February 10, 2003 RALEIGH Not to put too much importance on one game, but the basketball team's trip to Philadelphia on Feb. 15 could end up being a make-or-break game for the Wolfpack's chances to get into the NCAA Tournament.
Yes, the Wolfpack ended the first half of the ACC season tied for third place, with a 5-3 record in the league. It was an impressive performance, especially the back-to-back home wins over Duke and North Carolina, and another tribute to Herb Sendek's ability to keep his team together through some significant adversity.
But State's road troubles in December and early January don't look good at all right now to members of the NCAA Tournament selection committee. The losses to Massachusetts, a terrible team, and at home to Boston College will look particularly bad when the committee members go into the room to discuss who goes in and who stays home.
The Wolfpack raised its RPI ranking significantly by beating No. 3 Duke and UNC in consecutive games, and it has been holding its own at home. But the Wolfpack can't yet convert its offensive success at the RBC Center to success on the road. It often goes through long shooting slumps, especially in the second half, to play itself out of contention. It happened at Maryland and at Wake Forest, against perhaps the ACC's best two teams.
The good news for the Wolfpack is that both the Terps and the Deacs still have to come to Raleigh, where State might be able to pull an upset against either of them. That would just leave stealing a road win at Clemson or North Carolina to finish the ACC with a 9-7 record. In most years, that's good enough for an NCAA bid.
But the game against Temple is increasingly important for a couple of reasons. First, the Wolfpack has to prove it can win against a semi-decent team out of the conference. (Temple, after winning at Massachusetts, at least had a winning record in the Atlantic-10.) Second, it has to prove it can play well on the road, if only because all NCAA games are road trips. Finally, the contest will fall in the important range of the Wolfpack's final 10 games, another criterion the selection committee heavily considers.
So a win at Temple will make the Wolfpack's case for a second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid, something that hasn't happened since 1989, even stronger. A loss may require more surprises from the remainder of the ACC schedule.
Another Year, Another Coordinator
As Wolfpack Nation continues to gain confidence (understandably) on the football side of things, there probably weren't many fans ready to hit the panic button after a surprise news item in the aftermath of an overwhelmingly successful national signing day.
The old Pack football fan: How will we possibly be good next season with yet another offensive coordinator? The new Pack football fan: Seems it a bit strange, maybe, but no big deal. In Chuck We Trust.
Marty Galbraith's unexpected departure to become the tight ends coach, of all things, for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals marked the third consecutive February that the Wolfpack had lost a coordinator. First, renowned trick-play genius Norm Chow left after one season for Southern California, opening the door for Galbraith. Then, last year, NCSU alum Buddy Green curiously left his job as defensive coordinator to go to Navy.
According to sources at the time, the two biggest reasons for Chow's departure were largely or entirely beyond Amato's control. Chow wanted to return to his roots on the West Coast, and Southern Cal made him the highest-paid (at $250,000) college coordinator in the nation. Green's situation was far more complicated and also included some personal matters, but it was clear that his defensive philosophy proved a terrible fit for Amato. Green's system leaned toward the complex, the reactionary and the mental part of the game. Amato, who once observed that Green had more defensive calls than could possibly be used in one game, absolutely prefers an approach that places more emphasis on attacking and less on thinking.
On the surface, Galbraith's departure appeared to be more like Green's than Chow's. It was another lateral move, probably even from a financial perspective. The pay scale for college coordinators generally $125,000-$175,000 in the elite conferences, with some Chow-like exceptions is very similar to the pay scale for NFL position coaches. Pro coordinators recently broke the $1 million a year barrier, but many of the other assistants still make less than $150,000 a year. That's certainly a nice salary, but it can't be the main reason for making a jump.
If we didn't know better, we would start to think Amato is a hard guy to work for. Oh, wait, we do know better, and we're pretty sure Amato is an exceptionally difficult boss especially with what he expects from his assistants in terms of game preparation and recruiting. (The NFL embraces the former but avoids the latter entirely.) Of course, that demanding style also is a big part of what makes Amato so successful.
Galbraith said in an interview with the Raleigh News & Observer that he didn't leave because of Amato.
Chuck's good to work for, Galbraith said. Yeah, he's demanding. That's the perception of him, and it's true. But you're not worth your salt in this business if you aren't demanding. ... People can speculate about the move all they want, but there's nothing there. It's not because of anyone or anything at N.C. State that I'm leaving.
Galbraith certainly does have a bad case of coaching wanderlust, making 15 stops in a 29-year career. Perhaps, at 53, he still enjoys the challenges of teaching and preparation, but he'll enjoy it more without the recruiting, academic, social and other off-the-field aspects of the college game.
Coaching in the NFL is different, Galbraith told the News & Observer. There's no pretense. It's based on winning, on being successful.
So where does this leave the Wolfpack? After all, this does mean that senior quarterback and Heisman hopeful Philip Rivers will go to work for his third offensive coordinator in four years when spring practice begins in March. Then again, the defense didn't seem to suffer last season, after Green left. Amato opted to go without a defensive coordinator, as NCSU became the only Division I-A school without one.
Nobody would be surprised if Amato certainly a guy with a refreshing lack of concern for the conventional did the same thing this year on offense. He's said all along that the Wolfpack doesn't run the Chow offense or the Galbraith offense; it runs the N.C. State offense. That always has been based on multiple formations, some of which are really odd, lots of trick plays and a heavy reliance on the short passing game.
So Amato may just turn it all over to his entire offensive staff, which consists of wide receivers coach Doc Holliday, quarterbacks coach Mike Canales, running backs coach Dick Portee and tight ends coach Curt Cignetti and let them run things collectively. If he does elevate someone to coordinator, he'll probably talk first with Holliday (who already has the additional title of assistant head coach) as a courtesy, then with Canales.
Remember, the committee approach mostly worked last season. The Wolfpack, with no one other than Amato calling the shots, finished first in the ACC in total defense, allowing 301.9 yards per game, and second in scoring defense, allowing 17.0 points per game.
However the situation shakes out, what might be most difficult for the State offense to replace is Galbraith's ability to put together an offensive line to protect Rivers. Galbraith probably didn't get enough credit over the last two years for taking a misfit collection of offensive linemen and turning it into the best group in the ACC. He oversaw the successful conversions of defensive linemen Shane Riggs and Sean Locklear, two of the most surprising stories from the Wolfpack's impressive 11-3 season.
So while Pack fans debate whether or not Canales should take over as offensive coordinator a position he held for five years at South Florida or whether Amato should bring in someone from outside the program, another big question will be who will take control of the offensive line. Up front, NCSU must replace Riggs, starting right tackle Scott Kooistra and the blocking of tight ends Sean Berton and Joe Gray.
There is talent to work with in returnees Locklear, center Jed Paulsen and tackle Chris Colmer, one of the best blockers in the ACC. Super recruit Derek Morris (6-6, 360), a SuperPrep All-America selection last February who originally signed with Ohio State but has been enrolled at N.C. State since January, already has staked his claim to Kooistra's job.
But Galbraith's biggest talent was keeping the chemistry along the line fresh, even when Paulsen and Riggs were out of the lineup with injuries and had to be replaced by walk-ons Brandon Sanders and Ashley Wingate.
So there are some things to be concerned about, if the Wolfpack truly does hope to be a national contender next season. But even Galbraith's departure offered no reason to panic.