This was not the easy way out.
Fired five games ago, Mark Gottfried could have taken the easy way out then. He didn’t. Gottfried was here on Tuesday in Brooklyn for the official ending, a 75-61 loss to Clemson in the first round of the ACC tournament.
And he stayed after the team’s 10th loss in 11 games to answer some questions in the postgame press conference and then he answered some more outside the locker rooms of the Barclays Center.
Gottfried, who leaves with a 123-86 record at N.C. State, did take one last look back at the program’s success during his six-year tenure. In each of the first four seasons, the Wolfpack made the NCAA tournament and twice, in 2012 and ’15, the Sweet 16.
The last two years have not been as good with a 9-27 ACC record and a handful of lopsided losses this season with an inexperienced team.
“I think there’s probably half the schools in this league that would take our six years and be excited as hell about them,” Gottfried said. “For some reason at N.C. State, it’s not good enough.”
Gottfried’s first four years ultimately weren’t enough to offset the past two years. Tuesday’s loss was indicative of the team’s season-long problems on defense and with rebounding.
The Tigers built up a 17 to 6 advantage on the offensive glass while the game was still in doubt. They shot 50 percent in the first half to take an 11-point lead that was never challenged in the second half. The Wolfpack turned the ball over 15 times, too, for good measure.
“We didn’t rebound the ball good enough, turned the ball over too many times,” Gottfried said. “Sometimes that’s what inexperienced teams do. You get through that and you grow up from there.”
I think there’s probably half the schools in this league that would take our six years and be excited as hell about them. For some reason at N.C. State, it’s not good enough.
Gottfried said he wished he had the chance to coach the team next season to see if they could learn from those growing pains.
But Tuesday’s game was just the latest where when the opponent made a move, N.C. State couldn’t summon a response.
Gottfried has chalked that up to youth but the responsibility to get a team to compete falls on the coach’s shoulders.
Gottfried had a knack for pushing the right buttons in his first four seasons and coaxing confidence out of thin air. That touch, since an 84-82 win at Duke on Jan. 23, has been elusive.
Maybe things could have been different for Gottfried if not for a last-second 3-pointer by John Gillon to lift Syracuse to a 100-93 overtime win on Feb. 1.
The team had recovered from a 51-point loss at North Carolina, and an inexplicable loss at Boston College, to win at Duke on Jan. 23 but it wasn’t quite the same after the Syracuse game.
The season’s hopes ended there. An 88-58 loss at Wake Forest on Feb. 11 sealed Gottfried’s fate as the head coach.
The 97-73 loss to UNC on Feb. 15 was more window-dressing than the actual final straw.
N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow decided on Feb. 16 to replace Gottfried.
He could have left. He wanted to stay but the players didn’t quite rally around his ouster, losing four of the final five games.
Gottfried talked about big wins and upsets and recruiting misses after Tuesday’s loss. He was pleasant and positive and as upbeat as a guy who just coached his last game could be.
In his perfectly tailored blue pinstripe suit and lime green tie, answered his final questions and actually thanked the media.
“We’ll see what happens,” Gottfried said. “I’m a guy that believes there’s another great opportunity just around the corner. Whatever that is, we’re going to find it.”
And then it was finally over. Gottfried found his oldest son, Brandon, in the loading dock and left as the N.C. State coach one last time.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio