06/25/2018 at 11:37 PM #133853
although I doubt few would recognize the quote from a 1964 film entitled “Fail-Safe,” Walter Matthau’s line is certainly relevant in terms of dealing with 22 years worth of Elliott Avent as head baseball coach at NC State. First off, I want to let you know that, although I have not been a supporter of Avent for some time, I’m going to attempt to remain as impartial as I can, and let the numbers explain my assessment as indifferently as possible. I’ll have three areas of critique, and I would love for the gallery to add more to the continuing discussion.
1) Conference Performance
While coaching my own teams, I always put your performance against your conference competition as a higher priority than winning state titles. I subscribe to the theory that seeing guys multiple times over the course of the year is far tougher than winning on the big stage. I will get to the analysis of winning on the big stage with Avent momentarily. As an ACC coach, Avent has been good, compiling a 294-277 record (.512 winning %) not including this 2018 season. Adding this year’s totals, brings his CONFERENCE record to 313-288 (.521 winning %). For comparison I have added a list of the current coaches and their lifetime ACC records.
Dan McDonnell (L’Ville) 88-31 (.739) 11th season
Mike Martin (FSU) 489-224 (.686) 40th season
Bryan O’Connor (UVa) 274-163-1 (.627) 15th season
Jim Morris (Miami) 389-235-2 (.623) 25th season with Miami*
Mike Fox (UN*) 342-214 (.615) 20th season
Monte Lee (Clemson) 55-35 (.611) 3rd season
Danny Hall (Ga Tech) 380-265-1 (.589) 24th season
Elliott Avent (NC State)313-288 (.521) 22nd season
Chris Pollard (Duke) 79-98 (.446) 7th season
Tom Walter (WFU) 117-152 (.435) 9th season
Mik Aoki (ND) 107-158 (.404) 4th season with ND*
John Szefc (Va Tech) 34-55 (.382) 1st season at Va Tech*
Joe Jordano (Pitt) 50-98 (.338) 21st season^
Mike Gambino (BC) 72-161 (.309) 8th season
*-ACC record with another team; conference record/Win % includes both coaching stints in league play.
^-Jordano resigned as Pitt baseball coach on June 22, 2018.
Analysis — I’ve organized this list according to win-loss percentage. I know this skews the numbers toward coaches with fewer seasons, but I am viewing the numbers through that lens to highlights coaches who have done well despite their longevity or tenure. Also, you’ll note that I left off Syracuse … they have no baseball team. Probably so that Boeheim won’t have to dine at Denny’s when he’s on the road. Avent in 22 seasons falls right in the middle of the pack among ACC coaches in terms of winning percentage in his tenure at NC State. You can argue that the league is a tough one, and it is. You can argue that the numbers are slanted toward coaches with a shorter tenure, and it does, but in 22 years, Avent is in the middle. Ray Tanner was 119-87 (.578) in nine years at the helm, and his predecessor Sam Esposito was 183-121 (.602) in conference during his 21 years. I know the apples/oranges exceptions are coming to mind; however, 22 years in, and Avent is below the performance in this crucial indicator from his predecessors. Feel free to give me your thoughts on Avent’s record overall if you would like. In this criterion, Avent’s tenure has sufficiently shown the fans that he is an average coach.
2) Team Superlatives [Conference Championships, NCAA Tournament Appearances, CWS Appearances, etc]
A. Conference Championships — Elliott Avent has yet to win a conference regular season title or a conference tournament title in 22 years as head coach. To add insult to this particular injury, Elliott Avent has not even finished 1st in his own division since divisional play began in 2006. In my opinion this is the most damning evidence of the need for a change at this particular helm. Since 1997 (Avent’s first season as coach in Raleigh), UN* (2), UVa (2), Ga Tech (5), Wake Forest (3), Florida State (6), Clemson (2), Miami have all won conference tournament titles. In the ‘More salt, please, I have a massive wound here’ category, Avent has matched up in the conference tournament finals five times … and five times his teams lost (’01 to WF, ’03 to Ga Tech!, ’06 to Clemson, ’10 and ’15 to FSU). There are other instances where a win would have put State into the finals, but … do I really need to travel down this miserable road any further?
Analysis — 0-5 in the tournament finals.
! — indicates the ACC Tournament that almost ruined my wedding and also indicates the Tom O’Brien/Herb Sendek Come-From Ahead To Lose Award recipient, where Ga Tech needed three wins in two days to win the title. NC State needed but one win against Ga Tech in two tries. Double fail!
As for regular season finishes, Avent has managed to finish 2nd in the conference/division five times in his 22 years. Not a bad accomplishment, but a feather in the cap, this ain’t. During the same span, Mike Fox (UN*) has finished first in division/conference seven times, Jim Morris four times at Miami (not counting the two 1st place finishes prior to 1997 at Ga Tech), Mike Martin at FSU finished first nine times, O’Connor at UVa has finished 1st twice (with nine 2nd place divisional finishes), Dan McDonnell at Louisville has finished 1st in the Atlantic Division (State’s division) 3 consecutive years before 2018, Monte Lee at Clemson finished his 3rd season at the helm with a 1st place divisional placement (thanks to a 5-7 ACC record for NC State down the stretch this season). Aoki (ND), Pollard (Duke), Walter (WF) and Szefc (while at MD) all have at least one 2nd place divisional finish.
Analysis — “I’m virtually bursting with adequatulence!” (Phil Hartman as Bill McNeill from “Newsradio”)
B. NCAA Appearances/Super Regional Appearances
Avent has made the NCAA Tournament field 18 of his 22 seasons. Not bad. But not great. Of those 18 appearances, four times NC State broke through and went to the Super Regional Round of 16. Only one of those appearances did Avent make it through to Omaha to the CWS. As with other coaches who have the albatross of ‘mediocre’ around their necks, I have to give Avent credit here. This is a crowning achievement for any coach. And several coaches still have jobs who have not reached a super regional or the CWS. In the most positive light possible, this is Avent’s crown jewel, the post-season. What tarnishes this particular jewel is the way those losses tended to add to a certain fan’s displeasure. 2003 was a prime example, as State headed to Coral Gables to face a tough Miami team, and built a solid lead in game 1 only to lose by a run 10-9 and then give up 6 runs in the top of the 11th in game 2 to lose. 2003 was a banner year for NC State baseball (all sarcasm intended).
Analysis — Ceilings aren’t really made of glass — Dead Philosopher
We made it once in 2013. Only to end up facing UN* twice, and losing the last one 8-1 when none of our hitters could turn on Hobbs Johnson’s fastball which he threw every pitch. The UCLA loss was also troubling as UCLA was up by a run with Trea Turner at the plate and the bases full. Turner got a fastball, and mauled it into left field but the ball didn’t even make the warning track as that was the first season of the new Rosenblatt Stadium and a deeper fence and different direction of play accounted for the fewest home runs that year in Omaha since 40-ounce wood was the standard bat. Although much better than a Sweet 16 appearance, the fact of losing to UN* the second time was more bitter than lemon-soaked baking chocolate. Still not over that one.
As for his conference peers, Fox, Martin, Hall, Morris, O’Connor, McDonnell have all made multiple CWS appearances. Coastal Carolina’s lone appearance and lone NCAA championship began at the hands of Avent. CCU beat NC State in the Raleigh regional in 2016 after rain interrupted what should have been the last inning of the deciding game. If there is one instance where I say luck played a part, it’s this one. TCU in 2015 was NOT the result of bad luck. And so the universe (and Avent’s overall record) remains somewhat in balance.
Analysis — One CWS is a great accomplishment. And considering that this university’s team has only made that journey twice in 115 years of baseball … that is something to be proud of.
- 3) Stellar Players/MLB standouts
I have to admit this criterion also has limits and mitigating factors. NC State does not have a stellar list of MLB players in its history, so this can be seen as a way to nullify some of the missed opportunities for Avent. However, I choose to look at how the team performed with the players on the roster and their overall yearly performance. This may take some time but I’ll use a few examples to shorten this diatribe. Carlos Rodon and Trea Turner are the stand-alone MLB-caliber players from Avent’s tenure as head coach. Several players had stints in the minors (Eric Surkamp, Colt Morton, etc). Joey Devine had a spectacular entry to the Major Leagues (gave up a grand slam in his MLB debut for the Braves), but had some decent success with the A’s as a reliever. Outside of Devine, Turner and Rodon, Avent’s players have been minor leaguers. No offense toward them, because I loved them all as members of the Wolfpack. Few of them have been standout major leaguers. Avent has had the Conference Pitcher of the Year twice (Rodon ’13 and Brown ’18) but has never had the Player of the Year. 2018 also marks the second time one of Avent’s Freshman has won Conference Freshman of the Year, and that was Patrick Bailey (Rodon won in ’12). Given that Avent has had 35 first team All-ACC players, and 31 2nd-team All-ACC players, I don’t believe lack of talent is a credible excuse for 22 years worth of finishing 2nd or lower.
Analysis — Too Early to Call. Perhaps one or two of the recent players (Deatherage comes to mind) will become standouts in the big leagues. For 22 years, a few MLB journeymen doesn’t attest to Avent’s ability to either bring in top-caliber talent or to develop talent. I don’t want this thread to become focused on recruiting, but I know that recruiting is a part of the job of college coach.
— Elliott Avent has had ample time and ample talent (and five direct chances) to win one championship. He hasn’t done it. I doubt it will happen next year, but call me a pessimist. The outside factors (facilities, AD in the twilight) are obviously at play here moreover to determine whether a change is made. I doubt that change is made for the 2019 season, but I’m hoping I can take my four boys to Doak/Dail one day in the future and see the promise of a new coach.06/26/2018 at 7:03 AM #133854
Is this where I am supposed to point out that the guy that Avent replaced has won two CWS since leaving NCSU? And that guy was a State alumni (Ray Tanner).06/26/2018 at 3:38 PM #133856
Hard to argue with those facts – mediocre about sums it up. At some point, no matter how much a coach loves his school, it is about your record. New coach in 2020 please.06/26/2018 at 6:18 PM #133857
Looking into the details of his record and postseason performance, other than the early 2000’s, Avent has been extremely consistent over the years.
So the real question is “what’s the minimum?” And remember that if the minimum wasn’t good enough, then it wouldn’t be the minimum, would it?
Personally, I think he has met the minimum from my standpoint. However, my question as the AD would be the same as it was to Tom O’Brien. If we both agree our goal is something more than what we’ve achieved (e.g. ACC Championship), what are we going to do differently to achieve that result? We know what they say about doing the same things and expecting different results.06/26/2018 at 6:42 PM #133859
Sacco, that’s a very fair assessment.06/29/2018 at 7:23 AM #133861
Great assembly of the results. Honestly probably the best I have seen.
Would you be willing to do a similar analysis on the input$ the program has? Only by judging inputs vs outputs would one really be able to make an informed decision.
My stinking suspicion is that while Avent is the baseball version of HWSNBN with respect to the outputs, he is probably doing it with bottom of the conference inputs. Unlike HWSNBN, who was regularly squandering a king’s ransom, I suspect Avent is probably punching above the program’s weight. Make no mistake. I was adamant that HWSNBN needed to go, and still don’t regret that despite the years of wandering in the desert with Lowe and Gott. I am just not quite as convinced on Avent.
I doubt Avent is ever going to break through and win anything substantial. I just wonder if our program is really set up to do so. Tanner is the perfect example of a guy that wasn’t great by this analysis, but then went to a place with big time input$ And was able to break through. Did Tanner suddenly become better overnight, or was he unable to reach his full potential here? I think that is the question AD Yow has to ask….06/29/2018 at 2:24 PM #133862
Seems to me that Wolfpack officials are satisfied if not downright happy each season with football, basketball and baseball going .500 in the ACC, or somewhere near that. Just serve up enough cupcakes to cover the sub-.500 seasons.
The bar of ACC sports success at NCSU for the above 3 sports has become a Limbo bar.06/30/2018 at 3:28 PM #133865
13OT: I agree with you regarding football and baseball and maybe women’s basketball. I do not agree about men’s basketball. There are some expectations there, maybe not ones that reflect the top 20 input$ in nearly every metric, but there are some minimal expectations.
I have always thought the best way to change those expectations would be for men’s basketball to get back to performing like the input$ suggest it should. Do that and our fan base will get another taste of winning (in something meaningful) and expectations (and input$) will go up for football.
Baseball is going to be what it is. Run a clean program and make the post season, while doing it on the cheap is the model. It is what it is, and honestly is smart business. Oregon State winning another title is going to do very little for the university, and they invested heavily to get it. This is why I believe the yearly Avent debate over a 2 week period is nothing more than a blip on the radar for the administration.
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