February 16, 2004 RALEIGH For anyone who missed, exactly, what Scooter Sherrill did wrong the other day, here it is: He forgot to say the seven magic words that make everything better when talking about a particular politically taboo subject. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Had he uttered that famous, Seinfeld-inspired phrase, maybe Sherrill wouldn't have found himself the subject of a pathetic apology from the school's chancellor and its athletic director. Sherrill was being neither perverse nor malicious when he said Duke guard J.J. Redick, after hitting a three-pointer, runs down the court like he is gay or something.He was talking about the hand motion Redick makes after burying a big shot, and the defiant pose Redick sometimes holds for a second or two after the ball drops. Sherrill was unapologetic for his description, saying, Put it out. Put it out there. I didn't say he was gay. I said, Like he was gay.'Hopefully, I can get in his head some.Nearby, N.C. State media relations officials cringed, fearing any conceivable fallout or distraction for a team approaching a new high in the eight-year Herb Sendek era. The defense stipulates that it was a stupid thing for Sherrill to say. But stupidity itself doesn't necessarily make it news. It was obvious to most that Sherrill was using typical college vernacular to talk about Redick, and there wasn't even a hint of a mean-spirited or homophobic tone to his words. He wasn't making derogatory comments about any subsets of the population, and he certainly wasn't gay-bashing. However, one article in a major newspaper turned it into a pretty big issue. In the eyes of many N.C. State fans, a local media outlet they consider infamous for a politically correct agenda purposely manufactured Sherrill's comments into a sensational story. The paper even teased from its front section: Did Scooter Sherrill go too far?In the eyes of many Pack fans, someone at the newspaper obviously thought he did, and Sherrill was attacked with two full barrels of ink. The story reportedly enraged N.C. State chancellor Marye Anne Fox, not because it took two ignorable comments from a basketball player and made him the Anti-Defamation League's villain for a day, but because she got a couple of phone calls that suggested such comments reflected poorly on her. If Fox cares about anything, it's her perception. So she directed athletic director Lee Fowler to issue an apology from the athletic department and the university, thereby ensuring that a non-event became an immediately bigger event. Sherrill got a lecture from Sendek, and the rest of the Big Four got more ammunition for its century-long efforts to look down at N.C. State and laugh. For much of the past eight seasons, such developments would have led to unfair anti-State attacks from other school's fans and yet another wave of ridiculous conspiracy theories from Wolfpack supporters. But the Pack is winning now and winning big so the unfortunate Sherrill incident thankfully will pass quickly, although not quite as quickly as most reasonable observers originally hoped. Sherrill's DWorth Yelling About All of the manufactured controversy aside, Sherrill should be praised from here to the top of Mt. Ulla OK, we know it's just a hump, not even a hill, but still and back for the strides he has made as a defensive player during his four-year career. In his first two seasons with the Wolfpack, Sherrill had trouble getting off the bench for two reasons: (1) he couldn't play defense, and (2) he was playing behind Anthony Grundy, who could play defense. Sendek doesn't like to say bad things about Sherrill's defense now. The official party line is that the talented youngster simply had difficulties as a freshman and sophomore beating out a veteran first-team All-ACC player. But Grundy wasn't that kind of a star as a junior; he sort of came from nowhere to become one as a senior. So there obviously were reasons why Sherrill, a McDonald's All-American coming out of West Rowan High, averaged just 13.4 minutes and 4.3 points during his first two years. Here's a poorly kept secret: It was his defense. Sendek screamed SCOOTER!so much at Sherrill when the other team had the ball during those two years, some people thought the poor kid might need counseling for years to come. But he improved, using his quick feet and a growing knowledge of the game to get better at stopping opposing teams'top scorers. In his first year as a starter, Sherrill averaged more than 33 minutes a game and rarely was taken out because of defensive lapses. This year, Sherrill has shut down Georgia Tech's B.J. Elder, Wake Forest's Justin Gray (after Gray made three quick threes against a Wolfpack zone) and Florida State's Tim Pickett. Sherrill probably has developed into one of the top five defenders in the league, something that seems unimaginable from his early days with the Pack. Amato Shuffling Assistants Again? Now that signing day is over, N.C. State football coach Chuck Amato can go back to his second-favorite offseason pastime: tinkering with his staff. Since his first season in Raleigh, Amato has lost at least one staff member per winter. Some see that as proof that Amato is a difficult taskmaster, but in reality that's the nature of college football. Sure, Amato would like a more stable staff, mainly because that is how things were at Florida State, which built its dynasty with a stable core of assistant coaches. But it hasn't worked out that way for Amato, whose original million-dollar staff immediately was raided after his first season. That's when offensive coordinator Norm Chow was lured to Southern California with big bucks and a shorter commute to his home in Utah. And since the Trojans just won a national championship, it seems to have worked out pretty well for him. After his second year, Amato fired defensive line coach Cary Godette and didn't mind when defensive coordinator Buddy Green left for the same job at Navy. That enabled Amato to promote graduate assistant Manny Diaz to a full-time job and hire his old teammate, Greg Williams, as the Wolfpack's secondary coach. But it also left Amato without a defensive coordinator, a position he chose for two years not to fill. Then last spring, Marty Galbraith and Mike Canales both left for the NFL, following the Wolfpack's Gator Bowl victory over Notre Dame. Galbraith departed because of wanderlust and the lure of a possible NFL pension, and Canales left in part because he wasn't elevated to replace Galbraith as offensive coordinator. Both are now offensive coordinators in the college game again, Galbraith at Duke and Canales at Arizona. So where will Amato tinker this year? Word is that veteran coach Joe Pate the lone holdover from Mike O'Cain's staff and the guy who lured both Philip Rivers and Jerricho Cotchery to Raleigh during a difficult transition phase will be moved into another position within the athletics department. Now Amato can go out and hire a defensive coordinator. State was the only Division I-A school in the last two seasons without a DC, something Amato didn't particularly mind when his team led the ACC in total defense in 2002. He may have been forced to admit it was a bad idea, after finishing last in the league in total defense in 2003, but it is not a position the coach wants to fill from within the staff. Pate originally joined N.C. State in 1986 with Dick Sheridan. He left from 1990-96 for Arkansas but returned to Raleigh to work for O'Cain in 1997. Amato was urged by then-athletic director Les Robinson to retain Pate, who continued to recruit Rivers and others during Robinson's marathon 45-day coaching search, which led to Amato's hiring in 2000.