Fourth choice? Fifth? No matter, Gottfried has N.C. State in Sweet 16

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Mark Gottfried may have been fourth or fifth, maybe even further down the line on the list of candidates that Debbie Yow had targeted to replace Sidney Lowe at N.C. State.

"I didn't care," Gottfried said Sunday afternoon, only moments after his Wolfpack advanced to the Sweet 16 following a 66-63 win over Georgetown. "I wasn't in a position to have any ego at that point."

Now it's irrelevant, anyway.

N.C. State fans became upset when media members, myself included, sputtered off the names that had spurned this once-storied program: Shaka Smart, Chris Mack, Mark Turgeon, Josh Pastner. The list goes on. Yow was mocked before she eventually plucked Gottfried from ESPN -- and drew no shortage of criticism. Gottfried had been fired by Alabama two years prior.

"When she called, I was ecstatic," Gottfried said. "I thought about it -- for about a minute."

Yow's familiarity with Gottfried began way back. She was a women's basketball coach at Oral Roberts in 1983 and Gottfried, on the men's team, was dating one of the players on her team. But Gottfried's reputation in the industry had taken a hit. Sure, he had the seven NCAA tournament appearances on his resume -- five in 11 years with the Crimson Tide and a pair while with Murray State. But here he was doing lower-level ESPN games and many in the industry questioned whether Gottfried would ever get another opportunity to roam the sidelines again.

"I had no idea who he was," N.C. State guard Scott Wood admitted. "I didn't even know he worked for ESPN. We don't have ESPNU."

Gottfried inherited an N.C. State program with its share of talent, which was pulled together by Sidney Lowe and the previous staff. However, Lowe brought the NBA mentality to the college game -- and that usually translates into a work ethic, or lack thereof, and communication with players that just doesn't quite mesh at this level. Gottfried was the anti-Lowe, quickly bonding with his players and also making waves on the recruiting trail.

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N.C. State fans, passionate and often unrealistic, quickly backed their new coach. He brought charisma not seen in Raleigh for a while -- and wasted little time making headway with recruits. Gottfried and his staff landed a trio of eventual McDonald's All-Americans guards: wings Rodney Purvis and T.J. Warren as well as point guard Tyler Lewis.

The future was bright.

However, Sunday's win against third-seeded Georgetown proved that this program doesn't have to wait until the arrival of its heralded Class of 2012 to return to national relevance. N.C. State earned its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2005.

"It's been a nice ride," Gottfried said.

Lowe left Gottfried with athletic big men C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell, a versatile guard in Lorenzo Brown, a shooter in Wood, and a solid senior in C.J. Williams. There also was onetime Florida signee Deshawn Painter. However, depth was a major issue -- especially at point guard spot Ryan Harrow transferred to Kentucky shortly after the coaching change. It was so bad that the staff brought in Alex Johnson, a one-year transfer who could play immediately from Cal State Bakersfield.

The Wolfpack were inconsistent much of the year and it looked as though the NIT was their eventual destination following a four-game skid in February. However, a win against Virginia in the ACC tournament was enough for Gottfried and his new group to squeak into the NCAA tournament as a No. 11 seed.

"We were the last team picked," Wood said. "I definitely had to wash my drawers when I got home."

This is a program rich in history, but few recruits are aware that the 1974 N.C. State led by David Thompson and Tom Burleson was one of the best in college basketball history. They see the speech by the late Jim Valvano, but don't know that the 1983 team also won the national title.

"It's nice to have tradition, but we also want to build something for ourselves," Gottfried said.

N.C. State is tired of being the red-headed stepchild of those two programs down the road: Duke and North Carolina. They wanted someone who would go toe-to-toe with Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams, someone who wouldn't be intimidated, yet be respectful. Someone who could do more than just get this team into the NCAA tourney, but actually make some noise on the dance floor.

That just may be Gottfried.

"You ready for another week on the road?" Gottfried said to Yow with a big smile in the back hallway of Nationwide Arena in Columbus after the victory.

Yow took her share of hits, maybe not in Raleigh, but just about everywhere else -- after the perception she struck out and had to settle for Gottfried last April.

"It's turned out to be a good fit for N.C. State," Yow said. "Right time, right place."

Yow points to her track record of hiring coaches. While at Saint Louis, she tabbed men's basketball coach Charlie Spoonhour. When she was at Maryland, she hired football coach Ralph Friedgen and women's basketball coach Brenda Frease. Her latest decision was Gottfried.

"Very few coaches could mold a team together as well as he has," Yow said. "I probably shouldn't say that, though. Now I'll have his agent calling me to renegotiate."

That's far better than the alternative.

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