N.C. State wrapup: Amato facing uncertain offseason
RALEIGH — As the final seconds ticked away in North Carolina State’s season, officials at Carter-Finley Stadium stopped play long enough to take down the goalposts — apparently concerned that the vocal East Carolina fans might storm the field.
It was a humbling way to close the year. And as the Wolfpack heads into a disappointing offseason, that scene illustrates why coach Chuck Amato’s future at his alma mater has become murky at best.
The Wolfpack (3-9) closed the season with seven straight losses, the program’s longest in-season losing streak since losing nine straight in 1959. Six of the seven losses were by eight or fewer points, while the seventh came against rival North Carolina — which hadn’t beaten a Division I-A opponent.
Through it all, penalties and undisciplined play plagued the Wolfpack in a season that seemed promising less than two months ago, further irritating a fan base already frustrated by the Wolfpack’s up-and-down ways under Amato. By the time the Pirates were celebrating a 21-16 win here, the questions about Amato’s future were taking off.
“I’ve never been through a season like this,” Amato said. “A lot of those kids in that locker room haven’t either.”
Amato has a 49-37 record and five bowl appearances in seven seasons, but his program has had two losing seasons in the three years since four-year starting quarterback Philip Rivers headed to the NFL. The Wolfpack hasn’t finished higher than fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference during his tenure.
That isn’t what Wolfpack fans had in mind when the school hired the former Florida State assistant in 2000. Amato arrived talking about contending for conference championships and more. Millions of dollars were eventually spent to upgrade Carter-Finley — including construction of the 103,254-square-foot Murphy Center to house the football offices and the four-story Vaughn Towers with press and luxury seating, as well as permanent seats that bowled in the last open end of the stadium.
“I don’t really have to say a whole lot to (the critics),” Amato said. “You look out there at that stadium and you can see what’s going on here since I’ve been here. And you know, one bad season doesn’t make the program. Programs are built … in time. And this was a big bump in the road.
“I think I had a lot to do with bringing the emotion and the enthusiasm and the belief to follow a dream that has never, ever been reached here. Ever. And nobody knows how long it will take for it to happen.”
Things looked like they were ready to move forward when first-time starting quarterback Daniel Evans led the Wolfpack to comeback wins against Boston College and Florida State in nationally televised games. But little went right afterward, starting when Wake Forest had a late interception to turn away the Wolfpack in a 25-23 road win.
Players like Evans, linebacker Pat Lowery and running back Toney Baker said Amato didn’t talk about his future after the East Carolina loss. Instead, they said he talked about working hard during the offseason — even if they don’t know whether Amato will be there through it.
“We’re just going to start on Monday with the offseason,” Baker said. “We’ve got to get some discipline on this team. We’ve got to get some leadership and we’ve really got to take some accountability as players to not let this happen again.”