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!