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. WV Wolf 03/20/2008 at 12:41 PM #

    You want national championship info? I’ve got that too.

    Every ACC school over the last 8 seasons has a national championship except State and Virginia Tech.


    SFN: You are the man…quick question — is there any way to add INDIVIDUAL National Champions to this research? As in golfers? track? wrestling? swimming? Etc?

  2. Rochester 03/20/2008 at 12:51 PM #

    Remember in the ’70s when “bad” meant good? Maybe Fowler didn’t realize that was just slang.

  3. GAWolf 03/20/2008 at 1:31 PM #

    Not sure if it’s mentioned above as I don’t have time to read all the posts… sorry…. but did any of you see the piece on I believe ESPN about Pearl taking the team to the kids’ father’s funeral. A father that refused to let his son play for Pearl at UT. Kid transfers to UT and starts now I believe. Or maybe he left Tennessee and moved back home to be with his father and father refused to give permission for him to go to UT and son did it anyway. Can’t recall the entire story, but I remember watching it and really thinking the Pearl reminded me of V and his approach that there are bigger things than basketball in these kids life… except for the couple of hours every other night or so that they’re on the court.

  4. WV Wolf 03/20/2008 at 1:44 PM #

    I didn’t look at individual championships. Way too many swimming events and wrestling weight classes and track events.

  5. GAWolf 03/20/2008 at 2:34 PM #

    Any chance you statistic guys can keep a running record on “The Coaches that Could’ve Been” throughout the tourney? That would be a lot more interesting than the other “stories” there are to follow…

    This truly shows my laziness… who are the teams?

    A&M (I’m so damn apathetic about bball right now I don’t know who’s in)

  6. GAWolf 03/20/2008 at 2:35 PM #

    Xavier… who else?

  7. choppack1 03/20/2008 at 3:19 PM #


  8. Wulfpack 03/20/2008 at 4:57 PM #

    “An earlier poster said that he thought 150 coaches would line up to be the NC State basketball coach. Are you kidding me!? We have not won anything in 21 years.”

    That was me, and I stand by it. Let me put it to you this way. Your average mid-major coach might make $200k. Come here, get a $1 million contract for 3 years, and well, even if you stunk it up and were fired you just made $3 million dollars. You then have the option to go sit on a beach, or go back to a school like the one you came from with ACC coaching experience. No brainer in my book no matter how much stress you have to put up with.

    This is NC State. This is the ACC. Believe it or not, there are coaches that are up for the challenge. Bruce Pearl wasn’t always Bruce Pearl. He made his luck. Right now, today and tomorrow in this tournament, there are other coaches just like him motivating their teams, while simultaneously raising their own profile.

  9. wufpup76 03/20/2008 at 6:11 PM #

    “Your average mid-major coach might make $200k. Come here, get a $1 million contract for 3 years, and well, even if you stunk it up and were fired you just made $3 million dollars. You then have the option to go sit on a beach, or go back to a school like the one you came from with ACC coaching experience.”

    ^Fairly good example from even this year: John Brady … John Brady started in high schools, coached at Samford for 6 years, replaced Dale Brown at LSU, had a good run including the Final Four 2 seasons ago – but stunk it up for the past couple of seasons and was fired mid-season this year … Brady made plenty of money at LSU, and is already the head coach at Arkansas State … If you’ve got power conference head coaching experience you will get looks elsewhere even when/if you are terminated

  10. basspacker812 03/20/2008 at 6:44 PM #

    It only takes one disgruntled WPC member to set things into motion. One high rolling WPC member. Case in point is the UNC football program. Bunting is very similar to Lowe, he was an alum, had success as a player, and had a good first year run by making a bowl. Then Bunting fell from grace as did the football program at UNC. The AD at UNC would never fire Bunting……….never even as the fans and Rams Club members voiced their displeasure. What happened? A Rams Club member stepped up, wrote the check that send Bunting packing and Davis unpacking.

    Is this what happened to Amato? The right WPC member wanted a football change for the better, offering money for Amato to pack and TOB hired? If so, I guess you could also say that same WPC member bailed out Fowler having to make the decision to fire Amato. Perhaps Fowler has it too easy, just sits back endorsing those steady stream of WPC checks as the major athletic programs at NCSU crumble. You think he looks in the mailbox everyday for that one big check to bail out the basketball program and his incompetence as AD?

  11. Pack92 03/20/2008 at 6:51 PM #

    The other article about the award foul-up is in the running for absolutely disgusts me. To mention our sack of crap AD in the same article as Kay Yow is beyond me.

  12. vtpackfan 03/20/2008 at 6:52 PM #

    The ONLY Nat’l champion we have had in the past eight years is Cullen Jones (50 M) freestyle. If we didn’t have the ACC’s shittiest aquatics facility then Coach Teal may be able to add to that. He deserves it, IMO.

  13. Gee Gee 03/20/2008 at 8:00 PM #

    As I said in an earlier post, I am retired and have been a Wolfpack Club contributor and rep for 39 years. In retirement maybe there is something else I can do with my donations because it’s very obvious that with Oblinger money talks. That has got to be the only criterior he used in presenting Fowler with this “most” deserved award, yea right. Where is Mary Ann Fox when we need her?

  14. turfpack 03/20/2008 at 9:12 PM #

    Lee Foulup-S-someone U-under C-contract K-killjoy (YEA I WILL SAY HE KILLS OUR JOY!)

  15. Cardiff Giant 03/21/2008 at 7:14 AM #


    You have to be fucking kidding me. I am now convinced that my alma mater’s head is firmly wedged in its own ass, to the extent that any kind of recovery is impossible – akin to separating Chang and Eng Bunker.

    Only the fools who run NC State could look at Fowler and see “excellence” in action.

  16. StateFans 03/21/2008 at 7:56 AM #

    When was the last “team” NC State National Championship?

  17. StateofthePack 03/21/2008 at 8:40 AM #

    Cheerleading? Yes, I am dead serious.

    Other than bball in ’74 and ’83, that’s been it I believe.

  18. highstick 03/21/2008 at 9:28 AM #

    The BOT need to read the “Peter Principle” cause Fowler and Obie have long since been promoted “beyond their levels of incompetence”!

  19. ClassOf95 03/21/2008 at 11:15 AM #

    OK, there are plenty of random coaches who would like to take $1 million dollars from NC State. I concede that. My point is that good coaches, whether they are established or up-and-coming, have to look at the hostile situation here at State and that will influence the decision making process. We fans want to beat Duke and UNC. Period. The road to all other successes include those victories. Those are two of the all-time best bball programs (even if they have assholes for fans) and year after year they are at the top of the polls. A State coach is walking into that situation. And yes I’m sure there are plenty of coaches who would like to take on that challenge. But then you throw in our fickle fans and it changes the complexion all together. Our coach has been here 2 years (the first many people considered successful) and he has gotten some bigtime recruits to come too. And in year #2, people are calling for his head!? I’m not saying he’s good or bad but what the hell? How is this constructive? And then throw in the fact that he was a hero on our national championship team. What image of our school and rabid fans does this send to future, potential candidates?

  20. WolftownVA81 03/21/2008 at 11:25 AM #

    ^People are disgusted with the performance of our AD, who has shown his incompetance on many occasions, as opposed to being disapointed with the BB team’s performance this season. Most people on this site appear to be willing to give Sid some time to turn the program around but just haven’t seen any signs yet that things will change. I’m hoping he can pull it off – but Jed needs to go now.

  21. Astral Rain 03/21/2008 at 11:41 AM #

    I would donate $50 to $100 to a pay Lee to quit fund…
    You think he would quit if someone gave him $1,000,000?

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