Herb Sendek was admired for his intellect, basketball and otherwise, for his straightforward manner and the class with which he treated people.
He was respected within the basketball program, across Arizona State’s athletics department and campus, and around the basketball world.
But in a business based upon on-the-court success, he didn’t do enough.
Arizona State fired Sendek on Tuesday after nine seasons that included two NCAA Tournaments, four NIT appearances and three seasons with no postseason.
Sendek coached 10 seasons at N.C. State, beginning in 1996-97. He was 191-132 with the Wolfpack. He was 159-137 at Arizona State.
“My opinion of Herb the man won’t ever change, but I came to the conclusion over the course of the season, taking into consideration everything, that we weren’t going to get better enough in the time frame we expect to be playing at a competitive level,” athletic director Ray Anderson said.
After a few shaky seasons, Sendek appeared to have the program headed back in the right direction, landing prized local recruit Jahii Carson and leading the Sun Devils to the 2014 NCAA tournament.
Arizona State rewarded him with a contract extension through 2019, though it came with success-based expectations; each year added to the deal was based upon benchmarks of winning games.
The Sun Devils failed to live up to those.
Carson and 7-foot center Jordan Bachynski, the cornerstones to Arizona State’s NCAA tournament run, were gone this season, leaving Sendek with a talented but unproven group of athletic players.
Arizona State had some good moments, beating rival Arizona, which was a top-five team at the time, and finishing the Pac-12 season with six wins in nine games after an 0-4 conference start.
But there were too many glaring setbacks for Anderson to believe the program was still on an upward climb.
One came during the nonconference season, when the Sun Devils lost to Lehigh at home. Another was in the opening round of the Pac-12 tournament, when Arizona State blew a big lead and lost to last-place Southern California.
The Sun Devils won their opening game in the NIT but lost Sunday to Richmond to end the season 18-16.
“You have to make tough decisions and be able to do it decisively and move on,” Anderson said. “We’re going to better the program and give it a chance to consistently compete for championships.”
Known for his sharp mind, Sendek arrived in Tempe in 2006 after 10 seasons at N.C. State and a stint at Miami (Ohio).
Sendek and the Sun Devils suffered through an 8-22 first season, but Arizona State reached the NCAA Tournament in 2008-09 after going 25-10.
Sendek was named the Pac-10 coach of the year after the Sun Devils won 22 games the following season, but they were not invited to the NCAA tournament.
Two losing seasons followed before Arizona State won 22 games in 2012-13, yet again found itself snubbed by the NCAA tournament selection committee.
Sendek pulled off a major coup before that season, landing Carson, a dynamic point guard from nearby Mesa. Carson had to sit out his first season in Tempe because of an academic issue but flourished once he did hit the court.
Behind Carson and Bachynski, the Sun Devils had their best home record in 40 years while going 16-1 last season and reaching the NCAA tournament, where they lost to Texas in the first round on a last-second shot.
Arizona State finished fifth in the Pac-12 this season after being picked ninth, but it wasn’t enough to save Sendek’s job.
Arizona State is reportedly targeting Duke assistant Jeff Capel, a former head coach at Oklahoma, but Anderson said the school will be meticulous but quick in finding a successor.
“It will be thoughtful, it will be deliberate,” Anderson said. “We don’t have a short list, but we will be putting together a list in short order because we want to make sure we get ourselves reset for recruiting and are retaining (players).”