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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

N.C. State fans must realize they're the ugly duckling

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While Duke and North Carolina battle for an ACC title, N.C. State fans debate their future.

Would Rick Barnes come back home?

What about Sean Miller?

Jamie Dixon?

These conversations will take place on various message boards and radio shows countless times over the next five weeks because the school is almost certainly headed for another coaching search considering Sidney Lowe is 2-7 in the ACC in the fifth year of a tenure that has never produced anything better than a ninth-place finish in the league. Next week or next month, barring an unimaginable turnaround, he'll be fired, at which point Rick Barnes, Sean Miller and Jamie Dixon will all stay put regardless of whether they're approached about what is the worst great-paying job in America.

Yes, N.C. State is the worst great-paying job in America (outside of President of the United States). The passion from the fan base combined with the location of the campus make it a difficult situation, which is why coaches who are accomplished, comfortable and already at a nationally relevant program would be foolish to seriously consider a move that requires them to settle in next door to Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams because it will inevitably lead to them being graded on the Duke and UNC curve.

N.C. State fans will dispute this, of course.

They'll tell you they merely want a good coach running a good program, that they're less interested in how they finish in relation to Duke (25 miles from the N.C. State campus) and North Carolina (30 miles from the N.C. State campus) than how they finish in relation to the rest of the ACC. One fan e-mailed over the weekend and told me he would merely like to be competitive with Duke and North Carolina, and that he would be happy to just annually finish in the top half of the league. But with all due respect, there's no real evidence such is the case.

Don't believe me, ask Herb Sendek.

Sendek coached the Wolfpack from 1996 to 2006 and finished in the top half of the ACC in each of his final five seasons, all of which resulted in NCAA tournament appearances. According to the "reasonable" Wolfpack fan who e-mailed, everything should've been hunky-dory. But everything wasn't. N.C. State fans were so tough on Sendek after five straight NCAA tournaments that he decided to walk away and escape a scenario where he would very clearly never win enough to please the majority, and what Sendek has done at Arizona State in the subsequent years is irrelevant. The point remains the same. N.C. State fans were unhappy and glad to see their coach go after five straight NCAA tournaments.

Why?

Because Duke and North Carolina were doing better.

Duke had made its ninth straight Sweet 16, UNC was one year removed from a national championship, and the Wolfpack just weren't measuring up to the two programs most closely associated with their program. But guess what? Almost no program in this era of college basketball is equipped to consistently measure up to Duke and North Carolina with Krzyzewski and Williams in charge. Kansas can probably do it with Bill Self -- as can Syracuse with Jim Boeheim, Kentucky with John Calipari and Michigan State with Tom Izzo (regardless of what this season might suggest). But outside of that (and perhaps a few others), constantly being compared to Duke and UNC is a losing proposition.

Even for Jamie Dixon.

Dixon is the dream candidate at N.C. State, I'm told, and for good reason. He's terrific and one of the nation's very best coaches, and if I were an athletic director I would want to hire him, too. That said, know this: Dixon isn't leaving Pittsburgh for N.C. State. It will never happen. But let's assume, for the sake of the column, that he would. What that would mean is that N.C. State managed to hire a guy who has over the past five seasons gone to five NCAA tournaments and finished third on average in the Big East without ever winning a Big East regular-season title or making a Final Four. Sendek, for those who don't remember, made five NCAA tournaments in his final five seasons at N.C. State and finished fourth on average in the ACC without ever winning an ACC regular-season title or making a Final Four, point being that the bottom line on Dixon's past five seasons at Pittsburgh isn't significantly different than the bottom line on Sendek's final five seasons at N.C. State.

Sidney Lowe is a goner. The search to replace him will be rather difficult. (AP)  
Sidney Lowe is a goner. The search to replace him will be rather difficult. (AP)  
Am I suggesting Sendek is as good as Dixon?

No.

Dixon has been better, is better and will be better going forward.

All I'm saying is that Dixon's past five seasons at Pittsburgh are a lot closer to Sendek's final five seasons at N.C. State than they are Krzyzewski's past five seasons at Duke (two ACC regular-season titles, a national championship) or Williams' past five seasons at North Carolina (three ACC regular-season titles, one national championship).

The blessing for Dixon, though, is that Pitt fans aren't consumed with Duke and North Carolina like N.C. State fans are consumed with Duke and North Carolina. So he's awesome and Sendek was a bum, and this is the incredible environment that has been created by a fan base whose school hasn't been to a Final Four since 1983. Duke has gone to 11 Final Fours and North Carolina has made nine since the Wolfpack last appeared in one. So N.C. State fans can talk about tradition, but next to Duke and North Carolina, they have none.

And yet the comparisons continue because all three schools sit in The Triangle.

Which is why I feel sorry for the next N.C. State coach the same way I feel sorry for Khloe Kardashian.

You know Khloe Kardashian, right?

She's one of the three famous Kardashian sisters, and she's probably hotter than your wife or girlfriend. That's the truth. But Khloe is constantly called ugly and fat because she's constantly on the same television as her sisters (Kim and Kourtney), and compared to them she is ugly and fat. Compared to most, she's perfectly reasonable. But when compared to her sisters, she can't possibly measure up. So Saturday Night Live clowns her and the tabloids kill her, all because she can't compete with her much hotter siblings.

That's why it must be difficult to be Khloe Kardashian.

It's also why the N.C. State job is the worst great-paying job in America.

Duke and North Carolina are Kim and Kourtney. N.C. State is Khloe. The Wolfpack can compete with most other basketball programs just like Khloe can compete with most other 26-year-old women, but the Wolfpack can't consistently compete with Duke and North Carolina in this era any more than Khloe can beat Kim and Kourtney in a bathing suit competition.

Still, a very passionate and vocal segment of the N.C. State fan base refuses to acknowledge this reality, which is why the school will have a helluva time hiring Lowe's replacement. No coach who is accomplished, comfortable and already at a nationally relevant program has any interest in walking into that world. When I explained this on a radio show in Raleigh earlier this week, the host asked if Xavier's Chris Mack would do it for $3.5 million per year.

Now I think the world of Chris Mack.

He would be a fantastic hire for N.C State athletic director Debbie Yow.

But if she has to pay $3.5 million to get a second-year coach from Xavier, I think my point is proved.

Like I said, the worst great-paying job in America is in Raleigh.

Apply for it at your own risk.


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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