Luke DeCock

Not merely a quick hire for NC State, but Keatts looks like right hire – DeCock

A year from now, after UNC-Wilmington goes 25-5 or something like that, Kevin Keatts might have been the hottest coach in the nation. All the pieces are in place for another dominant season for the Seahawks, and Keatts’ reputation only continues to grow.

By the end of next season, there’s a pretty good chance Keatts would have been the coach everyone wanted. If N.C. State moved a year early, that’s fine.

There will inevitably be disappointment among fans that athletic director Debbie Yow didn’t land a bigger name, like Butler’s Chris Holtmann or former N.C. State point guard Archie Miller at Dayton. Clearly, if either had expressed any interest through intermediaries, the search would have been prolonged.

It’s OK to be ambitious. It’s OK for fans to want someone they know and see on TV. There are always high expectations surrounding N.C. State’s program, and there should be, despite the criticism from elsewhere. There is tradition, and there are resources, and that’s a pretty strong platform. N.C. State fans should want a big-time coach.

Keatts may lack that kind of resume, but he has a chance to be a home-run hire. None of this is ever certain. If hiring coaches was easy, everyone would get it right. But he has a proven track record as a recruiter, has won everywhere he has ever been and, at 44, is potentially a coach for the long term at N.C. State.

With only one recruit signed for next season – Garner’s Thomas Allen – and roster turnover expected, if to what degree still remains uncertain, Keatts will have a largely blank canvas with which to work. He’ll also have some leeway, since next year was expected to be somewhat of a rebuilding year even if Mark Gottfried had remained as coach.

This is a good hire for N.C. State, not merely because the search was conducted efficiently, unlike the seemingly endless processes that led to an NBA coach without college experience in Sidney Lowe and a broadcaster in Gottfried. Just like the football search that landed quickly on Dave Doeren, Yow identified her top candidates and wasted little time narrowing down the field.

But that’s not why it’s a good hire, as welcome as the swiftness of it may have been. It’s a good hire because Keatts is young, a winner and a proven recruiter.

Look no further than Keatts’ progression as a coach. Six years ago, Keatts was a prep-school coach at Hargrave Military Academy – successful, to be sure, but still coaching teenagers.

He moved to Rick Pitino’s staff as an assistant at Louisville and won a national title. After three years there, he took the head coaching job at Wilmington, which hadn’t finished above .500 since 2008. He won three regular-season Colonial Athletic Association titles and two championships. His Seahawks gave Duke everything it could handle last year and did the same to Virginia on Thursday.

That’s an upward progression at a tremendous slope. That’s the kind of stock you want to buy on the way up.

If Keatts can cultivate that same kind of progress at N.C. State, the Wolfpack may be competitive in the ACC again sooner than anyone expects.

It was a quick hire, but that’s not what fans should be excited about (although given N.C. State’s history, there’s plenty of reason to be excited about that). No one ever really knows how things will turn out, but it certainly looks like the right hire. And that’s what fans should really be excited about, whether his name is big enough or not.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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