Tudor: Hope springs for Pack

Staff WriterApril 6, 2011 

— With Debbie Yow busting Gary Williams' chops and Mark Gottfried instantly warming to the Duke and North Carolina rivalries, there was a lot for N.C. State fans to like about their new basketball coach Tuesday.

Granted, it all came with some yellow flags.

After flirting with some of hottest coaches out there, the Wolfpack wound up settling on a coach-turned-announcer who is two full seasons removed from a serious sideline sweat.

There was no attempt to disguise the fact that after early magic, Gottfried fell out of favor fast at Alabama - the result in part of his own mistakes.

But the 47-year-old former Crimson Tide player and Murray State coach (before Alabama) gives N.C. State something of substance to work with and even more to wish on in the backwash of Sidney Lowe's five seasons of ACC struggles.

"Mark was born to coach," said his wife, Elizabeth. "It's what he's always been meant to do. You couldn't find anyone more excited about this opportunity."

Those are words State fans want - certainly need - to hear during one of the lowest points in the program's proud but fast-fading history. Since the end of the Jim Valvano era in 1990, the Wolfpack and its fans have longed for a certain spark - or what Yow calls "the stuff."

With Les Robinson, there was really no hope because the school wasn't so much interested in basketball success as basketball image. Then came Herb Sendek, a smart, sincere man but a coach whose distant personality made for an awkward connection with fans.

Lowe, in five seasons, reunited the family but couldn't mesh winning games with a winning smile.

Gottfried came across as a coach with an engaging personality woven into an aura of hard-core confidence. He looked folks in the eye, made it clear to returning players that the bar will be raised quickly and made no attempt to hide from the difficult questions about himself and the job.

"I'm not backing down from anybody," he said almost immediately. "Whatever the obstacles are, you've just got to beat them, overcome them ... We're going to go after them [Duke and UNC]."

Lowe made similar remarks but the learning curve - NBA to ACC - was too tough.

Gottfried may have spent the past two seasons in front of ESPN cameras, but he's been around the college game throughout. If he's a good coach, the knack for running a program should resurface immediately.

And compared to the starts of the previous three coaches, Gottfried arrives at a time when there's enough personnel on the roster to give him an early fighting chance.

Although there's a possibility that one or two players could transfer or maybe even take a run at the pros, Lowe and his staff made recruiting strides during the past two or three years.

"We should have been a winning program this season, but we underachieved," freshman guard Ryan Harrow said.

First impressions can be very misleading, of course. But there was nothing about Gottfried's mannerisms or personality on Tuesday that so much as hinted that he will tolerate underachievement and certainly not accept it as an excuse.

"I can't wait for him to get going," Yow said.

She did her part to spike the sauce by accusing her former Maryland coach Gary Williams of attempting to sabotage the search by advising fellow coaches that the AD is an unreasonable boss.

At one point, the new coach had to make an attempt to reel in Yow's excitement. If you take away Yow's name and rank, what you really have is an old-fashion long-suffering N.C. State fan.

Like most of her companions and customers, she's tired of waiting. Waiting has become an unwanted way of life. There was a hint of hope in the house Tuesday, and it had folks feeling frisky again.

caulton.tudor@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8946

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