Q&A With Lee Fowler

<I>Pack Pride</I> got the opportunity to sit down with NC State athletics director Lee Fowler and discuss a number of issues surrounding Wolfpack sports.

Pack Pride got the opportunity to sit down with NC State athletics director Lee Fowler and discuss a number of issues surrounding Wolfpack sports.

We've provided five of the questions below, and check the April 2005 issue of Pack Pride for the full interview.

An academic progress report for the 2003-04 year just came out. The difficulties of using a one-year snapshot and the issue of transfers aside, what was your initial reaction to the findings?
Well, we didn't know what anybody else's results were, so we were a little shocked we were last in the league. We're not really sure that everybody in the country understood exactly how to turn all of the answers in. The more process we go through, we're finding out that we think some people didn't do it right and so their scores might be a little higher than they're supposed to be. We've been working on it for a year with Jack Evans and the ACC; I think the ACC schools are on top of their game because Jack meets with everybody and talks about. He was one of the guys in the process of doing it. So that's kind of shocked us a little bit, because we feel pretty comfortable with our numbers, that they're right, number one. And the other thing is, a snapshot of one year, really, you can have a bad year and then have five good years. We've already looked at one more semester, added those in, and everybody is on the uptick with that. So I think that there's no question that it brought a lot of people to attention, and we're going to work and talk and tweak and make sure that we're doing it the right way and make sure that we have a lot better numbers than that in the future.

But I think in most cases we've looked at, it wasn't anything we're doing wrong … We've had a lot of transfers and kids that quit school and didn't finish their semesters out, and when you get two points off, with small numbers, it hurts your team. I think that we're doing things the right way; unfortunately, we got caught in a downtick and we think next year they'll be back up. The chancellor was a provost before, he's aware of all this -- has been for a year or a year and half. Until this week, we didn't know what anybody else's scores were, so we were just dealing with our own and didn't know what the cut score was. In January, we were a little above that, so it was hard to really tell where you stood.

Now, compared to other conferences, we were pretty good. I saw the Pac-10 numbers and we would have been fourth in that league. I haven't seen the SEC or the Big 12, but I know they have a lot of teams that would have had scholarships pulled. So nationwide we may not be that bad, but we also compete on a day-to-day basis in this market against the ACC, and we all know that ACC schools are the top schools in the country as far as academics are concerned. So we've got to just make sure we're doing everything we possibly can do to do as well as we can do.

One of the burning questions surrounding the football complex is when will construction of the north end zone commence?
We're looking at getting the drawings and moving forward on the north end zone. We're probably a month away from making a decision whether we do it after this year or the following year. We know we're going to do it or feel pretty comfortable we're going to do the north end zone, and we're really on a tight schedule right now. We have to decide within a month to get the architect finishing making the drawings. And that'll all be decided in the next month.

How difficult has it been to adjust to the reality of rising and lengthening of football assistant salaries and contracts? Increasingly, assistants are on the move in college football.
I think, basically, most of that is at the coordinator level, I think. Number one, head coaches get blamed for wins and losses, and now, because of all the offensive coordinator-defensive coordinator publicity that people are getting, they also get blamed. So I think you're going to keep seeing a lot of movement in those two positions, especially if you aren't winning at a high level, because people get blamed. Last year, [offensive coordinator Noel] Mazzone got a lot of heat from the fans and Internet squabble and this and that. So there's a guy who's been here for his second year and he knows that if he doesn't turn it around next year, he's gone, so if an opportunity comes along, he's going to move. So those kinds of things are going to happen if you're not successful and don't win; if you win, it's not hard to keep continuity.

We're trying to get the best we can get – the best in the business, really – and then make sure we're paying them at a high level that they're not going to be hired away for more money. And then also, keep it set up where if they stay past a certain point in the year, they get some sort of bonus if they stay. And we're giving them multi-year contracts.

So we're trying to compete in that marketplace of coordinators, which has changed a lot in the past 10 years. I don't think assistant coaches have changed, but coordinators have definitely changed. They're one step from being a head coach and have high-publicity jobs, and so that market has changed a bunch in the last five to 10 years.

The Walk of Champions was something instituted by coach Chuck Amato for the football program, and he has repeatedly mentioned how gratifying that is for he and his players to be greeted in that fashion prior to home games. Is there a way that that tradition can be publicized more to increase attendance? How can you go about doing that?
Well, I think it's pretty well publicized. I think it has to do with what time they do it, how early it is. Because he likes to get there real early, and so in some games, like a night game, that's great, because everybody shows up in the afternoon and sets up their grill. But in a noon game, people don't show up at 7:30 or 8:00. So it really had to do with timing.

We keep publicizing the heck out of it in everything we do, but I think it's like anything else -- if that's something that's really important to fans, there's definitely enough publicity for them to know about it. In certain games, they were there and it was wonderful, and then in early games, they weren't because people hadn't gotten out there yet. I think we just have to make sure the timing is right and then we may need to publicize it a little bit more, but I think that people are pretty much aware of it. There are a lot of people on that side of the stadium, number one, and if they're there parking, they're going to walk over there when the team comes. But we will keep publicizing it and trying to make people aware of it.

Coach Herb Sendek has been the target of a lot of criticism this year despite being the reigning ACC Coach of the Year and leading the Pack to a second-place finish in the league last year. Are you ever surprised at all about the level of vitriol that seems to be targeted at him, and how confident are you in the direction of the program?
I don't know if I'm ever surprised anymore in this business. But I think they're definitely people that want to win and want to win at the highest level, and they don't think Herb can do that. And they made their mind up he can't, so anytime there's a downtick or a negative, then we've got to get rid of him because he can't do it anyway. That's basically the attitude I get from most people. I've talked and said many times that I think it has a lot to do with the progress of his program. It's gotten better every year; he had one downtick four years ago, this year he's still got a chance to finish strong, he's had a lot of sickness and illness. I just think that if your idea as a fan is we should win the ACC and we should win a national championship and he hasn't done that, so we need to move to somebody that can do that, then he hasn't met what you think is what NC State should be about. Not to say that we aren't about that, and don't want to do that, and don't have goals to win the ACC. Going into this season, Herb felt like that he would definitely have a chance at the Sweet 16, Final Eight, get a couple of lucky breaks … It's worked out differently because of sickness and illness and those sorts of things.

I think that I just try to do what I think is the right thing and I love Herb Sendek to death. I've told this many times, he's the only coach I've ever seen, that given the opportunity to do something to help himself, he will always go the other direction. Always. Like sitting Hodge for the Wake Forest game; that would be a huge win to go down there. But he's not going to lower his standards to try to win a game … But I tell you one thing, as soon as you put your sneakers down one year and go through the summer, it doesn't matter if you've got the exact same team, that doesn't mean that chemistry is going to come back the next year.

I'll tell you right now, in this league and at this level of basketball, if you don't play well, you lose; if you play well, you've got a chance to win. You don't always win when you play well, but you've got to play well to win. You don't show up anymore and just beat people by having a mediocre performance, because everybody is ready to play and everybody has good athletes. So it's tough. I coached in leagues where you [could count on] four to six wins [over the lesser teams in the conference] ever year; every year you had four to six wins because they couldn't beat the best teams. It's not like that anymore. If you don't show up to play, you're going to get beat. And you may show up really ready to play, and you still might get beat because you don't shoot well or you don't make some free throws or whatever. It's a high level of competition now, higher than it's ever been, and it's different than it was in the years gone by.

But I think that Herb is a good man and he does it the right way and he knows how to coach, and the people that question that rather amaze me. But in some years you don't get the close wins and in some years you win them all. It doesn't mean he's any better or worse coach than he was in other situations. Sometimes free throws are made, sometimes they aren't. There's always things that [happen as you] go down the stretch and make good teams win. But yeah, I get a lot of questions.

For the remainder of the Q&A with Athletics Director Lee Fowler, check out the April 2005 issue of Pack Pride.

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