RALEIGH — The pressure finally is off Sidney Lowe - and on Debbie Yow.
N.C. State's athletic director of less than a year must make a decision that likely will be the most important coaching hire in school history.
The person Yow selects as Lowe's successor as men's basketball coach could be on the job when 64-year-old Mike Krzyzewski retires at Duke and possibly when Roy Williams, 60, steps down at North Carolina.
Maryland's Gary Williams, the third member of the ACC's basketball coaching royalty, is 66.
This is an occasion of extraordinary opportunity for N.C. State, and Yow cannot get it wrong.
"The responsibility of it weighs heavily on me," Yow said Tuesday. "But that's a little bit different from pressure. I understand what it means to a lot of people. ... I'm not going to torture myself by thinking about 'what if we fail.' I'm not going to make proclamations."
Coaches don't come with a money-back guarantee, of course.
But since the end of the Jim Valvano era, the Wolfpack has made three hires, all nice guys and life-long basketball men who worked hard but were long shots to win big from the start.
Les Robinson, who followed Valvano, really was brought in more to mend fences and the program's image than to win titles.
Given his original mission, Robinson succeeded. But by the time he got the program up to speed academically, heavy losing made recruiting almost impossible.
Herb Sendek was able to improve the record to a degree but didn't mesh with the culture.
Sidney Lowe was a hit with the fans but had no college coaching experience and couldn't master it fast enough to elevate the program.
All three were hired by different ADs - Robinson by Hal Hopfenberg, Sendek by Todd Turner and Lowe by Lee Fowler.
Yow, who got the job in late June, knew then that this day could arrive at season's end.
Fifth-year coaches with bad records and no NCAA tournament bids have trouble getting a sixth season regardless of their popularity and lineage. Yow has had an entire season to plot a hiring strategy.
Yow's target isn't known, but the next coach needs to fit a certain profile that includes good people skills; a thorough understanding of game strategy; the ability to find and develop players; and possession of the tenacity to carve out personal space in the most competitive of all college basketball neighborhoods.
Assuming all or even most of the current non-seniors return, N.C. State has decent talent and above-average experience.
But the coaching hire needs to be more about the future than the 2011-12 season. Immediate improvement would be nice, of course. Of more importance is a need to sign a coach capable of building and committed to staying aboard for the long run.
"Ideally, we would want a coach who would be here 10, 12, 15 years," Yow said. "That said, we're going to look for someone who has what I call 'the stuff' - the ability to turn a program [around], the ability to win at a high level. You see that in their career. Wherever, they go, they just win."
State needs - and its fans certainly deserve - a winner. Most of those fans have remained loyal throughout a long, frustrating period of coaching experiments that didn't pan out.
It's not fair to expect or demand that Yow hit a tape-measure home run. But a good, solid hit is a must this time.
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