There is nothing quite like the first day. Nothing quite like that new coach smell. Those first anxious platitudes at the podium. For an hour or so, the coach even pretends to like the media.
When the new N.C. State men’s basketball coach was introduced, damned if he didn’t say all of the right things. Vowed he would not cower at the challenge of standing bloody nose-to-bloody nose with the neighborhood bullies, Duke and North Carolina. Assured the fans he would hire a phenomenal staff that would help him recruit the nation’s top talent. Promised his team would play hard, play up-tempo and play together and, given time, play for a championship. He said he loved how passionate Wolfpack fans are.
Sure, those same N.C. State fans were a bit wary when they first heard his name. They’d heard so many bigger names during the extended coaching search that dragged on for weeks. His wasn’t even a name that anybody had been talking about or tweeting about or message-boarding about, so they weren’t quite sure what to make of it. Before the hastily-organized press conference, all that most fans really knew about the new guy was that he didn’t boast any Final Fours on his resume, and maybe that he’d had his most notable successes as an assistant coach or that he’d done some broadcasting.
At the press conference, the Wolfpack chancellor said, “We had a clear focus in mind when the search started. Today we will officially appoint a new coach who will continue to build the rich history and tradition associated with N.C. State basketball.”
Then the N.C. State athletic director boasted about the new hire’s passion and work ethic and desire to return the program to national prominence, before saying, “We’ve got a great coach and we’re looking forward to it. This is a great day for the Wolfpack Nation.”
When the new coach, clad in his requisite red tie, stepped up to the podium to enthusiastic applause in the room, he said how thankful and excited he was for the opportunity. “I’m here to continue to restore the glory days of N.C. State basketball,” he added. “We are going to be committed. We are going to compete. We are going to continue to grow this thing. And get it to where it should be. You know for sure what you have in me, because I am somebody who believes.”
When one of his players was asked about the new coach, he said, “He knows what it takes to win. He knows basketball. It’s a great feeling.”
Sure enough, the new coach could spot plenty of talent on his new Wolfpack roster, but there was the lingering question of who among them would actually be on his team in October?
Still, as we say in our business, N.C. State’s new coach won the press conference. Heck, if you dreamed real, real hard you could even imagine this coach in his mid-40s as young enough to be a program builder like a Dean Smith or a Mike Krzyzewski.
After the inquisition from the media, the new coach left the interview room to shake hands with some Wolfpack fans. Outside was the kind of spring evening that fosters optimism. By the end of the day it seemed that most N.C. State fans had chosen to believe in the new coach if for no other reason than the alternative augured more years of disappointment. So they chanted Wolf! Pack! Wolf Pack! and then Go To Hell Carolina! Go to Hell! and then as their new coach walked off into the sunset of his first day, they chanted the name of their latest savior …
“SIDNEY LOWE! SIDNEY LOWE!”
There is nothing quite like the first day. Except for other first days.
Tim Crothers is the author of The Man Watching: A Biography of Anson Dorrance, the Unlikely Architect of the Greatest College Sports Dynasty Ever? and he is the co-author of Hard Work: A Life On and Off the Court, the autobiography of Roy Williams.