Now that June 30, 2010 has come and gone, North Carolina State has officially parted ways with its athletic director of the past 10 years, Lee Fowler. The past 10 years have been wrought with many more downs than ups, but we want to take some time to look back at the entire Lee Fowler era. We thought now is a good time to take an overall look at the events that transpired under his leadership. The following events that took place have been grouped into 3 categories: Good, Bad, and Ugly. First, we looked into some of the good events during the past 10 years. Then, we discussed the events that fall into the bad category. Finally today, we will look at some of the events that fall into the category of Ugly.
One of the biggest issues with a large portion of the fanbase was the lack of conference titles overall, and more precisely, a complete lack of any conference titles in the major four sports:
In his tenure, there are only four BCS schools (and only 3 that were BCS schools during the entire Fowler era) that have failed to win a conference title in any of the four major revenue or high profile sports:
â€¢ NC State
â€¢ Texas Tech
â€¢ South Florida (which didnâ€™t join the Big East till 2005)
Taking it one step further, Texas Tech and Arkansas have won at least a division title in football in that same time. So, you can say that NC State is the only full time BCS school during the past 10 years who has not won any sort of conference/division title in the major sports.
If you look at the athletic department as a whole, only two ACC schools did not win a team national title in the past 10 years, NC State and Virginia Tech (which was not an ACC member until 2004). Overall, 15 ACC conference titles and two EAGL conference titles were won by Wolfpack athletic teams. These titles were from 5 sports:
â€¢ Menâ€™s Cross Country
â€¢ Womenâ€™s Cross Country
â€¢ Gymnastics (EAGL)
â€œMy goals have always been to be in the top three in the conference. If youâ€™re in the top three you always have a chance to win the championship. Thatâ€™s an obvious goal as well. Minimum goals, we donâ€™t want to be in the bottom-half of anythingâ€¦the bottom-half in any sport.â€
â€œOur minimum should be middle of the conference, not last in the leagueâ€
The numbers speak for themselves. The overall success rate for the stated MINIMUM goal is 36.6%, while the department only hit 50% twice in 10 years, the last 3 years have been the lowest since the first year. The 2 major revenue sports are at a 40% success rate. This poor showing, especially by the major revenue sports, does not please the vast majority of fans.
With the numbers above creating the foundation of discontent, these other issues just added fuel to the fire.
As mentioned before, being recognized as the most media accessible AD in ACC can be a good thing. Unfortunately, Fowler had a tendency to talk WAY too much. Even though there are several instances that can be brought up, here are a few of the most memorable.
The initial quote that brought the ire of fans was when Fowler early in his era categorized a section of the Wolfpack fanbase that wanted a new basketball coach as the â€œ50 or so members of the Lunatic Fringe. â€œ He never lived that down and it perpetuated and seeped into other quotes attributed to him. Furthermore, he wrote an open letter to all NC State fans after a sizeable number of fans booed Coach Amato on the Jumbotron during a game in 2005. The message didnâ€™t come off quite as he expected.
Fowler was always very defensive of Herb Sendek as our basketball coach, to a fault. It felt like he wanted Sendek to succeed so bad that he could show the fanbase that he was right and the fanbase was wrong. This was brought out both during and after Sendek’s time as head coach for the Wolfpack. In fact, it was way too much because he would make statements like this:
â€œI donâ€™t think Mike Krzyzewski is liked by all Duke fans,â€ Fowler said.
And in a low even for the quote machine, he asserted that NC State fans â€œdrove [Sendek] away for the security of his family.â€
He then threw the fanbase under the bus again, this time under the Sidney Lowe era by saying â€œToo many times, loyaltyâ€™s a one-way street. Fans want the coach to be loyal to them, but theyâ€™re not loyal to the coach.â€
But out of all quotes of our infamous quote machine, this one will always be remembered by one wordâ€¦Cougars.
We had three programs that struggled the most during the past ten years. They are volleyball and soccer (both men and women). The volleyball team did end an ACC 56-match losing streak in 2008, however endured two coaching changes (a rarity under the Fowler era) with the firing of Mary Byrne and Charita Stubbs, and a pissing contest between Coach Stubbs and the only media who regularly covered her team, the Technician. Not exactly the finest hour on either side.
Our soccer programs had their lack of championships, had issues meeting Fowlerâ€™s minimum goals, and had problems getting talent to Raleigh, even when that talent tried to get on campus, but they had one difference…there was coaching turnover on the womenâ€™s side, not on the menâ€™s side. George Tarantini has been the coach for 24 years, and yet he told the Technician 2 years ago that if he didnâ€™t make the NCAA tournament he should be let go. He didnâ€™t, and he wasnâ€™t let go. He is still employed. Furthermore, one of his wins that 2008 season had to be forfeited because of an ineligible player. Yet, he is still employed.
The main purpose of a university is to prepare students (and in this discussion student-athletes) for life after college. During the recent years, our student-athletes did not perform as well they would want to. When Chancellor Woodson was giving reasons for going a new direction within our athletic program, one of the major reasons was academics.
â€œAnd I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s any doubt that NC State Athletics is not where we want it to be in terms of competing at the highest level athletically and success in the classroom. Our graduation rate is not where we would like it to be in terms of academics. Those are the things that Iâ€™m always going to hold an athletic director accountable forâ€¦And the competing is, again, athletically and academically.â€
You can see that in both the APR and GSR statistics, the department was not doing as good as it needed to be. In fact, NC State was the only ACC school in 2008 to lose a scholarship based on the APR numbers. The sport that lost a scholarship was wrestling.
Another area in which the department could improve on was the annual reports. Similar to a 10K report from a Fortune 500 company, the department publishes one each year (although several of these are incorrectly linked on GoPack.com ). The annual report, which has in some editions contained clip art, has had several inaccuracies as well as a lack of professional aesthetics. It seemed to be Lee Fowler year in review as much as the the athletic department’s year in review.
As athletic director, his two biggest hires were Tom O’Brien and Sidney Lowe. However, there were extenuating circumstances for both of them. In the fall of 2006, Coach Amato was in trouble. His team started 3-2, including a resounding and exciting victory over Boston College (John Dunlap catches a long pass from Daniel Evans with seconds remaining in the game over soon-to-be coach Tom O’Brien), but lost the last 7 games of the year, including the last couple of games to North Carolina and East Carolina. Fowler, for some unknown reason, took a contract extension to the Board of Trustees for Amato, but was overruled and was told to fire Coach Amato. Fowler was not a part of the search for the new coach. It was done completely by the search firm and mutual interest from Tom O’Brien. Wendell Murphy said as much.
Why did Fowler not take as active a role in the search for Chuck Amato’s replacement? Look no further than the search for the replacement for Herb Sendek, who left Raleigh to take the same job at Arizona State 7 months earlier. That search took 5 weeks for Lee Fowler to find a new coach. The whole search was bungled and it became a national punchline. In fact, it is now set as the Mendoza line of hiring a basketball coach. Fowler was turned down by Rick Barnes, John Calipari, Mike Montgomery, Steve Lavin, and John Beilein. Sidney Lowe became our new coach after the 5 week search. And before he could begin recruiting and coaching, he had to graduate college and pass the NCAA recruiting exam. The search was so stressful for Fowler that he lost 25 pounds. There were so many twists and turns in this search that to rehash it would not make it into this summary of events, but it would be long enough to add another book to the Harry Potter series.
Yet through all of these events and gaffes, with his resignation now effective, he managed to get the university to pay for his final three years of his contract, worth over $800,000. Let me restate that. Yet through all of these events and gaffes, with his resignation now effective, he STILL managed to get the university to pay for his final three years of his contract, worth over $800,000.
The last item sums up everything about the past ten years and why this entire department struggled in so many areas:
â€œOur fans are comparing ourselves to Duke and North Carolina. Every program in the country doesnâ€™t do well when youâ€™re compared with those two on a day-to-day basis. I understand that our fans want to be able to compete with them; we all do. But you can be real good on a daily basis and not be better than those two programs.â€
This closes the book on the Lee Fowler era. July 15 starts a new eraâ€¦the Debbie Yow era.