PM #

    Fair points. I just went back and read the letter. While he accepts responsibility, it clearly lacks the remorse you highlight in the Oregon case.

    Sorry for the errant post.

  15. Lumberpack 03/15/2006 at 9:20 PM #

    Can anyone here confirm the report on Packpride that herb has resigned and the wife if looking for real estate in Indiana-It was quickly removed (of course) but continues to be a topic on their premium board?

  16. Lumberpack 03/15/2006 at 9:21 PM #

    It sounds too good to be true

  17. TPack 03/15/2006 at 9:49 PM #

    “(see the ridiculous “One For The Thumbâ€? report on PP).”

    Thank you, I was thinking the same thing when I checked over at PackPride eariler.

  18. Cardiff Giant 03/15/2006 at 10:08 PM #

    ^ Yes, I agree. The Steelers had five world championships, for pete’s sake.


    “Fair points. I just went back and read the letter. While he accepts responsibility, it clearly lacks the remorse you highlight in the Oregon case.
    Sorry for the errant post.”

    I think your point was very fair, too. I just think the two situations are most obviously differnt because in one case the AD is explaining his decision to the fans and noting his concerns; in the other Sendek is trying to rebuild enthusiasm after his latest crash.

  19. Cardiff Giant 03/15/2006 at 10:09 PM #

    Re the rumor on PackPride, who knows? I agree it’s pretty much too good to be true.

  20. rj 03/16/2006 at 9:21 AM #

    For future reference, don’t talk to kindly about the Oregon Athletics Director. The guy is nothing more than a puppet for Phil Knight, the guy that runs Nike. (Oregon alum and Nike is located in nearby Portland).

  21. Carl NCSU '73 03/16/2006 at 9:28 AM #

    Keep in mind that Smedes York actually played bball at State. I’m pretty sure that losing streaks to The Other Two makes him puke, too.

  22. NCSU'79 03/16/2006 at 9:31 AM #

    I still say…Boycott the games if Sendek stays!

  23. class of '74 03/16/2006 at 9:34 AM #

    Tommy Burleson was just on local radio calling for a change. His pick is David Thompson as head coach and Monte Towe as lead assistant. Wow! Not my choices but very interesting point of view.

  24. Cardiff Giant 03/16/2006 at 9:56 AM #

    “Keep in mind that Smedes York actually played bball at State. I’m pretty sure that losing streaks to The Other Two makes him puke, too.”

    True, and I acknowledge that, though strictly speaking he was a bench warmer, towel-waver type if I understand correctly. The problem is that he apparently uses this as an argument weapon when folks hack on Sendek, ie, “Don’t talk to me about the program, I played basketball for NC State and you didn’t!” I’ve been told this by any number of folks, but have not spoken to him myself on the subject.

    For my part, it would seem that his having played at State would make him more incensed about Herb’s regular punkings by UNC, not less.

  25. NCSU'79 03/16/2006 at 10:08 AM #

    I’ve didn’t fight in the Civil War but…I know lost cause when I see one!

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