RALEIGH — An odd coaching search had an oddly abrupt ending Tuesday afternoon when N.C. State announced it had hired Mark Gottfried to head its basketball program.
This one came out of nowhere.
After three weeks of interviews and job offers, rejections and denials, after thousands and thousands of dollars spent on a private search firm, after hours of committee meetings and phone calls in what seemed at times a futile quest, athletics director Debbie Yow hired a man who hasn’t coached in two years.
Hard to say how this will go over with the fan base, but judging from the looks on the faces of those at the news conference, it’s likely somewhere in between blind devotion and stunned confusion.
Yow apparently hired a man without the search committee, without the private firm, without the drawn-out vetting process and without a clue how this might all turn out.
It might turn out just fine. Gottfried was a pretty good basketball coach at Alabama and before that at Murray State. He won more than 200 games at Alabama over the course of 11 years, taking the Crimson Tide to No. 1 in the national rankings in the 2002-03 season, winning some NCAA games here and there and making a name for himself as one of the up-and-coming young coaches in America.
But then he lost his way, inexplicably, mysteriously. He walked away in the middle of a season and took a gig as a member of the media, working for ESPN.
He was asked about the specifics Tuesday but he didn’t really answer. He suggested there were some mistakes along the way, and said he’d do things differently this time.
Yow said she knew all that anyway, said she’d known him since he was 18 years old, said there was no need to go through the motions of interviews and background checks, references and the like.
“We’re back,” Yow gushed. “We’re back in the game.”
“Slow down, Debbie,” Gottfried told her. “We’re not back yet, not all the way.”
It was a news conference for the ages. Yow claimed she didn’t know when she first made contact with Gottfried. She didn’t know if it was his call or hers. She joked that reporters could get her phone records and figure it out themselves. She said they would see evidence of a woman who needed sleep.
Yow covered a lot of ground Tuesday, at one point addressing the notion that she was a hard person to work for. Her response was stunning.
“I don’t have a reputation all across men’s basketball of being difficult to work with,” she said. “I have a reputation of not getting along with Gary Williams, who has tried to sabotage this search. Come on, we all know it.”
Uh, no Debbie. We didn’t know that.
She suggested possible legal action, or at least a national story in the coming days that will explain all that. Yow was the AD at Maryland before coming to Raleigh. She famously went up against Williams and lost, which probably led to her coming to State and taking over for the departed Lee Fowler.
Yow said she ignored all the rumors and stories she was hearing. She said she interviewed four people and sort of made job offers to two of them. In the end, she hired a man Ryan Harrow had never heard of.
Harrow, a freshman who is seriously considering transferring now, seemed stunned by what he saw and heard Tuesday. He said he’d tried to ignore all the stuff out there, too, but he said he wanted to play for the Virginia Commonwealth coach when that seemed a possibility. After the meeting Monday, when the players were told they had no coach, he became concerned .
Gottfried said he’s ready for the challenge, ready for Duke and Carolina and the ACC and all that comes with it. He’s likely going to have to deal with Maryland now too. He said the family and his kids are ready to move, though his wife had a bemused look, surrounded by people dressed in red with frozen smiles on their faces.
Yow claims she lost track of time the past three weeks since Sidney Lowe resigned and the quest to find his replacement began. It ended some time Monday when she called Gottfried, or maybe he called her. She asked him if he was serious about leaving ESPN. He said he was. She asked if $1.2 million sounded about right.
He said yes.
Of course, Yow could’ve saved a lot of time and money by doing this three weeks ago. But hey, this could work out just fine.
Contact Ed Hardin at 373-7069 or email@example.com