Closing the Book on Herb Sendek

Yes, it is a little bit late for a post-mortem. However, I was relieved to be done with the constant Sendek talk, and all of us at SFN have been focused on the future, primarily the search for Sendek’s replacement.

That said, I think a brief discussion (during this “no new news” lull in the coaching search) is warranted. As I have noted in the past, I believe that Herb Sendek had plateaued at NC State. He was consistently doing a “pretty good” job the last 5 seasons, but never really got over the hump. Considering how long it took to get to the “pretty good” level, there just wasn’t enough goodwill built up to ride the wave any longer.

I was ready for a coaching change, no doubt. But I can still appreciate the fact that Herb Sendek unquestionably left NC State basketball in a better situation than when he first took the reins. For those of you who are younger than me, I simply can’t explain how terrible the Les Robinson era was. The overall talent was questionable, even though we did have 2 NBA first round picks (Gugliatta and Fuller) during that time. But even if you don’t hold Les Robinson fully responsible for that (NC State did have some self-imposed recruiting restrictions and above-standard academic requirements), his performance was still abyssmal. 5 consecutive losing seasons. An embarrasing loss to Campbell. An absolutely humiliating home loss to Florida Atlantic (at the time, about 1-23 and most assuredly DEAD LAST among all Division I teams in RPI at the time). NC State was the laughing stock of the ACC.

Sendek made NC State instantly respectable. One of my fondest NC State memories was the miracle ACCT run during Sendek’s first year. I was in law school at the time, surrounded by stunned Duke fans and a handful of unlikely allies (UNC fans) for the Friday upset. What a thing of beauty. I remember watching the final seconds tick away during UNC’s hard-fought win in the final, certain that we would be back – and victorious. It was wonderful to have hope again.

Sadly, that hope turned to skepticism as the years went by and the performance improved only slightly (if at all). Then came Year Six, and the change in style to allow NC State to get to the NCAAT level – but seemingly to guarantee there would be no championship runs. Still, the heartbreaking 2nd round loss to UConn lit a spark of hope similar to that of the miracle ACCT run of Year One. But again, the spark did not ultimately catch, and NC State remained in B-minus limbo. Sendek was performing too well to be fired, but not well enough to be embraced by the fanbase, who understandably hungered for more.

The Arizona State saga gave everyone the fresh start they needed. Sendek gets a nice job in a very nice city. His family doesn’t have to face the pressure that inevitably comes from being at a school like NC State for a long time, without major success. NC State gets to have its fans excited about basketball again, with the hope that comes from the new and unknown. And possibly the exhiliration of landing a star coach that would not have taken the job when the program was in shambles.

In any event, thanks to Herb Sendek for making NC State respectable again. Even more thanks for asking about the depth of residual support within the Wolfpack Club “rank and file” (also, related thanks to the friends who gave him honest and useful advice on that front). And thanks for leaving when the time was right. Ten years is simply long enough to stay in one place, unless you are on your way to being a legend.

Herb Sendek was never going to be a legend at NC State. But, since he left of his own volition when he did, he can be remembered as a pretty good coach. And he’ll likely make Arizona State competitive again. Raising a program from the doldrums to a competitive level involves a different skill set than taking a solid program to the next level. And who knows – perhaps with a clean slate and lessons learned from his time at NC State, maybe he’ll get Arizona State to that next level. And maybe the next coach will do the same for NC State, building on the foundation that Sendek helped repair. Everybody wins. For a good summary of this general notion, scroll down to April 3 and read Tom Suiter’s blog post entitled “Sendek’s Departure Good For Both Sides.”

One final note – some voices on the radio and internet have claimed that those who worked in favor of a coaching change are somehow disassociating themselves from their role in Sendek’s departure. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t want to be arrogant and claim that SFN (or myself personally) was the straw that broke the camel’s back. But to the extent that the logical, objective criticism presented here and elsewhere had any impact in Sendek’s decision to pursue and ultimately accept the Arizona State offer, I’m damned proud of it. And I’ll stand by it as the right thing to do, whether or not we land a Barnes or Calipari. I could care less whether the likes of Andy Katz and Jay Bilas want to look down their noses at us.

NOTE: Please don’t use the comments to rip Sendek in a tasteless fashion. That’s not the point of this post/thread. Thanks!

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 Basketball

39 Responses to Closing the Book on Herb Sendek

  1. Washington Wolf 04/05/2006 at 12:48 PM #

    Agree completely. Sendek was a good coach for us. Not great, just good. Thanks to him for getting us as far as he could.

  2. PackPride83 04/05/2006 at 12:53 PM #

    Excellent post! As a number of people have stated before, Sendek did what he was hired to do which was basically restore a floundering program. Some might argue that we are still floundering, but I think everyone can agree we are floundering in MUCH cleaner water than 10 years ago. He is a bright man and a good coach, but he reached his limit with NC State. You are SO correct that the skill set needed to resurrect a program are VERY different than the skill set needed to bring the program to the peak of its potential. As a manager I see the difference. Just because a person has the skill set to do “Job A” does not mean those skills will prepare him to do “Job B”. As an analogy… look at the skill set of a heart surgeon versus a brain surgeon. A heart surgeon has the skills to operate on your heart, and while he would be better prepared than the average person off the street to perform brain surgery, I think it would be much more prudent and effective to seek a brain suregeon…

  3. Trout 04/05/2006 at 12:57 PM #

    I’ll be interested to see, if Herb wins at ASU, if he stays there long term, or if he parlays that back into an east coast job. I could still see him at Pitt or several other Big East schools.

  4. Heelsfan 04/05/2006 at 12:59 PM #

    I had the pleasure of meeting Herb the very first morning of practice in his first year, 1995. He had his guys working out at 5AM. One of the players (who I can’t remember) had a fainting episode or what was reported as a “seizure”…….I was working the ER that night when the player was brought in. Herb was visibly shaken and obviously was a caring human being.

    After the player was determined to be ok, I walked up to Herb and “Welcomed him to the ACC”……He just laughed.

    Poor guy never really got a good break.

  5. BJD95 04/05/2006 at 1:03 PM #

    ^ Marco Harrison was the guy. He left shortly thereafter.

  6. old13 04/05/2006 at 1:04 PM #

    Exactly! Thanks, Herb.

  7. WTNY 04/05/2006 at 1:04 PM #

    Well said, BJD. The only thing I would note is that many in the media talk about Coach Sendek bringing NC State basketball back to respectability in all areas.

    In my mind, Coach Robinson was the one that rebuilt the academic reputation of the basketball team. And I believe he was a better coach than history will recall.

  8. DavidThompson 04/05/2006 at 1:05 PM #

    Good article….I always said that if he would have changed his offense he would still be here today and have fanb support. You do not come in the house of N.C. State and run some Princeton crap and fan like it, thus you see where he’s at. That being said thank you Herb for all you done.

  9. Heelsfan 04/05/2006 at 1:06 PM #

    ^Thanks…….. I’m not supposed to “release” names but I guess it really doesn’t matter now.

  10. highstick 04/05/2006 at 1:12 PM #

    I also agree and probably am as frustrated with the administration and WPC for letting this go on too long, but with a glimmer of hope over the last two years, I can understand. I don’t blame Herb, he did the job to the”best of his ability” and got us past Les. I don’t blame the players as they probably played to the best of their abilities and “as they were coached”. It was just time for a change with hopes of taking the BBall program to the next level.

    I’m getting a real chuckle out of the comments being made by the Carolina and Duke fans as well as some of the sports commentators. I guess Hillary Clinton must have passed on the “plantation mentality” to these folks, i.e. Carolina and Duke, the plantation owners, and the rest of the conference is composed of the slaves! I loved the looks of the Carolina and Duke women over the last couple of days. They just couldn’t believe those Maryland girls kicked their rumps!

    I honestly think that if we can get a good coach and with the improvement in some of the other teams in the conference, the days of the Baby Blue and their alter ego’s of the “Other Shade of Blue” in Durham dominating the ACC are coming to an end. Maybe not next year, but I see it happening very soon.

    Everyone who has written letters to the University, Administration, etc. over the last few years asking for change should never feel like they have done anything wrong, but were only wanting the best for State. I’m looking forward to regaining my PackPride!

  11. Bigdaddy 04/05/2006 at 1:31 PM #

    How come we haven’t heard anything from the current players??? Interviews or nothing

  12. Mr O 04/05/2006 at 1:39 PM #

    Herb did a decent job and left us in a good position. If were to land a big name coach, then part of the credit should go to Herb IMO.
    I am glad it is over.

  13. Sam '92 04/05/2006 at 2:03 PM #

    I even sent the guy a thank you letter — in which I said that although it’s true I’ve wanted more from the program, I thanked him for running the program professionally and with integrity.

    I wanted him replaced, but have nothing but respect for him.

  14. NCSU'79 04/05/2006 at 2:24 PM #

    Face it, Sports is an Entertainment Business and , you give the fans what they want.

    Herb Sendek couldn’t or wouldn’t do that and a was the victim of his own offense system.
    Slow & plodding , it gave his opponets time to adjust and react. Sendek would then refused to adjust . The scenario was predictable to everyone.

    Fans of any entertainment venue do not want the same “rerun” with the same results year after year.

    Best of Luck to the Sendek family!

  15. Cardiff Giant 04/05/2006 at 3:00 PM #

    Well said, BJD.

  16. Only One 04/05/2006 at 3:58 PM #

    has anyone else seen that idiot jim rome talking about NCSU? he’s a big herbian evidently.

  17. EFFFFDuke&Carolina 04/05/2006 at 4:02 PM #

    “has anyone else seen that idiot jim rome talking about NCSU?”

    Is he still alive?

  18. Wuf62 04/05/2006 at 4:11 PM #

    I think a lot of what has been posted here was strictly born out of frustration. Winning was often a struggle; sometimes the team just didn’t show up, and I never felt good about overcoming adversity. It appeared that there was no end in sight. Finally, Herb did what Lee and the Administration wouldn’t do – he make a coaching change at NC State. It was indeed a win-win situation. I really wish him and his family well.

  19. Alpha Wolf 04/05/2006 at 4:45 PM #

    I said it at the beginning of the year and will repeat it now: all Herb Sendek ever had to do to win the hearts and minds of Wolfpack fans was win championships. It is not impossible. Even an ACCT championship this year would have quelled much of the criticism.

    Ultimately, however, Sendek will have a postive legacy and he will be remembered well by the majority of State fans. He deserves as much. He got us off of the floor, dusted us off, and helped us be proud of ourselves again.

    His only weakness is that he was not ready for the next step. It would not surprise me if he does just that out west, because with a new start and lessons learned, Coach Sendek may well succeed at a high level. I for one wish he and his family the best and will always keep positive memories of what he did for all of us.

  20. 4NCST8 04/05/2006 at 5:02 PM #

    Agree with the original article entirely.

    Herb was a pretty good coach who left the program in better shape than he found it. That’s the good part. 5 NCAA bids. Not bad certainly.

    The thing I disliked about Herb was his unwillingness to budge any from his offense, scheduling philosophy, his lack of making good adjustments during the game, the bad, stormy relationship between himself and the fans. He was very unwilling to reach out to the common supporters (not the big money boys) and I didn’t care for that at all. He was too rigid and stubborn and great coaches are able to adapt and make changes when needed. Great coaches take legit criticism into consideration and Herb wouldn’t do it. He did a few changes after year five, but that’s about it.

    It’s still hard to believe he’s gone. I was beginning to think he would be at State 15-20 years. Arizona State is a much better fit for Herb Sendek than NC State. Very little basketball tradition, low expectations, no pressure, less interest in basketball at ASU. He’ll get more money (which I think is crazy, but it doesn’t matter. They must think he’s worth making it to the NCAAs a little bit) and a fresh start. He’ll get away from the pressure cooker that is Raleigh into the quiet desert of Tempe. It’s a happy ending for Sendek: get away from the lack of support from NC State fans and get paid more money. The downside is: Arizona State is not NC State in basketball tradition. It’s a step down there for Sendek.

    I’ve heard people say that Herb, his wife and kids were harassed. I don’t condone that, but am wondering if there was any truth to it.

  21. VaWolf82 04/05/2006 at 5:19 PM #

    Well done BJD. I remember sitting at work and listening to the Duke game in 1997 (as opposed to actually working). I also remember being so excited to see State go to the NIT that year.

    Things don’t always work out like you expect (or hope). Best wishes to the entire Sendek family in a new environment. If you have never visited the Phoenix area, it is really a great place. I’ve enjoyed the whole area on several business trips there (and Tempe and Scottsdale are just tremendous).

    I have no doubt that many schools will come calling for Sendek if he raises ASU to State’s current level. It will be a tough job and I wish him absolutely nothing but the absolute best (unless ASU is playing State). Thanks Herb.

  22. mwcric 04/05/2006 at 5:20 PM #

    Thanks much for this post. I am not a Sendek apologist, but as a Pack fan I’ve been offended and embarrassed with a lot of what I’ve read over the past week. I don’t think it’s asking much to give the man some respect and some props for what he did accomplish – just because he didn’t do all that WE hoped for doesn’t mean he did NOTHING. Herb and State are akin to sweethearts who are fond of one another but just can’t live together, so they agree to part as friends. His leaving shouldn’t be the equivalent to giving the finger to the abusive spouse as he’s hauled away in the police cruiser. Those telling him good riddance – and worse, those purportedly trashing him in ASU message boards – do nothing to help the university or the coaching search and in my opinion we’d be as well of without them as with Herb.

  23. JTO 04/05/2006 at 6:23 PM #

    ^ agreed completely. Sendek did do a lot to put the University in a good position and we should be thankful. It’s ok to get after Fowler but you can’t give Sendek grief. He is a class act who brought State back to respectibility. It’s now time to move on and we should all be pumped about that.

    I feel like I just broke up with a girlfriend who was bad in bed….time to hit the bars.

  24. lumberpack 04/05/2006 at 6:30 PM #

    JTO – very apt comparison

  25. monte kiffin 04/05/2006 at 6:37 PM #

    You have to give the guy his props….he came into a difficult situation and made the best he could. He just isnt the guy to take us to the next level.
    Bad in bed JTO?, maybe its not her…:’)

Leave a Reply