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. ClassOf95 03/19/2008 at 3:35 PM #

    I have always taken the position that there are people much more “connected” than me that make decisions. I think Herb was here too long but he must have had some heavyweight support on up the donor food-chain. We all loved the Chuck Amato hire and then it soured over the next 4-5 years. We got the improvements to Carter-Finley and the Murphy Center. And other things like the Doak Field upgrades. We got rid of Amato and now I think we have a great coach in Tom O’Brien. I think back on the search for Herb’s replacement and yes we should have been more prepared but every blog I saw talked about wanting Barnes and Calipari. When that didn’t materialize I became frustrated that so many Wolfpack fans wanted Lowe or Wittenberg or someone “from the Wolfpack family” and “knows the Valvano magic.” Well, be careful what you ask for. And I, like many of you, was changing my mind when we reached the ACC Tourney finals last year. So goes the life of a Wolfpack fan. The frustration has to come out some way or another.

  2. ClassOf95 03/19/2008 at 3:45 PM #

    When Herb left I think we had many positives but also many negatives that came into play. The passion of the Wolfpack faithful, I think, is well-known. But I truly believe that the further you get from Raleigh, the less it is understood. I think the country as a whole saw Herb as a good coach and when he was pretty much forced out by our discontent, many people thought that we have unrealistic expectations and that he was treated unfairly. And I think a lot of coaches are intimidated by walking into a situation where they know that NC State’s success is measured against 2 of the best programs in the history of college basketball 20 miles down the road. (I just threw up in my mouth a little having to type that last part.) I think that kept some people away. Also, if you have a revolving door policy of coaches, who would ever want to come here? Force out Herb (who lots of people thought was a good coach) and then fire one of the most famous ex-players from your own school? Again, who would want to walk into that situation?

  3. Howler 03/19/2008 at 3:59 PM #

    I think the pertinent question right now is who is the next Bruce Pearl or Bill Self? We need to have these guys identified because, quite frankly, we may need to pull out the short list in a year or so. I hope and pray that this time next year, we are praising Sid for winning ACC coach of the year and we are following the Pack’s course through the tourney, but if that is not to be the case, and if next season is as bad as this one, we cannot have a search like we had the last time. Jed wouldn’t do it again, would he?

  4. WolfAce 03/19/2008 at 4:03 PM #

    And how ironic is it that over at we see the headline:

    “Fowler Tabbed for Chancellor Unit Awards for Excellence”

    we’ve got some serious issues here

  5. basspacker812 03/19/2008 at 4:04 PM #

    Tdawg makes a good point, what is the point here? Yes, it all feels good to let it all out, we all know that under the leadership at NCSU now, athletic programs have become the laughing stock of the ACC, and now the nation. While our facilites have become second to almost none. Do we think Fowler will read this and suddenly leave? Until you get the support of someone other than a fanbase, nothing will ever change without change.

    Lowe was a “feel good hire” but obviously a bad hire until proven other wise which seems unlikely. Can we afford to continue to hope we get “lucky” with Lowe? His record and lack of experience shouted loud and clear to continue the search for a new basketball coach. The top brass at NCSU did not listen to that shout and they won’t listen to our shouting.

  6. CaptainCraptacular 03/19/2008 at 4:07 PM #

    this is a great and much needed post, but by posting it you have ensured that no school will ever hire him away from us. Since we know Lee will never get fired we are essentially stuck.

    Perhaps SFN you could retract this entry, and we the state fans community could go on a massive letter writing campaign to other schools describing how great Lee Fowler is.

    SFN: If he hasn’t gotten hired away yet despite all of his many attempts to land other jobs, then it isn’t going to happen with or without this entry. Evidently he tried to get a smaller school’s job last year and they passed him over. LOL!

  7. highstick 03/19/2008 at 4:08 PM #

    Class of 95, I tend to agree somewhat, but somewhere “out there” there’s got to be a good coach who could back up and look at what took place realistically(without buying into the media types who portrayed us to be bad guys for wanting more than mediocrity). Without Fowler in the way, I honestly think it wouldn’t take long for a really good experienced college coach to put our program back together again.

    I don’t think Herb got “forced out”, I think he forced himself out because he saw the writing on the wall with what he was looking at the next year and decided to bail.

    This morning I had to make a trip to Florence, SC to meet with a client. I was wearing a NC State sweater/vest. When I walked in the front door, one of the salesmen says “NC State”! My response was “yep, #12 in the ACC and we’ve replaced Clemson as the laughing stock of basketball in the ACC”(with reference to one of the Clemson player’s comments after the game with UNCX.

    Put up the FireLeeNoW website and let’s start the poll!

  8. backinpack 03/19/2008 at 4:22 PM #

    Fowler is a builder as an AD. Now that stuff is built he needs to get the hell outta here.

  9. CaptainCraptacular 03/19/2008 at 4:22 PM #

    Highstick — you mean That is our angle.

  10. haze 03/19/2008 at 4:27 PM #

    Though I agree with most all points, I’m afraid that this entire topic is moot given…
    1) the obvious disinterest of LF’s supervisors
    2) the short tenure of our 2 revenue sport coaches

    It’s just hard to fire an AD when rational arguments can be made that his big hires are still in their grace periods. More pointedly, it can be argued that at least one of these hires looks to have been particularly good (better lucky, right?). So where’s the beef? Again, this isn’t about doubting the arguments that have been presented wrt the basketball program and the recent deplorable hiring process. It’s just that this feels more like a vent than an actionable path to improvement.

  11. Todd 03/19/2008 at 4:40 PM #
  12. Mr.wolfpack90 03/19/2008 at 4:42 PM #

    Mr Statefan,
    You hit a homerun here or the nail in the head!!!
    Why would anyone think that just because you have unc or duke or teams in your conference that are bcs football powers would think you could not be successfull in basketball?
    The job of the ad is to lead us there in not football and basketball but in all sports.The ad is the ceo of the entire sports program here at nc state,track field,baseball the works. His main goal is to have a throughly successful program.

    Wake forest ad is a good and honest man whom is respected for making the right hires:prosser and grobe and locking them up with ten yrs deals and plans for major upgrades in the facilities. His coaches do not need to campaign(amato)for upgrades that is the ads job.

    Also i don’t think wake hired a consulting firm and wasted funds to hire a coach?
    If a ceo of a company cannot operate without assistance then he is a bad leader.

    The hire of sidney lowe was a knee jerk reaction where our ad gave in to the pressure of the media and fans etc.His main focus should have been to find the right fit up to the start of fall basketball practice if needed.He failed !

    The consulting firm gave us tom o brien not the ad.He just used thier information and advice and hired him.It cost us dearly but in the long run he is worth it.

    I feel the wolfpack club needs to ask for the ad’s resignation and hire a veternan/experience ad whom can do the job.
    I just hope the univeristy does not sell us short again!!
    Have a great evening all and GO PACK!!!

  13. Wulfpack 03/19/2008 at 4:57 PM #

    To say that nobody wants this job is bogus. I would guess that, if NC State opened the head basketball job up, there would be about 150 current head coaches that would express interest on the very first day. This is not only a good job, it is a great job. We have a rich tradition with a passionate fan base, fantastic facilities, and if you get the job done in the best conference in the land you will be on national television every 3 days. You will be afforded numerous opportunities to prove yourself against the best teams in the country. If you do an average job, you will be in the NCAA Tournament every year. If you do a great job, the sky truly is the limit.

    The issue is that we have learned there a few proven winners at big name programs that would consider leaving their cushy posts for this job. And that’s where LF comes into play. It is his job to identify and evaluate top mid major coaching talent and then to sell the position. He did not do this, and whether or not Sidney pans out, LF hired a guy with no college head coaching experience that was begging for the job. Easy way out.

  14. James 03/19/2008 at 5:19 PM #

    “So where’s the beef?”

    Please read the post again. This isn’t about hiring O’Brien or Lowe. I don’t think anyone can argue that the jury is still out on those hires. The problem with Fowler is his complete and utter inability to see the big picture and to position us for success.

  15. EdMar 03/19/2008 at 5:23 PM #

    You figure this out…

    RALEIGH, N.C. — Athletics director Lee Fowler, one of three athletic department employees nominated for the Chancellor’s Unit Award for Excellence, was selected as one of 17 EPA employees that will vie for the University Awards for Excellence.

  16. Mr O 03/19/2008 at 5:26 PM #

    Folks, it appears Fowler isn’t really the biggest problem.

    He was nominated for some Chancellor’s Award of Excellence or something. Unreal.

  17. Rick 03/19/2008 at 5:45 PM #

    Everyone talks about how we cannot compete with Duke and UNC next to us.

    Well at one point Duke was in that position with NCSU and UNC “right next to them” (yeah at one point we were pretty good). How did they do? That is a perfect example of the defeatist way of thinking that is embraced by our mongoloid leader.

  18. john of sparta 03/19/2008 at 6:14 PM #

    NCSU is now a Div.1 commuter/online college.
    the New Generation Big Bucks alumni are
    into the virtual world. “step in”.

  19. LRM 03/19/2008 at 6:30 PM #

    You have to stop making logical, valid points and supporting your perspective with facts. You’re giving blogging a respectable name.

    Since Lee Fowler arrived in Raleigh, we’ve had nearly a decade of nothing but damage control amidst a proliferating populist movement — one that has largely been patronized, or worse, ignored.

    The reason populist movements have always failed is that they lack teeth. As long as the money flows into the program, Lee doesn’t have to be proactive because college athletics is now big business, and money is all that matters — wins and losses and pride are just peripheral.

    And that’s the real tragedy of it because all we really want is to be proud again.

  20. RalYat71 03/19/2008 at 6:55 PM #

    This last year in Wolfpack basketball has been very difficult for ALL of us! But to get Fowler out as AD, and Oblinger, if he is, indeed, a “maintain the status quo” kinda guy, you have to get to the decision makers and let them know that just “being in the black, revenue wise, is ONLY part of the picture.” As a self-employed real estate and finance person, today’s economic climate is certainly one of concern for return “of” principal as well as return “on” principal! Just ask Bear Stearns, JP Morgan Chase, et al, who are “hung out to dry” in their derivatives positions!

    Nonetheless, Ronald Reagan’s most enduring statement on dealing w/ ANY area where he needed to convince anyone to consider a NEW position/idea was to say to his advisers, “It is NOT necessary that they see the light; ALL they have to do is FEEL THE HEAT!”
    Only until the “revenue position” of the Athletics Department is seen as “Feeling the Heat”, NOTHING will change! The well-heeled Alumni in conjunction with the students CAN DO JUST THAT, BIG TIME!

    When Oblinger and Fowler start to sweat from “THE HEAT”, we can get a Bruce Pearl type, and a AD like the one @ Louisville! A Chancellor who is slightly ” A Little out of the Box” would not hurt! TOB will be awesome, and Fowler proved the axiom about the “blind squirrel and an acorn”.

    I have Clemson, UNC-CH, Wake Forest, and ECU family and friends! I can’t take another year like this one!

  21. cowdog 03/19/2008 at 6:56 PM #

    State Fans ,

    Most appreciate the forum you have worked so hard for.

    This is a place where ardent Pack fans can express both the intelligent, emotional and the “emotiontelligant.’ ( look it up )


  22. BoKnowsNCS71 03/19/2008 at 7:55 PM #

    i kinds look a like this. Jim Valvano was like Moses. he led us to the promised land and pointed the way but alas he could not go all the way.

    And what did the NCSU adminstration do? They turned around so that we could all wander in the desert for 40 years.

    Moral — you can lead a bureaucrat to water — but you can’t make him think.

  23. Primewolf 03/19/2008 at 7:56 PM #

    Great piece, SFN.

    But, it is nevertheless, depressing.

    Please work up an actionable plan. A strategy. This blog is great, but but do we need to do to affect change.

    We need a plan to invade the BOT. What else do we need?

    BTW, I occasionally get invited to the Chancellor’s recepetions. Last fall, I gave him a book “Good to Great”, a good read on leadership and things you need to do over the long haul to be a great organization. He accepted it politely, but said he had already read it. That’s fine, I told him to feel free to give it to someone on his leadership team that hasn’t.

    I later wrote him a note that Stafford and Fowler were in the wrong seats on the bus (need to read the book to appreciate this). No reponse from Oblinger on that one.

    We need a long term strategy, we need organization, we need folks committed to making a change. We need to meet periodically and figure this out. Getting a few good leaders on the BOT would be a start. We need to convince other leaders to take up the cause.

    Talk is cheap, let’s work on this. SFN, can you help us get organized. I realize this is transcending your mission and maybe your interests, but there has to be a next step. I can think of a few possibilities. What say ye????????????????????

  24. howlie 03/19/2008 at 8:21 PM #

    THAT’s the kind of slice-em-up article we’ve come to know and love from JB at such times as this.
    Now that you have your momentum… KEEP going.

    Now the team…

  25. For85 03/19/2008 at 8:22 PM #

    This is a sad and depressing thread that accurately describes our situation.

    For folks that don’t ltr’s or wpc membership, I draw a blank as to what impact we could have on resolving this. I mean, who does most of the calling to alumni for donations etc? Usually its a student volunteer that calls me with the annual plea. Perhaps thats just the alumni association. What good does telling a student volunteer that you won’t join until the university makes some leadership changes? I don’t know any BOT members.

    I hope SFN can come up with a workable plan that gives the less affluent alumni a chance to get our opinion out there. Other than those ridiculous email “add your name” petitions?

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