Commentary: Wolfpack on the Edge

With the 2006 football season drawing to a close and with the hiring of Butch Davis at North Carolina presumably a done deal, the future employment of Chuck Amato as N.C. State's coach will surely become a hot topic with media and fans throughout the ACC.

Before a single game had been played, Amato entered the season on nearly every publication's proverbial "hot seat." Many named him, Miami's Larry Coker and UNC's John Bunting as three coaches in the ACC that could be out of a job come January.

Well, Bunting has "resigned" and Coker is counting down the days until his ultimate firing. That leaves Amato, whose job security is the only one still unknown.

When asked earlier this week if he's received any assurances by the administration that he'd return for his eighth year, Amato answered in a way that has become his own classic style.

He avoided answering the question in a roundabout way.

"I haven't received assurances that I'm not going to be back," he quipped. "I can tell you that right now."

The numbers, among many things, certainly warrant his firing.

The Wolfpack enter Saturday's noon game at Clemson with a 3-6 record overall and a 2-4 record in the ACC.

The team's bad loses are to Akron, ranked 88th in the Sagarin ratings, Virginia (79th) and Southern Miss (65th). It also struggled to beat I-AA Appalachian State (62). The Mountaineers are just one thousandth of a point behind N.C. State in the Sagarin ratings.

And had it not been for some questionable coaching on Boston College's part and a Hail Mary pass in the final seconds against the Eagles, the Wolfpack would already be unable to become bowl eligible.

But they did win that game and now N.C. State must win its final three games to play in the postseason. If it's accomplished, it will be the second straight season the Wolfpack have won just six regular season games. They will also get to play in another substandard bowl.

According to Amato, that would be the finishing touches of a "successful season."

"You don't go to a bowl unless you've had a successful season, period," he said. "It's a reward for everybody: the university, the fans, the players."

National and local media have mocked Amato for his antics and wardrobe on the sidelines, while also having a field day with the way he handles difficult questions directed toward him or his program.

Just recently, ESPN analyst Dr. Jerry Punch, an N.C. State graduate and good friend of Amato, asked him following a nice victory over Florida State if the win would quiet the critics?

After gazing into space for what seemed an eternity, Amato replied, "What critics?" He then abruptly ran off the field.

But maybe, just maybe, Amato shouldn't be blamed for the current status of the program. After all, Chuck is Chuck. With him, what you see is what you get, which is, at best, an average coach who, a lot of times, appears to have lost touch with reality.

Maybe the blame for the state of N.C. State football should fall squarely on the shoulders of athletics director Lee Fowler, who said in a report this week that Amato, who has three more years left on his contract, would be evaluated at the end of the year and that an extension on Amato's contract will be considered by the school's board of trustees in April.

Fowler also said that he had not spoken with chancellor James Oblinger about Amato's future or job performance.

That is a problem. If the administration has its head in the sand, why should they expect better of their employees. Monkey see, monkey do.

It is Fowler that has shown over the last few years that he has the intestinal fortitude and backbone of a jellyfish.

When former basketball coach Herb Sendek was going through the same thing during the last four or so years at the school, Fowler just stood in the corner, afraid to pull the trigger or make a powerful stand.

Sendek's situation is almost a mirror image to Amato's. Sendek, like Amato, had half the alumni supporting him, while the other half wanted him gone. Also, Amato, like Sendek, can't beat rival North Carolina.

Had Sendek not done Fowler and the university a favor by opting to leave for Arizona State, he'd still be there, just like Amato is.

The big difference with Amato is the odds of him letting Fowler off the hook and resigning are very slim. He's not going anywhere.

And, quite frankly, who can blame him? Why not stay at a place that dishes out a fat paycheck and has bosses that couldn't care much less about results? It's a dream come true.

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