When Debbie Yow was hired in the summer of 2010 to turn around the N.C. State athletic department, she promised a top-25 athletic program on all fronts, especially in football and men’s basketball, both of which were mired in prolonged droughts
As she prepares to exit the scene this summer – when Yow signed a contract extension four years ago taking her through July 2019, she said it would be her last – she has delivered on that promise, and not just in football and basketball, both of which have been in the Associated Press top 25 this season for the first time since 2003. The Wolfpack is strong across the board – a remarkable 15th in the overall Directors Cup standings last academic year and ninth this fall semester, ranked alongside Duke and North Carolina having narrowed the non-revenue gap for those local rivals, and programs like wrestling and swimming have become national powerhouses.
Football has a new indoor practice facility and Reynolds Coliseum has gone through a top-to-bottom renovation. Revenue has grown to feed the increasing success. Yow hasn’t been perfect – and the indiscretions of the Mark Gottfried regime continue to hang over the school – but she hasn’t hesitated to make changes when needed, even of her own hires. Her direct style occasionally ruffles feathers, but there’s no question she gets results – and no doubting her passion for the job or N.C. State.
For all of that, and her continuing influence on sports in the Triangle, Yow tops the 2018 Triangle Ten, an unscientific assessment of the 10 most influential people in Triangle sports over the past year.
Even after her expected retirement in July, don’t expect her influence to diminish. She’ll likely be even more vocal on social media, where she already spars with opposing fans – her Twitter address is @gopacknow, identified as “#1 State Fan” – and it wouldn’t be surprising to see her take an active role with Lead1, the athletic-director association-slash-lobbying group run by Tom McMillen, the former Congressman and Maryland basketball star.
Yow is joined by an agent, an entrepreneur, athletes and administrators, among others, in this list compiled by News & Observer sports columnist Luke DeCock with input from other staff members, focusing on impact in 2018 specifically.
2. Jordan Bazant, agent
A year after he leveraged Tennessee’s interest in Dave Doeren into a five-year extension for the N.C. State football coach, Bazant maneuvered another one of his clients into a big move. Bazant’s legwork was apparent when Mack Brown’s hiring at North Carolina was announced less than 24 hours after Larry Fedora was fired. In addition to Doeren and Brown, Bazant at one point had the N.C. State trifecta with Gottfried and baseball coach Elliott Avent.
3. Zach Maurides, Teamworks founder
What started as a class project during Maurides’ sophomore year at Duke 14 years ago has morphed into an industry essential. The former football player’s team management software and app is now used by more than 2,400 athletic clients, including universities, professional teams, national teams, conferences and events. In 2018, Teamworks added more than 700 teams, grew to more than 100 employees and opened a massive, high-tech new office in downtown Durham. Maurides and Teamworks have quietly become part of the hidden foundation of sport, domestically and abroad.
4. Zion Williamson, Duke basketball player
Already a YouTube phenomenon for his dunking ability before he even arrived on Duke’s campus, Williamson has lived up to the hype in his first and only season with the Blue Devils. His unique blend of size, strength, quickness and personality has him poised to become the most marketable prospect of his generation no matter where he’s actually drafted next spring. Williamson has certainly gotten some help from ESPN’s promotional machine, but he has more than paid the network back in high-flying highlights. The world is at Williamson’s feet, unusual power for an 18-year-old.
5. Tom Dundon, Carolina Hurricanes owner
The Texas billionaire closed on the purchase of the Carolina Hurricanes from Peter Karmanos in January and has been personally involved with every aspect of the organization, from the roster shake-up to the coaching changes to the decision to wear Hartford Whalers jerseys earlier this month for the first time since the team moved here from there two decades ago. The results? Less certain so far, with attendance stagnant and the on-ice performance all too similar. But the future of the Triangle’s only major-league team remains very much in Dundon’s hands.
6. Ezra Baeli-Wang and 292 (and counting) other UNC athletes
Baeli-Wang, a North Carolina fencer who graduated in 2017, started an open letter to the North Carolina administration opposing the plan to build a $5.3 million pavilion for Silent Sam, the toppled confederate statue now widely seen as a symbol of white supremacy on campus. Hundreds of current and former athletes from across all sports – including active football and basketball players – have signed. A group of former basketball players signed a separate statement, applauding the “courage and conviction” of the current athletes who spoke up against the plan, which has since been tabled as the university looks for another solution.
7. Nina King, Duke deputy athletic director
King already had a full plate at Duke as Kevin White’s day-to-day operations manager and in-house counsel; when Gerald Harrison left to become athletic director at Austin Peay last summer, King was handed oversight of football as well. Named to Sports Business Daily’s “40 under 40” in college athletics earlier this year, she also serves on the NCAA women’s basketball committee. Insiders view her as White’s most likely successor at some point down the road
8. McCall Zerboni, NC Courage midfielder
There’s no question that coach Paul Riley’s vision for the team was the backbone of the Courage’s unprecedented success in 2018 but there was plenty of credit to go around. As much as Zerboni’s steady play, the 32-year-old’s driving leadership behind the scenes both before and after suffering a season-ending elbow injury in September was a critical element in the best season in the history of American women’s soccer. The Courage took on and beat two of the best teams in the world – Paris St. Germain and Olympique Lyonnais – in August before cruising through the NWSL season, being sent on the road by Hurricane Florence during the playoffs and beating the Portland Thorns for the title on the Thorns’ own home field.
9. Mack Brown, North Carolina football coach
Brown’s return after 21 years away – and five years out of coaching – created a lot of warm feelings for alumni nostalgic for the days when Brown had the Tar Heels as a consistent top-25 program. There’s plenty of talent coming back from a team that lost five of nine games by a touchdown or less, so a quick turnaround on the field would not be surprising, but Brown faces a bigger challenge rebuilding interest in a program that always seems to be overshadowed by the basketball team. (A factor in his departure for Texas in 1997.) As evidenced by the television commercial he filmed immediately after his introductory press conference, selling tickets will be as big a part of his job as winning games – starting with North Carolina’s opener in Charlotte next year against South Carolina.
10. Que Tucker, NCHSAA commissioner
In almost 28 years at the NCHSAA, Tucker has become one of the most influential high-school administrators in the country. A Rockingham County native and former Kay Yow assistant coach at N.C. State, Tucker was promoted from within in 2015. Wrangling the competing needs and desires of 400 schools of varying sizes across the state, from Mattamuskeet (119 students) to Myers Park (3,248) is no easy task but Tucker has made it look easy.
FIVE TO WATCH IN 2019
1. Kevin Keatts, N.C. State basketball coach
Keatts has N.C. State back in the top 25 for the first time since 2013 and continues to rack up victories against top-10 opponents. Can he break a longer drought and deliver the ACC title the Wolfpack has sought since 1987?
2. Thomas McCormick, Centennial Authority chairman
The Centennial Authority oversees PNC Arena and that body has some big decisions approaching quickly. The building is starting to show its age and is in need of a massive, multimillion dollar renovation, first discussed in 2015 but put on hold while the Hurricanes were on sale. The Hurricanes’ lease expires in 2024 and the PNC naming-rights deal expires in 2022. McCormick and executive director Jeff Merritt have work ahead.
3. Randy Woodson, N.C. State chancellor
Assuming Yow retires as planned, her successor will be a pivotal choice for the future of N.C. State athletics. Woodson overruled his hiring committee and search firm to hire Yow, so it will be curious to see who he settles upon as her replacement – and difficult to predict.
4. Trei Oliver, N.C. Central football coach
A former defensive back and punter for Central, Oliver gets his first shot at a head-coaching job at his alma mater. Things slipped a little last season after Jerry Mack left, but the program remains on solid footing and Oliver has a chance to do great things in Durham.
5. John Swofford, ACC commissioner
The ACC commissioner, whoever that may be, wields disproportionate power in the Triangle. With the ACC Network scheduled to launch in August and the conference membership stable, how much longer will Swofford, 70, want to remain in charge? His current contract runs through 2020 and he says he has no plans to go anywhere.
THE 2017 TRIANGLE 10
1. Scott Dupree, Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance executive director
2. Rick Evrard, Bond, Schoeneck & King lawyer
3. Kevin White, Duke athletic director
4. George Williams, St. Augustine’s athletic director and track coach
5. Stephen Malik, North Carolina FC/NC Courage owner
6. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke men’s basketball coach
7. Ingrid Wicker McCree, N.C. Central athletic director
10. Dwayne West, Garner Road AAU executive director