Tough times for N.C. State

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 30, 2006

Associated Press

RALEIGH — North Carolina State entered the year with a men’s basketball team ranked in the top 15 and a football program coming off its fifth bowl appearance in six years.

It’s been a season of change ever since.

First, Herb Sendek left to take over at Arizona State after 10 seasons as basketball coach, leading to a monthlong search that missed on several big-name targets before former player Sidney Lowe was hired. Now athletics director Lee Fowler faces a similar challenge in finding a new football coach after firing Chuck Amato over the weekend, topping off a trying period for the university’s two highest-profile sports programs.

Fowler declined comment Monday about his latest search, but there will be no shortage of reports from Internet sites and fan message boards talking about Amato’s possible successors.

“You’re hoping to make a decision that’ll last for 10 years,” said Les Robinson, the former N.C. State athletics director who hired Amato in 2000 before leaving to take the same position at The Citadel. “Hiring your football and basketball coach, those are the most important decisions an A.D. makes.

“The most difficult task is you’re trying to do a job and no one will let you. The interest level is just phenomenal. I haven’t figured that out. There’s more interest in who’s going to be the coach than who’s going to win a game.”

The school announced Amato’s firing Sunday night, a day after the Wolfpack finished the season with a 21-16 home loss to East Carolina. The Wolfpack (3-9) closed the season with seven straight losses, the program’s longest in-season losing streak since losing nine in a row in 1959.

Amato, a former Wolfpack linebacker, had a 49-37 record in seven seasons. But his squads were 25-31 in the ACC and never finished higher than fourth. He also finished with a losing record in two of the three seasons since quarterback Philip Rivers went on to the NFL.

It leaves Fowler, who replaced Robinson as athletics director in 2000, facing the challenge of luring a new coach in a competitive market that includes Alabama and Miami. Making matters even more pressing for Wolfpack fans is the fact that Amato’s firing came a day before North Carolina introduced former Miami coach Butch Davis — a “home run” hire by many accounts — to take over for the fired John Bunting.

“The stress is going to be tremendous,” said Appalachian State athletics director Charlie Cobb, a former Wolfpack football player. “In this day in age, with the Internet especially, when something gets put in writing it’s (considered) fact, and 99 percent of the time it’s fiction.

“The best part about it is Lee’s a bright guy. He’s going to be meticulous. He’ll do what he thinks is right.”