September 2, 2002
RALEIGH - As everybody who saw N.C. State's schedule knew in the preseason, the competition wasn't very good for Chuck Amato's team in the early going. The Wolfpack blitzed New Mexico and East Tennessee State with minimum exertion and virtually no personnel losses.
And while the jury is still out on whether tailbacks Greg Golden, T.A. McLendon and Josh Brown can handle Ray Robinson's old job - or whether the offensive line can open up holes for them - there are some things that are beyond dispute even against these weak sisters of the poor.
Philip Rivers keeps getting better and better. Even when he looks like he is tackled for a big loss, Rivers finds ways to make plays, without making a dumb decision. Surely, North Carolina fans wish he might have been able to teach that to Ronald Curry. Or Darian Durant, for that matter.
The Wolfpack defense is worlds better than it ever was before Amato arrived. Sure, everybody knew that linebacker Dantonio Burnette and safety Terrence Holt could play before the season started, but the guys who have been most impressive are sophomore cornerbacks Marcus Hudson and Lamont Reid and sophomore safety Andre Maddox. Up front, senior defensive end Shawn Price looks like he is on the verge of having an all-conference season. He's faster than just about everybody on the field.
Another name to listen for is defensive tackle Alan Holloway, who mysteriously didn't show up at N.C. State until after classes started. There was little or no explanation for that, with the school saying simply that Holloway needed to take care of some academic work at Nassau Community College in New York. Holloway played sparingly against New Mexico but had six tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage, against East Tennessee State.
Finally, Amato has to be concerned about his kicking game. Junior Austin Herbert missed an extra point in each of the first two games and missed his only field goal attempt against New Mexico, a 38-yarder.
The coach can pretty much disregard Herbert's 28.2-yard punting average in the second game, since it was played in a drenching rain that affected everyone's ability to have good contact with the ball. But Herbert's numbers and consistency have to improve over the next four games if the Wolfpack is going to make a legitimate run at the ACC title.
Amato's Media Plea: An Answer
You know whom Amato sounds like some times? No, not Mickey Mouse. We're thinking of another cartoon character with big ears and bowed legs: Mack Brown.
Brown, who left North Carolina for Texas after the 1997 season mainly because he didn't think football in the state of North Carolina was big-time enough, always was trying to get the media to jump on his bandwagon. In his final post-game speech at UNC, following the Tar Heels' win over Duke in the regular-season finale, he told the media they should stand up for what they believe in and write that the Tar Heels, ranked No. 6 in the nation at the time, should go to an Alliance Bowl. (Remember the Alliance, the only thing less like a national championship than the BCS?) Anyway, you could practically hear Hark, The Sound Of Mack Brown Whining a few weeks ago when Amato let loose this spiel in his first preseason press conference.
You know what can help us get in the top 10? Amato said. You people. When it's time for two-a-days, write about football. We are all in two-a-days, and I see front-page articles about basketball. That's great, but their season doesn't start until October, when they have their first practice. Write about football. Make the country know about it. Get the exposure for this state. Help us. You guys can help us to get to where we want to go.
Originally, during his first preseason practice back in August 2000, Amato was upset that every paper in the state wrote stories about Charlotte basketball player Jason Parker's failure to be admitted to UNC, a key situation in the recent downfall of Tar Heel basketball. He was perturbed again a few weeks back, when papers ran big sports-front displays about the release of the ACC basketball schedules. The timing of the basketball news, of course, was orchestrated not by the media but by the league office, in part because it worked out well with the vacation schedule of the person sending out the release.
Amato said he wasn't trying to start a football-basketball rivalry. He just wanted the media to know which was more important.
I love basketball, Amato said. I grew up on it at this great state university. Basketball is so important. It helps us recruit.
I'm not saying don't write about other sports, but when we are all in two-a-days, there is something important at one of the schools to write about every day. Put it on the front of the daggone sports page. Then on the second page, you can put about the basketball team getting a commitment from so-and-so. I don't want this to come out wrong, because I am the biggest basketball fan in the world.
OK, coach, since we are giving suggestions to each other, here's a few for you. If media members take your advice - and it certainly has some merit - and you consider their recommendations, maybe both sides will be better off.
First, have a chat with your sports information department. (While generally pleasant individuals, they rank first in the ACC in media paranoia - it's not even close - and seventh or eighth in reasonableness.) Second, make yourself and your assistants more available for print, radio and TV interviews. (You rank in the bottom third of the ACC in accessibility, and that can't be blamed entirely on the SID folks.) Third, if you and other coaches in North Carolina want more coverage during two-a-days, open up a practice every now and then, or maybe even a scrimmage.
On the day the basketball schedules were announced, the Wolfpack had its second preseason scrimmage of the year. Exciting freshman cornerback A.J. Davis broke his ankle. Up-and-coming receiver Dovonte Edwards twisted his knee. But nobody saw it happen, because all of State's preseason practices and scrimmages were closed to the media and to the public. Nobody knew the extent of either injury at the time, so coverage of the basketball schedules was much more prominent in most papers than the two injuries.
It's not just us, Amato said in his plea. It is you guys, too.
Right back at you.
Long-Awaited ESA Deal Helps
The long-lasting dispute between the Carolina Hurricanes, the Centennial Authority and N.C. State over parking revenues at the Entertainment and Sports Arena finally was settled at the end of August. This important development cleared the path for the Hurricanes to finalize an $80 million naming rights deal with Canadian-based bank RBC Centura.
That's significant for the Wolfpack for two reasons. Not only does it put more than $500,000 unbudgeted money into the athletic department operating funds from the parking deal, it allows the school to open up an escrow account to put in more than $1.375 million every year for the next 10 years. The long-awaited deal is expected to be finalized before the Hurricanes begin their fourth season at the arena in October.
NCSU's share of the money will be used to build more new facilities at Carter-Finley Stadium in coming years. Namely, it will go toward the long-needed new press box, which will include multiple levels of luxury boxes. Those are lacking in the current press box, which is little more than a double-wide in the sky.
The Wolfpack Club, which is building the new Football Operations Center in the south end zone of the stadium, has raised some $33 million of the $50 million it needs to pay for the building. It also has taken out a $40 million loan to pay for the rest of the Carter-Finley improvements, which include the scoreboard and the enclosed end zone that were completed before last season.
The school learned with the ESA that the luxury boxes provide huge financial benefits, especially since the Hurricanes are on the hook for maintaining those boxes and finding new tenants when leases expire.
All N.C. State has to do for that revenue, like the money from the naming rights deal, is sit back every year and wait for the check to come in the mail. It will have to work a little harder on the Carter-Finley boxes, but there already is a waiting list of companies that would like to rent space for home football games.