The Lee Fowler Era: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly – Part 3 (The Ugly)

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:

Men’s Basketball
Women’s Basketball

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:

• NC State
• Texas Tech
• Arkansas
• South Florida (which didn’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:

• Men’s Cross Country
• Women’s Cross Country
• Wrestling
• Softball
• Gymnastics (EAGL)

The overall lack of championships and even the lack of many upper tier finishes in our athletic department did not meet the goals set forth by the AD.

“My goals have always been to be in the top three in the conference. If you’re in the top three you always have a chance to win the championship. That’s an obvious goal as well. Minimum goals, we don’t want to be in the bottom-half of anything…the bottom-half in any sport.”


“Our minimum should be middle of the conference, not last in the league”

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 “50 or so members of the Lunatic Fringe. “ 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 didn’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:

“I don’t think Mike Krzyzewski is liked by all Duke fans,” Fowler said.

And in a low even for the quote machine, he asserted that NC State fans “drove [Sendek] away for the security of his family.”

He then threw the fanbase under the bus again, this time under the Sidney Lowe era by saying “Too many times, loyalty’s a one-way street. Fans want the coach to be loyal to them, but they’re not loyal to the coach.”

But out of all quotes of our infamous quote machine, this one will always be remembered by one word…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 Fowler’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 women’s side, not on the men’s side. George Tarantini has been the coach for 24 years, and yet he told the Technician 2 years ago that if he didn’t make the NCAA tournament he should be let go. He didn’t, and he wasn’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.

“And I don’t think there’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 I’m always going to hold an athletic director accountable for…And the competing is, again, athletically and academically.”

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 ). 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:

“Our fans are comparing ourselves to Duke and North Carolina. Every program in the country doesn’t do well when you’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.”

This closes the book on the Lee Fowler era. July 15 starts a new era…the Debbie Yow era.

About ruffles31

1996 NC State graduate who is still waiting on his first ACC conference championship in any of the four main revenue sports (football, men's basketball, women's basketball, and baseball) since enrolling. All I want is a ACC Champions t-shirt.

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19 Responses to The Lee Fowler Era: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly – Part 3 (The Ugly)

  1. 94MEGrad 07/13/2010 at 11:11 PM #

    Looking forward to the next era. So glad Lee is gone!

  2. papackman 07/14/2010 at 6:39 AM #

    this horse is dead……time to move on!!!

  3. NCStatePride 07/14/2010 at 8:08 AM #

    Anyone else going to be standing outside of Debbie’s office tomorrow with a “Save Our Ship” banner tomorrow?

  4. Daily Update 07/14/2010 at 8:21 AM #

    Great entry.

  5. VaWolf82 07/14/2010 at 8:30 AM #

    “Inept” is the nicest thing that I can think of to say about LF’s tenure at State.

  6. StateFans 07/14/2010 at 8:40 AM #

    ‘Putting it to Bed’ is exactly what we are doing.

    We waited until it was all over, and put together a balanced, 3-part summary for review so that ‘the record’ will always be out there.

    Then it will be over.

  7. Plz2BStateFan 07/14/2010 at 9:32 AM #

    These are exactly what we needed. As long as these 3 articles can be easily found for future reference I am ready to put this to bed.

    My only addition to this 3rd installment would be the significance of the Olympic sports poor performance.

    Its one thing to be sub standard in just football or basketball or both. You can argue that you just dont have the right coach. And, normally there is something to point to outside of the revenue sports that you can point to and declare,”We are the athletic department. We do not suck.” That is not the case with NC State and fundamentally defines the problems with the athletic department. It’s just across the board substandardismingity.

    IM DONE WITH FOWLER!…………until someone tries to defend him

  8. durhamwolf19 07/14/2010 at 11:02 AM #

    I would also add the poor planning of upgrades at the softball, baseball and tennis facilities where there have had been corrections made to fix problems with the initial construction which were projects under the direction of the AD.

  9. Sam92 07/14/2010 at 11:07 AM #

    ok – final nail in the coffin, thank goodness. let’s move on – i am actually pretty excited about debbie yow, optimistic for the first time in a couple of years

  10. RegularExpression 07/14/2010 at 12:03 PM #

    It will be good to put this to bed, or more appropriately, put a lid on this trashcan of an era. One thing we do have to realize is that the last decade(or more) can’t just be erased. The failures of our administrators have shaped how we are perceived by the media and how we perceive our university.

    I used to be the eternal optimist when it came to all things NC State, and especially athletics. After Osh Benjamin scored 29 in his debut I thought he was going to the savior of the program. Same for HWSNBN after going to the tourney finals his first year. Now I absolutely take a wait and see approach on everything when it comes to NC State. From Woodson to Yow I refuse to get excited(and in turn give my money) until I see results. If important people feel the same way I do it will lead to a catch 22 situation. The university needs to have money to get results, but needs results to get money.

    Hopefully this university will get its head on straight and realize that reaching for excellence is not something to be ashamed of. I think we have the people in place to do that but forgive me if I wait and see.

  11. StateFans 07/14/2010 at 12:11 PM #

    ^Great post.

    Were you as fooled into optimism as I was on JJ Hickson’s first night when he broke Osh’s record by shooting perfect from the floor?

  12. WolftownVA81 07/14/2010 at 12:56 PM #

    Great post. Agee that it’s time to move on. I won’t even dignify a LF defense with a response. For me, LF is now He Who Shall Be Ignored (HWSBI)

  13. Khan 07/14/2010 at 12:58 PM #

    Good third entry in the series. These entries provide a very good summation of our recent history, which should not be ignored or swept under the rug. Good post.

  14. hball57 07/14/2010 at 2:00 PM #

    I am glad we have put the nail in the coffin. I also appreciate that is has been a very fair and accurate series.

    For example, the misquoted comment using the term “lunatic fringe”. It is most times mentioned that Fowler called NC State fans “the lunatic fringe”. As you can see from the correct quote above, that is not what he said. So it is great to have an accurate review.

    It is also great to bury this part of our athletic history and look towards the future under new leadership. The time is now to take the lessions from our recent past and move towards the future.

  15. Pack1998 07/14/2010 at 2:32 PM #

    Great that they are paying him $800K yet raising tuition on students due to budget issues.

    Is it worth beating a dead horse . . . Yes, due to his buyout situation!

    2 Things that are evident with him:

    1 – He is not smart (exhibit – His comment that we should not compete with UNC / Duke. Even if he didn’t feel that way, he needed to declare we could.)

    2 – Past experiences did not prepare him (exhibit – Could not manage his staff in a way to hold people accountable. Likely he could not stay focused on multiple priorities.)

  16. RegularExpression 07/14/2010 at 4:42 PM #

    I was fooled by JJ’s first performance. Damn the facts, I thought, Sid may just be able to get it done sooner than later!

  17. blpack 07/14/2010 at 9:17 PM #

    Good to wrap things up with this era. Unfortunately we will be paying for the last 10 years for a while. Hopefully we can move forward. Looks as if football, men’s soccer, men’s hoops and baseball have reached a time to fish or cut bait.

  18. choppack1 07/15/2010 at 10:57 AM #

    Every morning I walk my dogs. I usually let my mind wander during this 15-20 minutes of the day where I don’t really have to be “all there” mentally.

    I saw a red car and I started thinking of someone I know who is a HUGE Duke fan. He never went to school there – he’s probably only been to one or two ACC games in Cameron Indoor – if that.

    It’s with a sadness that I realized that 20 years ago, this young man would have probably been a State fan. North Carolina is still very much a college-oriented state in terms of fan support. Now, most kids will either be a UNC or Duke fan. No kid in his right mind will pull for NC State unless they have a parent or close relative who pulls for them.

    I’m the father of a 2.5 year-old – and my boy can already say “Go Wolfpack!” But you know what – I don’t know if I want him to pull for State if we’re going to suck. I’m not going to force him to pull for us so he can get made fun of for pulling for such a crappy team…and I’m sure kids do that.

    And I wonder if the powers that be in our university even care that we’ve been kicked off the totem pole. When HBO shows that Duke-UNC basketball rivalry special – they should be angry and bitter, but more importantly motivated. You see, that special was supposed to be UNC-NC State.

    There are a lot of reasons it isn’t – and one of them is because instead of hiring Coach K – we hired Coach V. But you can’t say that Coach V didn’t have us always at the cusp…the man went to 3 Great 8, 4 Sweet 16s and won 2 ACC titles in his stint here. He just never had the consistency that Dean developed or that Coach K was able to build.

    Like Regular Expression – I’ve become a skeptic. Like him, I used to think it would all work out and return to some semblance of our glory days. Heck, we even had an ambitious Chancellor for a period of time. This Chancellor got the heck out of dodge. I’m not sure whether she left because she yearned for the more relaxed lifestyle and incredible weather of SoCal, the demanding State fans, because she felt that she couldn’t overcome the good ole boy mentality which was slowing her down, or that she worked for an ungrateful faculty…but she left.

    So now – I’m hoping that we’ve got the right combo of leadership to right the ship that has gotten way off course – but as State fans, we’d be foolish to expect that was the case until we get A LOT of evidence.

  19. hball57 07/17/2010 at 5:31 PM #

    Would people stop whining about the buyout? He signed a contract; if we fire him we must honor the contract. Why not complain about some that would do some good?

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