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N.C. State basketball finally has chance to be great again


The easiest thing today would be to make fun of North Carolina State basketball. After five consecutive seasons without an NCAA tournament appearance, all under Sidney Lowe, the school is likely to hire another coach. The easiest thing to do, now, would be to make fun of N.C. State. It has been done before by the media. It has been done by me. It's easy.

But on second thought, an even easier thing today would be to ignore N.C. State. Just let the Wolfpack do what they're going to do with Lowe, without Lowe, whatever. Just pretend they don't exist. Because in a way, today, they don't. Not with Duke and North Carolina both located 30 minutes away and competing for an ACC title and the No. 1 NCAA tournament seed that could come with it.

The right coach could restore the roar in Raleigh, putting teeth back into the N.C. State program. (Getty Images)  
The right coach could restore the roar in Raleigh, putting teeth back into the N.C. State program. (Getty Images)  
I'm going to do neither. Not going to ridicule the Wolfpack, and damn sure not going to ignore them.

Instead, I'm going to do something that seems appropriate at this precise moment in time. I'm going to warn the rest of the ACC. Warn the rest of the country. Warn all of you to watch out for the N.C. State men's basketball program, because that program is a sleeping giant.

And the alarm clock is about to go off.

There's a new administration in town, a new chancellor and a new athletic director, the importance of which cannot be understated. The chancellor is Randy Woodson, who was at LSU in the 1980s when LSU was going to the NCAA tournament every year, and who joined N.C. State last year from Purdue, which is enjoying a basketball renaissance under Matt Painter. Randy Woodson gets college basketball -- the importance of it, the ability to use it in marketing and fund-raising -- and he has an athletic director who gets it even more.

At the same time Woodson was replacing a chancellor who had resigned in disgrace, Debbie Yow was replacing Lee Fowler, the guy who thought it made sense to hire Lowe. At Maryland from 1994-2010, Yow turned the money-leaking athletic department into a winner, the school's 20 national championships including men's basketball in 2002. Yow's sister, the late Kay Yow, is a Naismith Hall of Fame coach who led the United States to gold at the 1988 Olympics and posted 680 of her 737 career victories at N.C. State.

You think Randy Woodson and Debbie Yow -- Debbie Yow -- are going to hire another Sidney Lowe? Please.

This is a new regime, I tell you. And this is a sleeping giant of a job. But that goes both ways, because the wrong coach in this job is a crusher. Sidney Lowe proved that. So did Les Robinson. Put the wrong coach at N.C. State, competing with Mike Krzyzewski at Duke and Dean Smith (now Roy Williams) at North Carolina, the Wolfpack are screwed. It's a tipping-point kind of job. An overmatched coach will be punished cruelly, as was Lowe with his 25-55 record in ACC play. But a worthy coach can win, and win big. The school has two national championships, you know, and only six schools have won more: UCLA, Kentucky, Duke, Indiana, North Carolina and Kansas.

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Was Herb Sendek the right coach? We don't know, and we'll never find out. He was right enough to have this statistic going for him: In the past 20 years, the Wolfpack have gone to just six NCAA tournaments -- and Sendek had five. Les Robinson went to one from 1990-96. Lowe went to none from 2006-11. In between there? Sendek started slowly but was riding a five-year NCAA streak when he finally got fed up with the unrealistic N.C. State fan base, which wanted a bigger miracle than the one Sendek already had delivered by taking what had devolved into a regional joke -- remember the Les Robinson Play-In Game? -- and turning it into a program to be feared nationally.

Out went Sendek to Arizona State, in came Sidney Lowe from whatever NBA city he had been working in obscurity, and here we are, five years later. N.C. State is a regional joke again. Earlier this year two of my colleagues -- Gary Parrish at CBSSports.com and Seth Davis on CBS -- went after the Wolfpack pretty good. Parrish compared N.C. State to Khloe Kardashian, the least attractive of the Kardashian sisters. Duke and UNC were Kim and Kourtney.

About 10 years ago, when I was writing about N.C. State for the Charlotte Observer, the paper in Raleigh compared N.C. State to Jan Brady -- the middle Brady sister. UNC was Marcia, the hot older sister. Duke was Cindy, the fresh, cute face. N.C. State? The middle child.

Painful stuff, but accurate. Wedged in an unforgiving spot on Tobacco Road, N.C. State is one of the toughest coaching jobs in basketball. But like I said earlier, this is a tipping-point job. The ideal coach can win big here, and by big, I mean bigger than Herb Sendek won. Maybe as big as Sendek was going to win, had he stayed. We'll never know, but I know this: The right coach can get to the Final Four at N.C. State.

The new chancellor at N.C. State knows the value of a winning men's basketball team, and the new athletic director knows the business enough to get the right coach. Two of her biggest hires were soon named national coach of the year (St. Louis men's basketball coach Charlie Spoonhour in 1994; Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen in 2001), and another won a national title (Maryland women's basketball coach Brenda Frese in 2006).

So who will Yow get next? I'm not about to name names here, speculate on possible candidates, because Debbie Yow is not Lee Fowler, which means the media might not have a clue who N.C. State is targeting until it's a done deal. It might not be possible in today's media, but that'll be her goal.

Lee Fowler back in 2006? His goal was to get as much attention as possible for Lee Fowler. But it backfired on him when he was turned down publicly by A-list coaches like Rick Barnes, John Calipari and John Beilein. Fowler began floating B-list names in the media, even a ridiculous name like Phil Ford, to see who his constituency liked. Lee Fowler was weak. He allowed Sendek to be run out of town, and then he allowed himself to be fooled into hiring Sidney Lowe. Me, I sat back with my popcorn and watched the show.

Debbie Yow won't be nearly as much fun. She'll target a star, and I bet she gets one, but her goal will be for people like me and you to never know who it is. Not until he's standing in front of an N.C. State banner, meeting the media and vowing to restore the Wolfpack to greatness.

And if he's the right guy, he just might do it.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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