RALEIGH — On the day Sidney Lowe was hired to coach N.C. States basketball team, he called the job a dream come true.
That was in early May of 2006 -- a time when dreams were rampant in and around a program desperate for new hope.
There were good reasons to believe in Lowe, who parted ways with N.C. State today.
No one was more closely identified with Wolfpack oomph than Lowe, the point guard and floor leader on a 1983 NCAA championship team that was 15-10 entering its final regular-season game.
But at the root of the decision to hire Lowe, who had coached for years in the NBA but never at the college level, was a massive gamble by the school and then athletic director Lee Fowler.
After 10 so-so seasons with Herb Sendek, the State fan base had become blasé.
And when Sendek downplayed the significance of a 95-71 loss to North Carolina in the RBC Center near the end of the 2005-06 season, it was obvious that the coach would have to do something extraordinary to maintain the fans confidence for another season.
A lifeless 11-point ACC Tourney quarterfinal loss to Wake Forest, followed almost immediately by a 75-54 second-round NCAA loss to Rick Barnes and Texas, signaled an inevitable parting.
Sendek found an open port at Arizona State and Fowler launched a search that he thought might be easily completed.
When Barnes declined to leave Texas and a seemingly set deal with West Virginias John Beilein collapsed at the 11th hour, Fowler turned Lowe.
Fowler acknowledged that he was playing a hunch in hiring an inexperienced college coach to live in the same neighborhood with Dukes Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolinas Roy Williams.
Fowler said Lowe would hit the ground running and hardly be overwhelmed by the challenge of building a championship contender. But theres a big difference between coaching pros and coaching college players.
In the long run, that lack of experience and familiarity with the college coaching ins and outs was too much for Lowe to overcome.
Other than a three-game winning streak in the 2007 ACC Tourney, Lowes teams never were able to grab and keep any sort of momentum. While there was a lot of talk about catching up with Duke and Carolina, the bigger problem for Lowe was simply breaking into the ACC middle tier.
Theres a knack to coaching at the college level that almost always has to be learned the hard way -- by working several years as an assistant.
Lowe did his learning as a head coach. Given more time, theres probably a good chance that he would have produced. But after five years, a bad conference record and with the department under new leadership, its understandable that States administration couldnt afford to extend the gamble any longer.
In the final analysis, Lowes stint at State will be recalled as a square peg, round hole experiment that was doomed from the start.
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