Whether Mark Gottfried is back at N.C. State next season or not – and we’ve seen that a revenue-sport coach can survive at the school despite a season with a sub-.500 ACC record and multiple historically embarrassing losses – his inability to build a long-term foundation for the program has finally caught up with him.
Under Gottfried, the Wolfpack has had talent, but it’s had as much, if not more, turnover. Players (and coaches) have come and gone, denying the Wolfpack the opportunity to develop the kind of organic winning culture that can prevent a season like this.
Gottfried has brought the Wolfpack the success it craved after the barren years under Sidney Lowe, but at the expense of stability. Even his best teams were predominantly one-season squads, full of incoming transfers and NBA-bound players, built with an emphasis on the present. That’s not the easiest way to do things, and Gottfried probably didn’t get enough credit for making it work, but everyone was happy. Until now.
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Of Gottfried’s first 12 signees at N.C. State, five transferred and two turned pro, leaving two seniors and one junior on this team, one of whom is redshirting. Last year’s recruiting class contained only two players, Maverick Rowan and Shaun Kirk. Next year’s class has only one player signed, Garner’s Thomas Allen.
There was nothing Gottfried could do about Trevor Lacey turning pro unexpectedly early, and more players transfer these days than ever before, but these departures have become endemic at N.C. State.
Plugging holes with transfers and late signees can become a sort of basketball Ponzi scheme, and eventually, as with every pyramid scheme, the bill comes due.
This season, it has.
There’s no culture of winning, of defense, of effort among these players. What was supposed to be a one-year shot at glory has become a descent into madness going into Wednesday night’s game with North Carolina, and the really grim reality is that this year’s success was supposed to buy some time for next season, when the Wolfpack could struggle if enough of these players turn pro.
Two of Gottfried’s original assistants were replaced this offseason, Rob Moxley moving to an operations position after a stroke, Bobby Lutz departing for the NBA’s D-League. The two new assistants, Heath Schroyer and Butch Pierre, have yet to deliver any recruits of note while there is no visible progress with regard to player development or Xs and Os (where Lutz excelled).
The players slouch their way through warmups and then carry that over into the game. Maybe things would be different if senior Lennard Freeman, the kind of four-year workhorse this team lacks, were not redshirting. You need players like that to build, and pass down, a program’s culture. N.C. State, under Gottfried, hasn’t had enough of them.
The head coach bears the ultimate responsibility for this kind of performance, and in this case, Gottfried’s failure to build a better foundation for long-term success that has helped put N.C. State in this fix.
If he goes, that’ll be his epitaph. If he stays, changing how and who he recruits, and how he handles those players once on campus, will become a mandatory adjustment.
You can go from year to year for a while, and even make it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament a couple times, but there’s always the risk things will fall apart. When it does, you may find out you spent too much time patching holes and not enough building a foundation than can help stop your fall.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock
UNC at NC State
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh