Now that NC State has been eliminated from the NCAA Tournament by Texas, the discussion begins in earnest about his future. In my previous post I, the non-State fan observer, moved myself off the fence concerning Sendek’s future(as if anyone really cares what I think, especially as a UNC fan) squarely into the “it’s time for a change” camp. I think Sendek is a good coach and I think that he runs a good program. I also think that he has more plateaus than upward climbs and perhaps now is the time to build upon the foundation he has built with a new coach.
I still stand by that thought process though when NCSU beat California Friday night and I realized Sendek was 4-1 in the NCAA First Round, it did give me pause to think. After all consistently winning that first game says a lot and perhaps with the right personnel they could move even further in the tournament. The problem with thinking Sendek has hit a wall is there is no way to prove that other than let him keep coaching. There is however another aspect of this issue which may have Wolfpack nation looking for a new coach for all the wrong reasons. It is the “Jim Valvano Factor”
Jim Valvano was the NC State head coach from 1980-1989. During his tenure NC State won the 1983 ACC and National Championships, as well as the ACC title in 1987. His record was 209-114 during that time. Here is how NC State finished during the season during the Valvano era.
1980: Lost in NCAA Second Round as a #4 seed to #5 Iowa
1981: No NCAA Tournament
1982: Lost in NCAA First Round as a #7 seed to #10 UT Chattanooga
1983: Won National Championship as a #6 seed
1984: No NCAA Tournament
1985: Lost in Elite 8 as a #3 seed to #1 St. John’s
1986: Lost in Elite 8 as a #6 seed to #1 Kansas
1987: Lost in First Round as a #11 seed to #6 Florida
1988: Lost in First Round as a #3 seed to #14 Murray State
1989: Lost in the Sweet 16 as a #5 seed to #1 Georgetown
It should be noted that the 1990 team was on probation and could not go to the NCAA Tournament because of Valvano’s mishandling of the program. Now, make no mistake Valvano had success at NC State. NC State won a miracle title in 1983. NC State also got into a couple of Elite Eight’s in the mid-eighties. The ACC title in 1987 came after a 6-8 ACC season and was the only way they got into the NCAA Tournament. 1988 brought an upset loss to Murray St and in 1989 the Sweet Sixteen run came after they dropped the first round of the ACC tournament to Maryland who was the #8 seed. In essence, Valvano brought a roller coaster of wins and losses to Wolfpack nation. The 1983 title team had 10 losses, by no means a powerhouse. NC State had an average NCAA seeding of 5.6 under Valvano being a #3 seed twice and being as low as a #11 seed. Valvano’s win-loss record over the span of his tenure was only slightly better than Sendek’s now. Aside from the up and down nature of the program, NC State had players which barely qualified to be in school, developed a reputation of being a school which did not graduate players, and was eventually banned from the NCAA Tournament in 1990 following numerous NCAA violations under Valvano which forced his resignation.
So the question I have is where were the lynch mobs asking for Valvano to be fired over the state of the program circa 1988? I understand that winning a title and then making two Elite Eights can have a pacifying effect on the fan base, but honestly speaking which program was better off by the end of its ninth year: Valvano’s heading into NCAA probation with a tattered reputation or Sendek’s with five straight tournament appearances and a clean program that graduates players to boot. There is only one thing that explains Valvano’s immunity from fans versus Sendek’s vulnerabilty and that has to do with personality. Valvano put on a show whenever he was in front of the cameras. He was loved by the fans and his passion for the game was infectious. So regardless of how badly NC State performed or regardless of their failure to win games, Valvanno’s personality and showmanship deflected any fan rumblings. NC State’s record against Duke and UNC was not much better than it is now but fans never asked for a coaching change because Valvano was so lovable and had won a national title.
Unfortunately for Sendek he has not developed a cult of personality. 850 the Buzz’s Adam Gold called him the “anti-Valvano” and so regardless of the fact that his on court performance is nearly the same and his off court handling of the programs is vastly improved Sendek gets ripped by the fans for not being Jim Valvano. This is the core of what is happening in Raleigh and everyone knows that if Sendek could woo the masses the way Valvano did, no one would be talking about firing him. It is my opinion that Sendek may be at a wall and a new coach may be needed to move the program along. If that is the case, so be it, but NC State fans also need to realize that Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewsk have never had winning personalities, just incredible winning ways. Of course some say current UNC coach Roy Williams meshes those two aspects perfectly.
If NC State fans want to get rid of Herb Sendek because they feel he has a hit a limit on how high he can take the program then that is fine. But please do not express a desire to get rid of him because he is not living up the the legend of Jim Valvano. Valvano showed a lot of courage in his fight with cancer and his legacy in that arena is great. His legacy as a head basketball coach at NC State is one of NCAA violations and wild inconsistency. NC State fans really do not want to go back there again do they?