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. Howler 03/19/2008 at 12:04 PM #

    The story of Pearl’s “training ground” is really incredible. He is a guy who has paid his dues, continues to work hard, and he deserves his success. It led me to wonder about our current coach’s training ground. I do not doubt that Coach Lowe has worked hard, but he had never had to recruit players prior to his current position, and he had never coached college players…Ever.

    When Coach Lowe was hired, I hoped he could overcome his weaknesses, but now I see the foolishness in hiring someone with such negatives when we had alternatives available that were demonstratively better. Still, I hold out hope that Lee Fowler’s incompetence may be compensated for by pure, dumb luck. Please Sid, show us that we lucked into a good coach.

  2. choppack1 03/19/2008 at 12:08 PM #

    This is a very frustrating topic. Lee Fowler is to our AD what Les Robinson was to our b’ball – he evidently has totally free reign to drag us to the bottom.

  3. wufpup76 03/19/2008 at 12:11 PM #

    This is an excellent entry, but makes me very sad 🙁 … I’m about to cry

    An interesting quirk to me: Ever since our “issues” in the late ’80’s – early ’90’s that resulted in the Todd Turners of the world holding down the fort at NC State, we have been an institution that has bent over backwords at trying to be/appear as one of the “clean” programs … This came from the “new” leaders at State from the UNC system and the orders went from the top down … State has sacrificed quite a bit athletically for the sake of appearing clean and to not hear any media generated buzz about having any “dirty” programs … Correct?

    With that said, why then is a guy who was on the staff of one of the worst documented violaters in NCAA history (Memphis St. as said in the post) our AD? How and why is this possible? This doesn’t even begin to address our AD’s said incompetence, but I find it amazing that this man was ever our AD in the first place given the “clean atmosphere” that NC State wants to maintain at any cost … It befuddled me when he got here and it befuddles me now … And that is even w/out all of the major mistakes documented in this post

    I WANT a clean athletics department; I’m not decrying the University’s commitment to having clean athletics programs in any way shape or form … but did they even know what his role on that Memphis St. staff was when he was hired here? How does this man go from being on that staff in the 80’s to being an AD somewhere not even 10 years later (Middle Tennessee)?

    It really is all about the money, isn’t it? … the man has built “facilities” everywhere his been and I suppose the instutions make money when he’s there (we know they make money hand-over-fist at NC State) … “Athletics performance be damned; just make us some money and appear to have clean programs! … That’s all we ask.”

    Thanks NC State for holding your “fans” and “customers” in such high esteem

    I just don’t get it …

  4. Stoner 03/19/2008 at 12:18 PM #

    What’s sad is Fowler didn’t see Sendek’s resignation coming. I think he got pressured into going after Barnes and Calipari, because the fans and WPC memembers, who matter, didn’t want to repeat the Sendek hire, by giving a mid-major coach a shot at the helm and endure several years of “on the job training”. What’s frustrating is the guy “who knows basketball” should’ve convinced the WPC about a vision he had for Wolfpack basketball, but instead he just got bullied by the WPC to go after any coach with major conference experience.

    The sad thin is Fowler’s smarter than people let on. He has job security, without having to be accountable for anything other than producing healthy financial statements. He doesn’t have to have a vision for NCSU athletics. Just make sure there are no scandals and the money keeps coming in. It takes a certain level of cleverness to pull off turning the Athletics Director position into little more than a figure head or symbolic position, because other schools have whacked AD’s for not having a vision or not being able to execute it.

  5. James 03/19/2008 at 12:20 PM #

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

    I respectfully disagree. The article is an analysis of the opportunity cost of holding onto Herb Sendek for as long as we did. Opportunity cost meaning the cost of Fowler’s decisions in not aggressively pursuing other candidates earlier. The really sad thing is that StateFans neglected mentioning another outstanding candidate who we could have made a play at after Sendek’s fifth year – Bill Self, then at Illinois, now head coach of #1 seed Kansas.

    I work in corporate America. Lee Fowler wouldn’t last a day on Wall Street or anywhere in the Forture 500. With his lousy strategic analysis skills, it’s no shock our outstanding AD hasn’t held a professional position outside the old boy’s network.

  6. Stoner 03/19/2008 at 12:21 PM #

    choppack1, Lee is worse than Les. Les inherited a bad situation, which was compouned by having work under an awful AD, in Todd Turner and being saddled with restrictions he did nothing to deserve. Fowler inherited an athletics department in a good financial position, thanks to Les Robinson, with good academic support for the athletes, again, thanks to Les Robinson, and a shiney new basketball stadium, thanks to Les Robinson, and hasn’t done much other than to make sure the finances are in good order and buildings are built on schedule.

    He really is getting the most out of his job, for putting in the least effort possible. It takes a certain amount of genius to get away with that.

  7. James 03/19/2008 at 12:22 PM #

    The post is categorically not about Sidney Lowe. Lowe is not mentioned once. It’s about Lee Fowler’s inability to implement an effective strategic plan. Other than, of course, whining about the Wolfpack fan base and seeking the media spotlight.

  8. old13 03/19/2008 at 12:38 PM #

    Whether or not Sid can lead the Pack to the Promised Land, he was still a lousy hire by a lousy AD. With all due respects to Sid, his record did not warrent a look from NCSU. There were proven candidates, even after all the turn-downs, who would have been more logical pursuits based on performance. Now Sid may well become a very good, or even great college BB coach. That remains to be seen. But there was nothing logical in hiring him at the time, and a competent AD would have never looked his way. As for TOB, LF had absolutely NOTHING to do with bringing him to State aside from signing his contract. And we are very blessed that TOB came IN SPITE of Jed!

  9. UpstateSCWolfpack 03/19/2008 at 12:44 PM #

    The powers at be are at much blame as Fowler. They are Fowler and Fowler is Sendek. We are holding onto him far too long. He is a proven failure. He needs to go and we need to pursue Bobby Knight as AD now. We odviously have the money to pay for Knight and a top name, winning, established coach. I guess Lowe should be given another year, but I am not sure that is the best thing. If we can’t get a big big name, then I say get Miller from Xavier. He has set himself up to have a terrific coaching career.

  10. Wulfpack 03/19/2008 at 12:56 PM #


    Somebody needs to print off this post and Fed Ex it to everyone that matters at NCSU. Spot on.

  11. MattN 03/19/2008 at 1:21 PM #

    Listening to Mike&Mike this morning, someone stated that Pearl would be an idiot to leave Tennessee for any program. He’s are revered there as Barnes is at Texas. Those two are in sweet, sweet positions right now.


  12. Sweet jumper 03/19/2008 at 1:31 PM #

    Wulfpack, We do need to print off this post and the responses and send it to the administration, and we all need to be willing to provide our names, addresses and phone numbers.

  13. SaccoV 03/19/2008 at 1:39 PM #

    This is the ’95 Theses’ for any true NC State fan. It should be posted everywhere, and sent to every media outlet to express OUR frustration with a self-serving and inept athletics adminstration. Go back to Tennessee, Lee. With your success, who needs failure?

  14. StateFans 03/19/2008 at 1:44 PM #

    These comments are as good or better than the entry!!! Compare this to the moronic direction that some of the jackasses on the similar Pack Pride thread take the conversation and it is scary that we all wear the same colors.

    Thank you all for making this entry one of the classics!

  15. Rick 03/19/2008 at 1:46 PM #

    It is such a good article and yet it makes me want to vomit.

    LF is complete useless hunk of flesh.

    I feat the reality is Fowler has run NCSU athletics into the ground and it is to the point of no return. We are irrelevant, totally and completely irrelevant.

    I used to complain when I could not find NCSU apparel. Well who, outside of alumni, friggin wants it?

    No one will willingly become a fan of this pathetic program.


  16. Cardiff Giant 03/19/2008 at 1:57 PM #

    Devastating. Fowler is indeed, like Sir Gawaine said, a sair fule.

  17. packbackr04 03/19/2008 at 1:58 PM #

    i heard somewhere not too long ago, that we are the only school in the ACC who has not won a Natnl championship since 2000. (any sport, not necessarily revenue sports) is this true?

    if so, how can anyone in Raleigh justify keeping Lee around for 1 more day? in any business, Lee would have been fired long ago. and i hear over and over that college sports is big business… Well, whats the hold up?

  18. packof81 03/19/2008 at 1:58 PM #

    I love NC State but not the boneheads who’ve been running the show for the past couple of decades. I agree with the poster who said there needs to be a top-to-bottom house cleaning. Unfortunately, it’s all about money. As long as the money keeps coming in, there will not be any changes made.

    My advice to the fanbase is turn off the money spigot if you want change.

  19. tdawg 03/19/2008 at 1:59 PM #

    I am a pretty young Wolfpack fan, and I haven’t had to deal with Lee Fowler’s incompetance for very long, but I don’t see what one blog constantly crying about him is going to do. No offense. I mean, from what I can see, it’s clear that he should have been gone years ago… but if complaining about it for years and years hasn’t done anything, what does one prolific Statefans article going to do, but make everyone just shake their heads in agreement, and then…

  20. Cardiff Giant 03/19/2008 at 2:00 PM #

    I should add that even this pull-no-punches column can’t stress enough where the blame lies here. Fowler is a fool. But who hired that fool? Who – or what – is the institutional embodiment of the second-rate status that Fowler so perfectly symbolizes? It is, of course, our Board of Trustees, or that majority of them that chose, with these results, to EXTEND FOWLER’S CONTRACT FOR A FULL FIVE YEARS.

  21. BackdaPack87 03/19/2008 at 2:05 PM #

    As a student I have to admit that looking at the financial documents and seeing the results on the field is very disturbing. Everyone talks about the 12th Man for Texas A&M and the Rams Club at UNC but we get left out of the conversation even though we are just as strong as them in terms of financial support. If I could fire 3 people from NCSU I would have to pick Stafford, Fowler, and Oblinger. That is of course after I slap every member of the BOT’s for letting this nonsense continue to long and for making NCSU irrelevant in sports and soon to be academics.

  22. Rick 03/19/2008 at 2:06 PM #

    The lineage of incompetance in our administration is uncypherably long.

  23. On The Beach 03/19/2008 at 2:34 PM #

    We are in a Catch 22 situation. The administration is happy as long as the athletic department oversees clean programs and makes money. The athletic department makes the administation happy as long as the athletic teams run clean programs and make money. What needs to be implemented as a requisite is having teams with great students, great citizens and great athletes. These components are not mutually exclusive! Someone raised an excellent point: if the administation is allowing the university’s athletic reputation to slip, are they allowing its academic standing to slide as well? I’m in business, and when you demand excellence, it starts at the top. If the stockholders aren’t happy, you elect a new Board of Directors, who in turn puts in a new management team to make the necessary changes which will yield improved results. I think it’s beyond time for our Board of Trustees to step up and make some necessary changes, with the most significant being a change in the mind-set of expectations!

  24. choppack1 03/19/2008 at 3:19 PM #

    There is no need to worry about anything. Erskine Bowles cares about NC State athletics and wants to see us succeed. He’ll do everything he can do to bring us to the level of UNC-Ch.

  25. whitefang 03/19/2008 at 3:30 PM #

    Great post. Putting this kind of info together and making it a good read is what makes SFN one of the best blogs.

    If you read this article it is obvious something has to be done. At the same time I have to say it is our own damn fault (our meaning the Wolfpack nation in general). Either;
    A. Everyone else knows Fowler is incompetent and just doesn’t give a crap and are willing to stomach being the worst athletic program overall in the ACC or
    B. Only we few lunatic fringe fans with computers think he is incompetent and everyone else (especially the big givers) thinks he is doing the job.

    Because at the end of the day State is a public school (our school) with a BOT who works for us and a chancellor who works for them (and us), etc etc. Sports matters to most alumni and giving for athletics and ACADEMICS usually comes down to how proud you are of your school.
    So we (the Wolfpack nation) put up with this shit by continually giving money, complaining only to each other and not enough to the people who really freaking work for us who are ultimately the ones who have to make this change.

    I for one am sick of these results and I am not giving one damn penny to anybody who calls me from State until and unless some changes are made. And I tell them that when they call. That is the only way I have to “vote” on this.

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