Lail: Herb's Last Stand?

If you're a basketball coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and unless your name is Mike Krzyzewski, Gary Williams, Skip Prosser or even Leonard Hamilton (for now), then be careful and watch your back.

The fact of the matter is, the other five coaches should keep one eye on the Greensboro Coliseum floor this week and another on the big-money boosters - you never know when the ax may drop.

Of the five coaches not called "K," "Gary," "Skip" or "Coach Ham," only one - Clemson's Larry Shyatt - entered the season with his job security squarely on the line. And when the Tigers' season ends, Shyatt, in all probability, may be the only ACC skipper to be out of work.

But in this season of unparalleled parity, we've seen Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt come under (unwarranted) fire from some Yellow Jacket fans, and some folks up in Charlottesville are counting the days until Pete Gillen's contract runs out. (For the record, that would be around 3,000 days.)

The other two coaches - NC State's Herb Sendek and UNC's Matt Doherty - entered the 2002-03 season with high hopes and high(er) expectations from many fans. And why not? The Tar Heels HAD to be better than last year's 8-20 campaign, right? (This just in: they were - without one of their most important players in Sean May.)

The Wolfpack, on the other hand, lost two senior leaders in Anthony Grundy and Archie Miller. That kind of experience is hard to replace, but with a nucleus of Julius Hodge, Marcus Melvin, Ilian Evtimov and Josh Powell, State appeared to be in great shape - such good shape that the media picked the Pack to finish third in the league.

Then Evtimov was lost to a torn ACL, and the Pack's paper-thin depth got even thinner. Nonetheless, the Pack went 9-7 in the regular season and finished fourth in the ACC - which just several years ago would've been a major accomplishment.

Nonetheless, Sendek, too, should be fearful of any post-season home visits by Marye Anne Fox. And to some Wolfpack supporters, that would be music to their ears.

To be honest, the jury is still out whether or not Sendek is the right man to lead NC State back to national prominence. I do know, however, he apparently isn't Italian, effervescent, or a part-time comedian - qualities that Pack fans love in a head coach.

In his defense, Sendek has:

  • had just one losing season in seven years at State;
  • led the Pack to the postseason in all six of those years; recruited players that stay out of trouble;
  • led his teams to an 8-1 record in the first round of conference tournaments;
  • led the Pack to the upper division of the ACC the past two seasons;
  • led 10 teams he has coached (including State and Miami of Ohio) to nine postseason berths; and more important
  • he'll have a whale of a team returning next year.

In a vacuum, devoid of emotion, those are pretty solid numbers that seem to suggest the man knows what he's doing. But in reality, there will always be those that don't think he's the man for the job.

On the other hand, it does make you twinge to see that five of the coaches in the Big 12 have ties to North Carolina, and four of them (excluding Kansas' Roy
Williams) would probably listen to overtures from NC State. Rick Barnes at No. 3 Texas (a Hickory native and childhood Wolfpack fan) and Kelvin Sampson at No. 6 Oklahoma (a native of Lumberton and a friend of NCSU women's coach Kay Yow) may be unattainable now, Missouri's Quin Snyder may be holding out for the Duke job when K retires, and Melvin Watkins at Texas A&M still has some growing to do.

Then again, Dereck Whittenburg just led tiny Wagner into "March Madness." It's a shame when Wagner will be in the "Big Dance" and NC State will be lucky to get in.

Maybe all the Herb detractors have a point after all.

ACC Tourney Predictions- One Man's Opinion
Thursday
Clemson 67, Florida State 62

Friday
Wake Forest 82, Clemson 61
NC State 65, Georgia Tech 63
Maryland 85, North Carolina 72
Duke 72, Virginia 69

Saturday
Wake Forest 68, NC State 60
Maryland 74, Duke 65

Sunday
Maryland 80, Wake Forest 73


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