Fowler’s Failures Manifests into a Pearl of a Jewel

Sit back and get dedicated for a moment. You can’t skim this entry. You can’t loaf through this one. This is one of those to which your mind must be committed to absorbing and investing the time to read the links and the text.

In the early part of this decade our blog followed some up-and-coming college basketball coaches that weren’t as well known as they are today. Obviously, the hope was to turn some attention in Raleigh toward movers and shakers that would be great fits for NC State when Herb Sendek finally found a way to bolt town as we knew he would despite Lee Fowler’s wet dreams.

In the end, we all know the NC State situation developed as follows:

* Lee Fowler ardently supported and retained Herb Sendek in an unprecedented manner after five consecutive seasons of failing to make the NCAA Tournament while simultaneously criticizing and alienating NC State fans and consistently degrading the basketball program and fanbase to the media.

* Unlike leaders such as Ron Wellman at Wake Forest (with Dave Odom) and Dave Braine at Georgia Tech (with Bobby Cremmins), Fowler never found a way to control the coaching situation at NC State. He failed to create a graceful move that was in the best interest of NC State’s program AND Herb Sendek. Instead of proactively CREATING a strategically timed transition that could be controlled with a hand-selected new coach ready, Fowler blindly supported Sendek at all costs and therefore failed to position the Wolfpack’s program for the future by placing the selfish needs of Lee Fowler Herb Sendek over what was best for NC State.

* Despite five years of contract extensions amid supposed fan pressure after earning 4 of 5 NCAA Tournament berths while placed squarely on the NCAA’s bubble, Sendek ‘coincidently’ chose to leave NC State in the one season where he was losing seven of his eight top players and the program was going to be stocked with inexperience.

* Inexperienced at coaching searches because of his status-quo management style and unfamiliar with the college basketball landscape because of his lazy work ethic, Fowler was caught unprepared for the ensuing coaching search. After failing to land two top candidates who had previously expressed extreme interest in the position (Rick Barnes and John Calipari), Fowler was oblivious as to where to turn and was hellbent on landing a ‘name’ for media attention. Instead of turning to a tier of candidates like Gillispie, Sean Miller, Mark Turgeon, John Pelphrey and others after missing on Calipari, Fowler continued to taint the remaining candidate pool with public misses of horrible fits like Steve Lavin and John Belein.

From the 1999-2000 season through 2006 when Coach Sendek bailed on NC State, the folks at StateFansNation and the readers that we represented endorsed a Wellman-Braine-like strategic transition where Coach Sendek could/would go get another job (like Dave Odom at South Carolina) while NC State could be positioned to control our next coach. If the obvious top candidate (like Barnes & Calipari) would somehow not fit the time frame then there were plenty ‘next generation coaches’ that would fit the profile well.

Unfortunately, this kind of strategic management that comes from corporate America and not the old boys clubs of Tennessee and Eastern North Carolina was far too complicated for a simpleton like Lee Fowler. It represented way too much work that couldn’t be done from a golf course of Fowler’s Lake Gaston retreat.

Two specific names that we followed with vigor for years were then little-known coach of UTEP, Billy Gillispie (you know him as Kentucky’s Head Coach today) and Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Bruce Pearl.

(Since we won’t be talking about Gillispie much in this entry then I submit this link for you die-hards. Let’s see…we tagged KENTUCKY’s future head coach five or six years ago; and Lee Fowler was oblivious to the guy just two years ago when he was making national waves at Texas A&M. But…of course….he KNOWS Basketball)

Ahhh…but what did we know? Obviously, we don’t know basketball like Lee Fowler. Why control your program and be prepared for transition when you can argue with your fan base and ultimately get left at the alter by ‘your guy’ in a year when the coaching candidate pool wasn’t what it was a few years earlier?

Well…today, ESPN has logged a fantastic biography on (now) Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl. It is fantastic. And, you have to read it. You HAVE to. It gives you a lot of baseline information that you need to know about the guy.

Next, you have to go read this article written by Jeff on March 30, 2005. I’m not kidding. You HAVE to read this thing that was written THREE YEARS AGO. You also need to make sure that read the second section that has quotes from a national radio interview with Pearl.

As RIGHT as Jeff obviously was back then, he really underestimated Coach Pearl who is now finishing his third year at Tennessee:

I’ve been watching Pearl and his program from the periphery over the last couple of years and have been more than just a little impressed with what I have seen. Therefore, I wanted to go on record as recognizing this as a great hire for UT. It will be interesting to watch their program develop.

For kicks…I will predict that within four years from today, the Tennessee basketball program will have very strong momentum after appearing in at least two consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and will be obviously established at the top of the 2nd tier of SEC Basketball schools just under Kentucky and Florida- a tier currently inhabited by Alabama, Mississippi State, and LSU.

Ok…maybe he hedged a little. As convinced as SFN was in Pearl’s ability to succeed, we admit that we cushioned more than was needed in our prediction.

Fowler’s UT Irony

There is more irony in this 700th chapter of our favorite book – “What could have been at NC State if only most leaders in Raleigh weren’t lazy morons” – than anyone really can handle.

* Pearl has a huge connection to NC State as he was once married to a woman related to Norm Sloan (niece? cousin?) He brought is UW-M team to the RBC a few years ago and openly praised the tradition and history of the NC State program. Many close to him and familiar with the situation felt as though he was launching trial balloons and signalling his obvious interest for NC State to be the place where he would take his next step.

* Lee Fowler is from Tennessee and played basketball at Vanderbilt. He also was an assistant coach on the Memphis State teams (TN) in the early 1980s that ultimately were put on massive NCAA probation and had their wins forfeited and 1985 Final Four vacated. (Not to mention the time in federal prison that Fowler’s mentor and head coach, Dana Kirk spent)

* Today, Memphis and Tennessee have a fantastic basketball rivalry as evidenced by this year’s big #1 vs #2 showdown that included John Calipari. After being spurned by Todd Turner for the NC State job when Les Robinson left, Calipari heavily pursued the NC State job two years ago. Calipari was such a ‘done deal’ that Lee Fowler had literally ordered nameplates for the doors and offices of Calipari and his staff. Ultimately, Fowler and NC State found a away to screw up the hire and Calipari now has a monster of a program at Memphis.

* Fower interviewed for the Tennessee Athletics Director position (along with at least a half of a dozen others who have turned him down) while serving as the NC State Athletics Director.

* The only reason that Bruce Pearl was available to coach at UT was because UT had the proactive vision to push out their previous coach, Buzz Peterson.

* Peterson failed to secure an NCAA Tournament berth in four years of opportunity when the leadership at UT decided it was time to make a change. Peterson was 14-17 in his 4th season.

* At NC State, Herb Sendek failed to make an NCAA Tournament for FIVE consecutive season. NC State was 13-16 in fifth season where his squad was obviously all ‘his’.

* Tennessee fired Buzz Peterson and hired Bruce Pearl. Lee Fowler’s chose to retain Herb Sendek and NOT hire a litany of coaches like Barnes, Calipari, Pearl, Gillispie and many others that were easily available at various points in time from 2000-2006.

I find it hilarious (and scary) that Lee Fowler thinks that the folks at Tennessee (or any school) would WANT to hire an Athletics Director who chooses NOT to take measures to control and improve his athletics programs. If anything, the Peterson-Pearl move is a perfect example of the exact opposite philosophy of ‘leadership’ that Lee Fowler practices.

After almost eight years of Fowler’s leadership, NC State’s athletics administration has chosen to fire less than three coaches amongst all program that we can recall.

In that same time horizon, the University has executed and planned in excess of $150 million of facility upgrades that does NOT include the $166 million RBC Center. Additionally, NC State’s athletic booster club has grown to be one of the five largest clubs in all of America with some of the most rabid support found anywhere.

In spite of all of this – after eight years of Lee Fowler’s leadership – NC State is easily the WORST overall athletics program in the entire Atlantic Coast Conference while winning fewer ACC Championships in all sports than any other member institution during Fowler’s tenure.

Comparing the results and the management practices of Fowler’s dream job in the Tennessee Athletics Department to the results and the management practices in Raleigh — I wonder if the guy really ever keeps himself up at night wondering why he doesn’t get any of the other jobs for which he interviews?

Probably not. We’ve seen the impact of what staying up at night and actually having to work does to the guy. Remember the 25 pounds he lost during the NC State coaching search due to stress caused by his incompetence? How many times have you seen that from other ADs?

Well, I guess we can add that to the long list of the differences of our AD and those of other schools.

On second thought…
…check out the following quote from Bruce Pearl on ESPN’s national morning radio show from the entry I made you read.

Pearl commented on Buzz Peterson’s firing. Said that (paraphrase), “Buzz is a SUPER guy, but that he was just over .500 in four years. Face it…if I am just over .500 in four years here then I will be gone, too. You know this going into the profession and when you are hired by a big school. Tennessee has national championships across the board. They are successful in almost ever sport here and there is no reason that we shouldn’t be in basketball.”

I take back everything I have said.

OBVIOUSLY, Bruce Pearl would not fit in at NC State.

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146 Responses to Fowler’s Failures Manifests into a Pearl of a Jewel

  1. DRW 03/19/2008 at 10:21 AM #

    Oh, why can’t we get rid of Lee Fowler. GRRRRR!!!!

  2. Sweet jumper 03/19/2008 at 10:22 AM #

    Excellent post! Sad, but true. How long can the administration allow Fowler to continue? He single-handedly dumped State athletics and, most visibly, State basketball in the toilet, and he needs to go.

  3. choppack1 03/19/2008 at 10:24 AM #

    Wow. Pearl’s comments are great. You see, he gets it.

    I really never would have had a problem w/ Sendek staying on if there was an admission that we weren’t meeting the expectations of the fans. The funny thing is, from what I know about Sendek, he’s a hyper-intense man, he’s a competitor. You don’t get a job on a staff w/Pitino w/out being a hard-driving sun of a gun. Somehow, he got the idea, that his results should have been acceptable to the fans. He didn’t get this idea from the fans – he got it from Fowler – who was more angry about the fans than our collapses in games which could have drastically changed the perception and atmosphere surrounding the program.

    To me, what’s much more scary is that our chancellor is totally fine w/ this man running our athletic program into the ground and turning our athletic program into a national joke. How can anyone in good conscience give this man an extension?

    It may just be the athletic department, but it’s the most visible part of any university. Is it too much to ask to graduate kids, keep them out off the police blotter AND win games?

  4. MattN 03/19/2008 at 10:30 AM #

    I fully support today, just like I did 2 years ago, the immediate dismissal of Lee Fowler.

    Then what? Do we know where we’re going with this?

  5. PacknSack 03/19/2008 at 10:30 AM #

    You are preaching to the choir. Lamentably, and I have said this many times before, the athletic department rusn in the black. In fact it makes money hand over fist. So, for that reason alone, Fowler will stay as long as he wants.

  6. FullMoonRising 03/19/2008 at 10:37 AM #

    It truly is frustrating on so many levels. NCSU is becoming more and more irrelevant in the world of sports. I agree with the sentiment in your post.

    I would like to know if there is anything we can do to facilitate the removal of this “it’s ok to lose” attitude that now permeates every level of the university’s athletic department. I can’t understand why someone is allowed to remain in a position for so long with not showing any improvement and apparently becoming so complacent that we are sliding from obscurity to laughing stock.

    I wish I was a rich man so that someone cared about what I thought. When I was a kid, NCSU was known for being excellent in basketball and football. Now, I am not sure we should be allowed to field a basketball team in the ACC and TOB is going to have to kill himself to make this football team work for him, although I currently have faith in TOB.

    I wish that I could get a job that handed me 245,000 a year to do nothing and then not even fire me when I completely ruin the company. Lee Fowler is a lucky man.

  7. nycfan 03/19/2008 at 10:38 AM #

    I think it is pretty obvious that Fowler is a poor AD; the results speak for themselves. But I will quibble just a bit with the comparison of dumping Buzz at TN to not dumping Sendek at State.

    Buzz inherited a program in reasonably solid shape, though TN wanted MORE than reasonably solid — they (rightly) thought that with a slightly better influx of talent and a little vim and vigor from the right coach, their men’s program could be a solid top 20 program, not just the usual bubble or an occasional Sweet 16 squad. He took a sometime NCAA Tournament team, continued to bring in the same or maybe even better talent level as his predecessor but couldn’t coach his way out of a paper bag. TN went from sometimes NCAA team to .500 or worse team, the sort of thorn-in-your-side talented enough team that FSU has been lately, maybe a little worse.

    Sendek took over an absolute disaster and I think expectations were that it was a long term rebuilding job. I think if State had been in the shape TN was when Sendek took over there would have been a very different set of expectations and a much shorter leash.

    That said, I thought at the time that State needed to look in another direction after Sendek’s disastrous fifth season (that is somewhat reminiscent of Sid’s second season, btw, in the way it totally imploded). I just don’t think the Buzz/Pearl transition is an apt comparison to Robinson/Sendek.

  8. nycfan 03/19/2008 at 10:47 AM #

    ^Correction, I think it was the 2000 season that was similar to ’08, which I think was Herb’s 4th, not 5th, season. In 2000, State started the ACC 4-2 (including a very tough overtime loss at Dook) and got to 5-3 before the bottom fell out and State lost 6 or 7 in a row to finish with a losing ACC record. At least that team made some noise in the NIT, though. [UNC was 2-3 in the ACC about the time State was 4-2, which led to much crowing and why that Sendek season stuck out to me, but UNC finished any OK 9-7, squeaked into the NCAAs over a UVa team that was 9-7 and had swept them (shades of UA/ASU this year) and made a miracle run to the Final Four.]

  9. BJD95 03/19/2008 at 10:50 AM #

    I think I’ll go vomit now. That’s classic NC State for you.

  10. old13 03/19/2008 at 10:56 AM #

    While Fowler is such a sad case to be occupying (not working) the position he is in, it is much more disheartening to realize that the overall NCSU administration continues to keep him on. If this in itself can be extrapolated to the overall administration/management of NCSU, and I feel that it can, then I fully expect the academic ratings of the school to fall sharply in the near future. It’s been shown time and again that the “good-ol’-boy” approach to managing anything is a disaster in waiting. Yet Oblinger has clearly indicated through his actions (or lack thereof) that he will do all possible to save the “good-ol’-boys” in the NCSU faculty and staff at all costs – even if they are incompetent and ineffective! Couple that with a BOT that is seemingly afraid to support any kind of top line athletics at NCSU, EVEN IF IT CAN BE DONE WITHOUT JEOPARDIZING ACADEMICS (which has been demonstrated at other univeristies many times over), and I see no light at the end of the NCSU tunnel except for the approaching train!

  11. one00_proof 03/19/2008 at 10:58 AM #

    Great entry, the entire post encompasses why I loathe Fowler. It’s obvious in Fowler’s heart that he does NOT love NC State. His job as AD stems from his desire to either increase his salary or attain his dream job at Tenn. That dream job explains why he went out guns a blazing by himself for the bball coaching search. He wanted to show off his “superior” AD skills and that backfired severely after Calipari spurned us and he was left scrambling to find a coach. I honestly wonder why he is able to get away with tainting NC State athletics so much (playing ECU in bball?) and the sad part is, the only way he is gone is if Lowe’s career goes southward or he’s offered a position (yeah right) somewhere else. It’s really a sad state of affairs, but I’m willing to look past ol Jed if Lowe’s doing well.

  12. choppack1 03/19/2008 at 11:01 AM #

    nycfan – I agree w/ you on the take of Buzz. It’s not an apples to apples comparison.

    Here’s some similarities I see to our current situation:
    *UT fires Jerry Green after 4 consecutive NCAA appearances. UT hires Buzz, miss the tourney 4 consecutive years.
    *Carl Tacy at WF is “encouraged” to retire after having some success and some mediocrity. They hire Xavier coach Bob Staak, who absolutely stinks up the joint for several years. They then bring in Dave Odom – who wins 2 ACC championships and takes them to several NCAAs. Dave Odom is encouraged to take another job, they bring in Skip Prosser – who does very well his first 4 years, then misses the NCAA the next 2.
    *UVA shows Jeff Jones the door, they experience the misery of Pete Gillen (another Xavier coach.)

    I would consider the firings/forced resignations of Jones, Green, and Tacy similar situations to ours of Sendek – not for cause, but for overall results. I do think it’s interesting that the replacements really sucked.

  13. RickJ 03/19/2008 at 11:07 AM #

    There may be a bit of irony from the ESPN article on Pearl:

    “The Screamin’ Eagles were the Division II national runners-up his second season in Evansville, and the next year they won the championship. Everyone knew Pearl could coach before he went to USI, and then he proved it — but the only Division I offer that came after that championship season was from Middle Tennessee State.”

    It is possible that Fowler tried and failed to hire Pearl at Middle Tennessee State? The timing is close, around 1994. If so, he has almost hired three of the best coaches in college basketball – Barnes, Calipari & Pearl.

    I vividly remember Pearl’s radio interview with Frances Combs after his loss to the Pack in the 2004 season. The guy was practically crying when he was talking about NC State basketball. At the time I remember thinking this guy would crawl to Raleigh for the State job. He was married to Norm Sloan’s niece. I got the impression during the interview that Sloan had helped Pearl along the way and he was very appreciative.

  14. Mr O 03/19/2008 at 11:15 AM #

    NC State 2006 donations – $27,254,723
    ACC rank – 4th(UNC, UVA, FSU ahead of us)
    National rank – 14th

    Amount raised in capital funds last 5 years – $125,625,000
    ACC rank – 5th
    National rank – 10th

  15. PacknSack 03/19/2008 at 11:17 AM #

    As long as we idiot State fans keep buying tickets and keep paying our dues to the Wolfpack Club, then nothing will change. The pocketbook is the only thing that will bring about change.

    A grassroots movement to stop going to games, and stop the “charitable giving” to the WC with it publicly tied to our disappointment in Fowler, then things might change.

    However, our good friends at the N&O, who rage against the University at every opportunity (real or imagined), would then take up the cause of our embattled AD and paint the fanbase as ungrateful, delusional shitheads. We’ve seen it all before.

    We’re stuck.

  16. WolftownVA81 03/19/2008 at 11:21 AM #

    Thanks for focusing the attention back where it belongs – on our AD. Maybe the offspring of the big money donors (who can actually use that dang internet thing) will read, be educated and start asking some questions of the old man or lady who have the influence. After all, who wants to be associated with a loser program. Your summary of LF’s failure paints a very damning picture in a very understandable way. Good post.

  17. jmartineau 03/19/2008 at 11:22 AM #

    While I don’t know if I quite drink the Bruce Pearl kool-aid, I do know his track record is solid (and one that I would not have minded seeing here at NC State).

    On a similar not, my Sister in law’s father is quite close with Norm Sloan’s brother. They have traveled a couple of times to Knoxville and visited Pearl and the UT hoops squad. From what I gathered, we should have been able to put this guy into play.

    Finally, does Fowler’s mode of operation in recruiting coaches seem anything similar to what Sendek’s point guard recruiting looked like. Shoot for the Moon, narrowly miss, and then end up with something less than what we should have had. Hmmm, explains why these 2 got along so swimmingly. My only hope is that he uses a Recruiting firm for any and all future searches.

  18. Mr O 03/19/2008 at 11:22 AM #

    That is a great background story on Pearl. 75 wins in three years at UT…wow.

  19. senez 03/19/2008 at 11:39 AM #

    When is Fowler’s contract up? And how can we show our displeasure at a measurable level if and when an extension is once again granted?

  20. redfred2 03/19/2008 at 11:40 AM #

    Man, that is a great read!!!

    Not much to add except to say that the folks in Raleigh are trapped in their own mediocrity. It’s a mediocrity travels well and it’s with them anywhere and everywhere they chose to go. It’s always right there, it comes out immediately in media interviews, it comes out in coaching interviews, and it simply states to anyone who is willing to listen…”We’re second rate, won’t you come and join us and be a part of it all?”

    Top to bottom, will somebody just PLEASE clean house in Raleigh.

  21. James 03/19/2008 at 11:41 AM #

    Mr. O,

    That’s interesting data. Could you shoot me an email at [email protected]?


  22. BoKnowsNCS71 03/19/2008 at 11:50 AM #

    Another posssible irony? Marcques Johnson leaves the TN program to come to NC State. Why did MJ leave? Because he knew he would not get PT under Pearl? Mean no disrespect to MJ since I don’t know why he left. Just wondering if anyone knows for sure. Would be sad if we get the folks that others want off their teams.

  23. tmc 03/19/2008 at 11:53 AM #

    A great read, but hidden in between the lines is the premise that Sid was a mistake.

    The jury is (or should be) still out on Sid.

    But moreover, Jim Oblinger is *not* a man who rocks the boat. I can tell you that Jim likes to plot an even course and hope there are no fires to put out. He won’t change anything *unless* there’s a fire. So if you want to get rid of Foulup, you have to create a HUGE fire.

  24. kyjelly 03/19/2008 at 12:01 PM #

    Wow that is unreal but than again we could have used a dartboard and come up with a better coaching staff here.
    I am afraid if he ever did can sid he Isaha Thomas.
    And the 30 lbs that fowler said he lost during the search does that include the 250 lbs we gained by hiring sid?

  25. Sam92 03/19/2008 at 12:01 PM #

    as everyone here knows, on this blog the mention of Lee Fowler’s name is always met with a chorus of boos (for good reason)

    but i would love it if someone actually did a poll of NCSU students and alums to give us the stats on what percentage of us already think he should be fired. it’ll never happen, but I do think it would be relevant information.

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