Not since it hired a relatively unknown Indiana high school coach seven decades ago has the N.C. State athletics department faced such a crucial employment decision as finding the successor to Mark Gottfried.
The 1946 hiring of Everett Case quickly propelled N.C. State men’s basketball into preeminent status within the ACC, where it remained for most of his nearly two decades at the helm. With its upcoming hire, N.C. State has an opportunity to again propel its program to elite standing within the league.
N.C. State officials only need look at their surroundings to recognize the enormous possibilities for the next head coach. The storied programs at Duke and North Carolina are fast approaching crossroads. So, too, are fellow ACC programs at Florida State, Louisville, Miami and Syracuse, all of which have head coaches who can see retirement on the near horizon.
Within the next five seasons, N.C. State’s next coach could be among the longest-tenured in the ACC and, with success, could also quickly vault himself into the league’s top echelon.
Mike Krzyzewski is 70 years old. Roy Williams is 66. No matter who succeeds Krzyzewski, Duke will have trouble matching the success it has attained under the Hall of Fame coach.
Add an NCAA investigation to the possibility of Williams retiring in the next five years and it is easy to see how the UNC program could slip, perhaps even drastically.
Replacing great coaches in college basketball has never been smooth and easy.
John Wooden led UCLA for 27 seasons and counted 10 national championships over his final 12 seasons, concluding in 1975. In the 43 seasons since, UCLA has had nine head coaches and won a single national title.
Dean Smith won a passel of conference titles and a pair of national championships in 36 seasons at UNC. When he retired following the 1997 season, UNC endured six seasons of instability under Bill Guthridge (who had success) and Matt Doherty (who didn’t) before Williams came aboard to steady the ship.
The same unsteadiness that is to be expected when Krzyzewski and Williams depart will likely follow the retirements of Jim Boeheim (age 72) at Syracuse, Leonard Hamilton (68) at Florida State, Jim Larranaga (67) at Miami and Rick Pitino (64) at Louisville.
N.C. State may never again see such a golden opportunity to surpass its rivals. Sadly, the Wolfpack has been unable to establish itself as a premier program since winning a national championship under Norm Sloan in 1974 and again under Jim Valvano in 1983.
N.C. State last won an ACC tournament title in 1987, and last captured a regular-season crown in 1989. While the Wolfpack has participated in 11 NCAA tournaments since then, it has failed to be a consistent challenger for ACC championships.
The average finish for N.C. State teams in the ACC’s regular since 1989 has been seventh place, and that includes 15 seasons when the league fielded only eight or nine teams. The Wolfpack’s best finishes included second in 2004, third in 1991 and third in 2002.
N.C. State has reached the ACC tournament semifinals on 11 occasions since 1987, but has played – and lost – the championship game only in 1997, 2002, 2003 and 2007.
Most of N.C. State’s problems in either falling short or failing to compete for ACC championships has had much to do with the dominance of their nearby neighbors. Duke and UNC have combined for 21 tournament titles (including Duke’s win Saturday against Notre Dame) since N.C. State last won it in 1987, and the Blue Devils and Tar Heels have either won or shared 22 regular-season crowns since the Wolfpack last won it in 1989.
Dealing with NCAA probation and an inability to consistently recruit top-level talent have played a role in N.C. State’s failure to compete at the same level with Duke and UNC.
Yet N.C. State fans and administrators have long held the belief that it can be accomplished. The fans always have been strong and supportive. The resources exist to pay a coach in line with market value. Facilities are top level.
Perhaps the only thing missing has been an opening when both the Duke and UNC programs slip, even slightly. The door to that opportunity could be open soon, and for that reason the next hire is the most important for N.C. State since Case began to make his fame for the Wolfpack.
Coach School Age
Jim Boeheim Syracuse 72
Mike Krzyzewski Duke 70
Leonard Hamilton Florida State 68
Jim Larranaga Miami 67
Roy Williams UNC 66
Rick Pitino Louisville 64
Mike Brey Notre Dame 57
Kevin Stallings Pittsburgh 56
Jim Christian Boston College 52
Danny Manning Wake Forest 50
Brad Brownell Clemson 48
Tony Bennett Virginia 47
Buzz Williams Virginia Tech 44
Josh Pastner Georgia Tech 39