Herb Sendek was announced as NC State’s 5th Head Basketball Coach of the ACC-era.
State begins Sendek era New Wolfpack coach is serious about his work
Author: A.J. Carr Staff Writer
The News & Observer
April 18, 1996
RALEIGH – Herb Sendek is young, the youngest basketball coach in the ACC. At 33, he even bears that freshly minted look.
But on Wednesday, as he was being introduced as N.C. State’s new coach, he insisted that looks can be deceiving. In fact, while appropriately respectful about it, he didn’t seem intimidated at all by the prospect of competing in a league of legends and big-name coaches, a couple of whom work just down the road.
“I have great respect for the coaches in the ACC, and know most of them,” said Sendek, sporting a red State cap to go with his dark suit, white shirt and tie. “Some of the greatest coaches are in this league. But when we toss up the ball, we’ll fight tooth and nail to put N.C. State where it needs to be.”
As for his age, he was blunt: It doesn’t matter.
“Age is really an arbitrary number,” Sendek said as he stood below a sea of Wolfpack championship banners hanging from the Reynolds Coliseum rafters. “Benjamin Franklin helped frame the constitution in his late 70s or 80s and was a journalist at 16. William Pitt became prime minister of Great Britain in his early 20s. Golda Meir was prime minister of Israel late in her life.”
Confident and direct, Sendek fielded questions from the media thoughtfully, speaking in firm, measured tones. His first appearance as Wolfpack coach matched his advance billing as an intense, no-nonsense guy.
Sendek, who reads a lot and says he just finished a book about UNC coach Dean Smith, smiled occasionally and displayed a touch of humor. He spoke about his family – wife Melanie, decked out in Wolfpack red, and 2-year-old daughter Kristin, who stole the spotlight briefly when she danced around the Reynolds floor waving a State sign.
And if there were any doubts about his serious approach to the game, Sendek put them to rest immediately. After some Wolfpack players were late for a 7:30 a.m. meeting with their new coach, he locked them out of the room and ordered the entire team to run sprints at 5 a.m. the next day.
Sendek, who comes to State after three years as head coach at Miami of Ohio, was officially offered the job Monday morning and agreed to a five-year contract that will pay him a base annual salary of $110,000. His total package, including shoe deals and incentives from boosters, is expected to be worth in the $300,000 range.
NCSU athletics director Todd Turner said Sendek, a former assistant under Kentucky’s Rick Pitino, almost perfectly fit the profile State was seeking – strong character, coaching ability, a commitment to academics and recruiting skills.
“Herb is so highly regarded by other coaches that it’s astounding,” said Turner, who said he interviewed about 20 candidates for the job during the 25-day search. “This guy is a basketball genius. He is as focused, as intense and as passionate for the game as any coach at any level in America. He also has a unique combination in intelligence and humility that will really serve him well.”
Turner said he solicited advice from Pitino before making his decision.
“Herb is not a dynamic salesman,” said Turner, who in hiring Sendek made perhaps his most important decision since coming to State in 1990. “But I’ve learned he’s a master of the process. He does all his homework. He knows exactly what to say and when to say it. And above all, Herb is believable. When he speaks, people believe him.”
Sendek replaces Les Robinson, who resigned under fire from disgruntled fans March 22 after six years in the job. Robinson, who chose to stay with State as an assistant athletics director, did not attend Wednesday’s news conference.
The new man on campus spent much of Wednesday morning calling recruits and left later in the day to make some visits.
State fans will notice that their new coach has a style all his own. Compared to previous State coaches, Sendek projects a very different image.
Norm Sloan was smooth off the court and a fiery sideline competitor. Jim Valvano was flamboyant, witty, a salesman. Les Robinson is your friendly, back-slapping, down-home sort.
Sendek looks more like a young executive on the way up the ladder. Polite, but no messing around.
Former players say it may take people at State a while to get used to his style.
“He demands a lot,” said Rob Mestas, a freshman guard at Miami of Ohio. “Nobody’s going to slack off, that’s for sure.
“Not everybody’s going to like him. I don’t want to say he’s a mean guy, but he could show up in the morning without saying hi to his secretary. He goes straight to work, and that’s why he wins. He’s strictly business.”
A Pittsburgh native, Sendek has never seen a basketball game in Reynolds. Nor has he seen film of the players he inherited. But he knows about the Wolfpack tradition and remembers watching State games on TV with his father, Herb Sr., a former high school and college coach.
Sendek said he was nearly overwhelmed when he walked into Reynolds the first time this week.
“I got goose bumps on my arms the size of golf balls,” he said. “It was a very emotional moment.”
Sendek, who went 63-26 in three seasons at Miami and built his reputation as a successful recruiter, is aware that State loyalists are hungry for success after five consecutive losing seasons. He’s also aware that success might be tough to achieve immediately.
“I know there’s no quick fix,” he said. “We’re playing in the greatest basketball conference in the world.”
When he met with the players Wednesday morning, Sendek said he emphasized that they stay on track academically and continue lifting weights until the end of the semester. He wouldn’t predict how the Pack will do next season.
“I don’t know the players,” he said. “I don’t know what makes them tick. I haven’t seen them play. But I expect them to do their best, and I expect them to do what’s right. We will apply those benchmarks on and off the court. We’ll play extremely hard, play unselfish basketball and try to improve every time we take the floor.”
Sendek said he believes in starting with a sound halfcourt defense. On offense, he favors an uptempo style with a well-conceived half-court attack and emphasis on shot selection.
Off the court, Sendek said one goal will be to unite frustrated State supporters, many of whom became divided late in the Robinson era. He also said he wants to include Robinson in his plans.
“I want Les to feel completely at home,” Sendek said. “He’ll be at practice, travel with the team. We will work together with him.”
But the ball is in Sendek’s court. Can he get State back into the national rankings, back into the NCAA Tournament? Can he beat Carolina, something Robinson did five times?
“Our focus is on N.C. State, on ourselves,” he said, calmly choosing his words. “I’m not out to pick a fight. I’m here to coach basketball.”
(Staff writers Steve Politi and Chip Alexander contributed to this story.)
THE SENDEK FILE:
CAREER: 63-26 (.708) in three years at Miami of Ohio; associate head/assistant Kentucky, 1989-93; assistant, Providence College, 1986-89; graduate assistant, Providence, 1985-86; assistant coach, Pittsburgh Central High, 1984-85
FAMILY: Wife, Melanie, of four years; daughter, Kristin, 2; baby due in mid-July
BORN: Feb. 22, 1963, in Pittsburgh.
EDUCATION: Penn Hills, Pa., 1981; 4.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale; class valedictorian; 3.95 grade point average at Carnegie Mellon University, bachelor of arts in industrial management, 1985.
ATHLETICS: Two-year letterman at Pittsburgh Penn Hills High in basketball; three-year letterman at Carnegie Mellon
ATHLETIC LESSONS: “Humility, unselfishness, courage and innumerable others.”
BEST PLACE AFTER A GAME: Home with the family
PERSONS ADMIRED MOST: Parents
FAVORITE COLOR: Red
FAVORITE TELEVISION SHOW: “The Andy Griffith Show”
FAVORITE FOOD: Pizza with nothing but cheese
FAVORITE BOOK: “Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck
FAVORITE MOVIE: “Sergeant York”
SIBLINGS: Mary Beth, 30, of Pittsburgh
STEAK or SEAFOOD: Steak, allergic to shellfish
DALE EARNHARDT or JEFF GORDON: “I’m not that familiar with either one. I don’t keep up with NASCAR. You can put down whomever you want.”
MOST INSPIRING CLASSROOM TEACHER: Ross Scarselli, math, Pittsburgh (Pa.) Penn Hills
PROUDEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: “My family”
IDEAL GUEST LIST: Jesus Christ
FAST FOOD STOP: Pizza Hut
BEST VACATION: Beach with family
FAVORITE PRESIDENT: Abraham Lincoln
CHRISTMAS TRADITION: Adults usually open presents on Christmas Eve and children on Christmas Day. Extended family is usually invited.
GREATEST PLACE TO LIVE: Raleigh
(Compiled by Tim Stevens)
Decision pending on assistant coaches:
Herb Sendek isn’t in a hurry to assemble a coaching staff.
He says it’s a key decision, and he wants to see what transpires with his Miami of Ohio assistants before making final decisions about who should be on his staff at State.
“I think both of them could be considered for the head job at Miami,” Sendek said.
Sendek did not say whether he’ll consider retaining current State assistants Eddie Biedenbach and Al Daniel.
(This story has five sidebars.)