Curle: Myths and Perception

This past weekend saw the Herb Sendek era come to an abrupt but likely conclusion, an exit to another program on his terms, the Arizona State Sun Devils.

He wasn't fired, nor asked to resign, but when the opportunity presented itself, Sendek took it.

The subsequent wave of chatter from the media regarding his resignation and relocation to ASU is frankly a mixed bag of opinions and speculations about not only the reason why Sendek left, but also the pulse of State basketball and its fanbase. Sendek, as of Monday morning, had not released a statement as to his motivations for leaving. The terms of the contract he was offered from ASU seem to be clearly a step up from his previous salary and compensation from N.C. State, but the exact amount is a bit fuzzy depending on who you talk to.

Most disheartening, though, is the perception of the State basketball program from not only outsiders in the media, but boosters supporting the program, as well.

What follows is my attempt to dispel some of the myths and trends I've noticed in the stories that have appeared in recent days. It is based strictly on my own knowledge of the events that have transpired, which is no more rooted in fact than 99% of what's been written so far. But it's also based on my perception of the program and its fans from another fan's perspective—my own—and I believe that qualifies me to make a more informed judgment on how our fanbase felt about Sendek and how perspective coaches should view the vacant coaching position here.

Myth One: State fans ran Sendek out of town on a rail.

Unfortunately, this argument from the media carries the most tangible weight behind it. Scores upon scores of examples of irate State fans writing on message boards, on blogs, calling talk radio programs or even State's own call-in show to voice their displeasure with Sendek and his style of basketball are well documented. Most of the chatter began five years ago, following his only losing season, and persisted despite five trips to the NCAA tournament.

But the perception the media seems to be portraying is that Sendek was eager to find an escape route out of Raleigh because of it. On the contrary, Sendek took a substantial pay increase to leave for Arizona State. Most figures put the pay raise in the neighborhood of $400-$500 thousand per year, or close to a 50% increase in salary over N.C. State's reported salary of $800-$900K per year.

I believe that most folks, especially those with a young family, would make no hesitation to leap at the opportunity to take a 50% pay increase, no matter what their line of work. I further believe that had Arizona State tried to lure Sendek away by offering his current salary or a nominal increase over it, Sendek would've stayed in Raleigh.

The reason is that Sendek, better than any coach I've ever seen, handled the criticism he faced with perfect aplomb. He never waivered in the face of it or cracked under the pressure of it to the media or to his fanbase. While most coaches will tell you they don't care what fans say, Sendek is the only man I've seen that came close to meaning it.

It takes a lot to convince a man that he should uproot his family. While the criticism he faced likely made the decision easier, the opportunity to start anew with a nice lucrative contract was, in my mind, the ultimate deciding factor.

Myth Two: The treatment Sendek received from State fans will prevent State from hiring a top-flight coach.

This particular myth seems to be the one not only the media but most of Sendek's supporters within the Wolfpack family cling to like a life raft. To me, though, it reeks of sour grapes.

One of State's biggest monetary supporters, Curtis Dail, was quoted in the News and Observer on Monday as saying, "If I was working for someone who didn't want me, I'd leave too.[sic] But I think all of that stuff that's been in the papers and everything would make it hard to get a good coach. I mean, why would a coach want to come in and jump into this mess?"

With all due respect, Mr. Dail, but you're not an elite college basketball coach, and you clearly have no idea as to the psychology of one. There's something about the way an elite coach is wired in which they view a situation like State's like the supreme challenge of a lifetime, not "a mess." Call it ego, call it bravado, call it what you will. But it's what makes these coaches tick—the ability to not only stand up to a challenge, but to seek it out.

The proximity to Duke and Carolina and the high expectations State fans have for competing with our neighbors to the west may scare off lesser coaches, but not the best of the best. Sendek was a solid recruiter and left State with a great amount of talent to build upon, including Courtney Fells, Brandon Costner, Cedric Simmons and Gavin Grant. That kind of talent, along with the tradition of the program, affiliation with the ACC and a fanbase that's not afraid to hold their coaches to a high standard, is not a mess by any stretch of the imagination. To many top coaches, it represents a coaching job the best of the best will take good long look at.

Myth Three: If State does not make the tournament in the next year, State fans will once again be angry with their new coach/administration.

State fans are passionate, but we aren't stupid. We're some of the most knowledgeable basketball fans I've ever met, quite frankly, with a keen eye for good basketball and a strong knowledge of our history and tradition.

We know that there will be a transition period. This means that for an overwhelming majority of State fans, the next coach will most likely have a grace period of at least two years to bring in his own recruits, should he not be able to produce with the players already on campus. If after two years State still hasn't reached the NCAA tournament, I would expect there to be some grumblings from the fanbase, especially those who felt like Sendek's departure was a mistake.

But the "Fire The New Guy" threads will not appear in year three. If after three years State has not reached the level Sendek left the program, I think most folks—State fans and non alike—would agree that The New Guy would need to strongly improve his performance or start considering himself firmly on the hot seat. Again, a top-flight coach understands this, and it is not a deterrent but motivation.

Contrast that with the UNC coaching situation a few years back, in which Matt Doherty was truly run out on a rail by his own fans AND administration after just three short years, and N.C. State fans seem like a very patient bunch by comparison.

So keep the faith, State fans. The State vacancy comes at a time when a lot of solid coaches will be looking to move up in the world, or even make a lateral move from a top program to be a part of the ACC and Tobacco Road. This bodes well for the coaching search, and all of the naysayers outside and within the program who feel State would be fortunate to land a top coach will be surprised, I believe, when the next coach at N.C. State is announced.

Just one man's opinion on the matter—take it for what it's worth.

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