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Dances With Wuffs

The State saga continues. Lee Fowler’s Chasing Rick adventure took new twist and turns. After it had been widely reported that Texas coach Rick Barnes was set to become the new coach at State unless he was not, various Triangle media outlets, some of them quasi-legitimate, reported late Thursday night that Barnes had decided to spurn the Pack and stay at Texas unless he did not. It would seem that State and Fowler have been Franked.

Barnes had apparently indicated great interest in the State job, or at least enough interest to Frank Horns AD DeLoss Dodds into convincing Mack to share a little cash with the school’s junior coaching partner. Barnes had ties to the Old North State , having been born, raised and educated there. On numerous occasions he had described State as his ‘dream’ job and the ACC the ‘real’ conference. A lot of people native to this area feel the same, at least about the league even if they do not wear red.

The Ricker seemed to have been quite intrigued by either the opportunity posed by one of the ACC’s elite basketball positions, or the opportunity it presented to extract a ton of fresh cash from his current employer. He had no doubt weighed the challenge of competing in the same conference and metro area with legends Coach K and Ol’ Roy with the problems of competing in the same conference and metro area with legends Coach K and Ol’ Roy. If he is indeed staying at Texas unless he is not and was serious about the State job unless he was just using it to Frank a big raise out of Dodds will become the stuff of much chatter.

Much of the chatter will be in a negative vein and directed at State AD Lee Fowler. It would appear that Lee swung for the fences and missed. While he had maintained at least a veil of plausible deniability for himself by neither approaching Barnes himself or announcing, ‘Rick’s my guy,’ he had sent enough of ‘his people’ to chat up ‘Rick’s people’ to leave little doubt as to who wanted whom. It would seem that Rick’s people had given positive signs to Lee’s people. This caught the attention of Dodds. Just as soon as Mack’s Spring Game ended last Saturday, Dodds hustled back to the office, exclaimed, “What’s this I hear about the coach of the, uh, uh, oh, yeah, basketball team?” After checking with Mack to make sure it was okay, it seems, at least at this writing, that Dodds has made Barnes happy.

Fowler had put together what was described as an ‘impressive’ offer to Barnes. It was speculated it included an Ol’ Roy-ish salary package of $2 extra-large per year plus a Frank-like wad of cash at the end of a specified time. Other incentives likely included denoting the RBC in State’s arena the Rick Barnes Center , Rick Dome for short. It does not seem to have been enough. While Fowler will be vilified by the screeching loons populating State’s message boards, there seems little more that Fowler could have done. He had promised Barnes everything asked. Fowler had also been able to meet Barnes’ concern about basketball being the secondary sport at Texas . Lee had assured Rick that basketball would continue to be the top sports wolf at State, pointing out that Chuck Amato had a long-term contract.

The question for State now becomes: to whom does Fowler chase next? John Calipari, currently winning big at Memphis , is reported to be hot for the job. Calipari was the guy who got UMass to the Final Four back in 1996, then promptly got out of town right before the NCAA posse nailed the Minutemen for payments of cash and jewelry to star player Marcus Camby. UMass was later stripped of official recognition its Final Four appearance. Calipari got away clean by claiming that his program-management skills were so poor he had paid little attention to his star player suddenly tooling around campus in a new BMW or showing up for practice wearing so many gold necklaces that he couldn’t jump half an inch from the floor. It would seem that Memphis believed Calipari’s protestations of innocence, or didn’t care.

Calipari’s checkered past and present, given the near-constant rumors swirling around his program, probably is not of great concern to Fowler. In a previous life, Lee was an assistant to the charming Dana Kirk at Memphis . Kirk got into both NCAA and IRS hot water back in the Eighties through his habit of funneling unreported income to Memphis players. This proud moment in Tigers’ athletics history ended with Memphis on a serious probation and Kirk in the slammer for tax evasion. Compared to Inmate Kirk, Calipari must seem to Memphis as pure as driven snow. As long as a coach’s previous scandal does not result in an actual prison term, he is considered good enough for Memphis . Fowler stuck around as Kirk and bag man Larry Finch went down, claiming to have been the one honest man on the staff.

While Honest Lee might not have as many problems with Calipari as do, say, the girlfriends beaten up by Memphis players who never missed a game under Calipari until they were actually hauled off to jail, there seems to be some adult leadership around the Wolfpack Club that does. There are reports that while ‘Just Do It’ John is hot for the State job, promising to bring back all of the excitement, victories and scandals of Jim Valvano, there is much resistance from level-headed big wolves around State. These are not among the Loonpack producing much bile on State message boards.

Fowler’s gravest error in the whole coaching thing was that he actually paid attention to the spit-spraying howling done by the Loonpack. State’s message boards contains no more or less idiots than those of Carolina, Virginia Tech, Maryland, the Hoos or anywhere else; all message boards are exactly alike in that they attract the same drooling bottom-feeding elements of any school’s fan base. State’s are not unique.

What is different at State is the attention they are given. Most coaches and AD’s ignore them, refusing to even acknowledge this lunatic fringe exists. It is the smart thing to do. These spittle-spewing nut cases have no life outside of whining and griping about anything and everything. Instead of paying no more heed to them than Hoo fans do to the ever-changing day their foolish Festivus is held, Fowler pandered to the Loonpack. Do those ‘open letters’ seem such a bright idea now, Lee? They did not mollify the Wolfpack, only giving them legitimacy and making them that much worse. Appeasement never works.

Athletic directors do not often give the impression they are the sharpest knives in the drawer. Lee Fowler is certainly in good company in the Triangle. Good old DickieB at Carolina allowed himself to be Franked by Frank, then presented Matt to the Tar Heel faithful before an exasperated Dean bailed him out by ordering Ol’ Roy home. Lackey Joe over at Duke has problems determining that football is a real sport or that lacrosse keggers might be something other than good clean fun. If Lee Fowler has indeed lost the Rick Sweepstakes [now watch Barnes take the State job seconds after this is posted], he moves to the head of the line.

These communications are read by quite a few State fans. They have probably been paying more attention than those Hokies wondering why I am not concentrating on something really important, such as the big news that the Tech wrestling coach is heading home to Iowa . Go figure. Who knew that wrestling was surpassing football in fan interest at Tech? It would certainly be news to the guy who just checked out.

I correspond with a couple of State fans on a regular basis. They are great people, guys who most definitely do not post weak-minded harangues on PackPride or anywhere else and have little use for those that do. They, along with the rest of the non-Loonpack greater majority of State’s fan base, deserve a top-notch basketball program. State has a proud basketball history- only Duke’s 16 and Carolina ’s 15 ACC championships surpass State’s 10. Considering that the entire rest of the ACC has only won 12 combined, Wolfpack basketball has some great history. It is a well-financed program with excellent facilities. It should be a good one.

It had seemed to me that Herb Sendek was well on his way to restoring State to basketball excellence. He started with very little left behind from Valvano’s probation and the caretaking of Les Robinson. He made the State program much better over time and it seemed to me that he would eventually get it back to a peer of the terrific programs at Carolina and Duke.

That won’t happen under Herb, who was run off. Now, apparently, coach-elect Rick Barnes has said no. With Calipari toting much baggage and Jay Wright claiming no interest, Lee Fowler will head back to the drawing board. Chances are he will come up with a bright up-and-comer that very much resembles Herb Sendek of a decade ago. This is why the Loonpack was allowed to send Herb to Arizona State ?

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