N.C. State, not Duke or UNC, the ACC favorite
by Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY Sports
RALEIGH, N.C. — The father of North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried placed a telephone call to North Carolina athletics director Bubba Cunningham this offseason to ask one question: Were North Carolina and Duke leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference?
“No, why?” Cunningham said.
“Obviously you guys must be leaving,” Joe Gottfried joked, “because N.C. State has been picked to win the league, and you and Duke have dominated that thing for years.”
Though the Tar Heels and Blue Devils are staying put, expectations in Raleigh have been ratcheted up as high as they have been since Jim Valvano roamed the sideline. The Wolfpack stand poised to upset the hierarchy in a conference in which the only difference between the top two schools in the standings often is the shade of blue.
Such a statement would have been preposterous a year ago, of course, before the Wolfpack community had fully embraced Mark Gottfried during his first few months on the job. But as Gottfried knows more than most, perceptions, for better or worse, can change quickly in his business.
As a teenager he would sit in the stands and listen to grown men curse a struggling Southern Illinois head coach who not long before had thrived in the small-college ranks in Ohio.
At the end of that 1981 season, the school fired the coach, a man Gottfried called Dad.
So Gottfried did not flinch when much of the N.C. State fan base greeted him with a collective yawn — or worse — upon his hiring in 2011. After seeing neighbors North Carolina and Duke win national titles in 2009 and 2010, respectively, fans craved a big-splash name, a Shaka Smart or a Sean Miller, not a guy who had been out of coaching for two years after his Alabama tenure fizzled.
“I was not the flavor of the month,” Gottfried said in his office this fall. “I am completely cognizant that when my name leaked out there that afternoon, a lot of people scratched their heads going, ‘What? Who?’ A year later, it is a different feeling.”
A year later N.C. State is one of the flavors of this college … [For more on N.C. State, not Duke or UNC, the ACC favorite, click here.]