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Some Smooth Moves, Some Strange Ones

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff


July 26, 2004 RALEIGH — It slipped in quietly, as an update on the official N.C. State website. Someone noticed and wrote a story about it. And now, everyone knows that coach Chuck Amato finally has filled the long-standing vacancy on his staff.

In a move that had been rumored for months, Amato moved Todd Stroud, the Wolfpack's strength and conditioning coordinator, into one of the team's nine full-time assistant coaching positions. Stroud, who will handle the defensive line for the Pack, also received the title of assistant head coach. In other staff news, receivers coach and recruiting ace Doc Holliday got a bump up from assistant head coach to associate head coach.

At first glance, they were curious late-summer moves, since Stroud has been on campus for more than four years, has an extensive background in coaching (beyond strength and conditioning), and was ready at any time in the spring to step into Amato's restructured lineup. Lingering in the background was the fact that no staff in the ACC, and likely few in the country, has had more staff turnover under the same head coach than the Pack has had during the last four seasons under Amato.

Only three of Amato's original nine Wolfpack assistants (remember Norm Chow?) remain on his staff. In the most recent departures, long-time N.C. State assistant Joe Pate took an administrative position in the athletic department, and Chris Demarest left for an assistant position at lowly Rutgers, in his home state of New Jersey. Amato filled one of those empty slots by hiring former Clemson assistant Reggie Herring as defensive coordinator just before spring practice, but he left the other spot vacant for an unusually long period.

As it turned out, there was at least one very good reason for the delay. Neither the mainstream media nor any of the N.C. State-centric websites mentioned this extremely important angle, but the different NCAA rules that govern assistant coaches and strength coaches effectively encouraged Amato to handle the situation in the manner he did. Some opposing coaches rolled their eyes at what they perceived as just another example of Amato living in the gray area of NCAA rules, but others called it a stroke of genius.

During the summer months, the NCAA rules that apply to assistant coaches are virtually the opposite of those that apply to strength coaches. Essentially, the assistants have to stay away from the players — they're not even allowed to get reports about who showed up for "voluntary" workouts and who didn't — while, in many instances, the strength coaches actually are required to be with the players in a supervisory role.

Stroud served as the interim defensive line coach during the spring, but technically he was still the strength coach. So, all summer long, he supervised the Wolfpack players during their offseason workouts, just as he did in years past. Had he already been moved officially to his coaching position, he wouldn't have been permitted to handle those duties. The end result: This fall Stroud may be the only assistant coach in America who (legally) worked with his players all summer long, and the only one who (legally) knows who worked their tails off and who had other priorities.

One of the first players Amato coached at Florida State, Stroud goes back a long way with his boss. He was one of the first people Amato interviewed when he became the Wolfpack's head coach after the 1999 season.

To some, though, hiring Stroud looked fishy, even beyond the manipulation of NCAA rules. The Raleigh News & Observer publicized a real-estate transaction between Stroud, Amato and C.J. Hunter, the four-times-positive steroid user and an assistant strength and conditioning coach on the Wolfpack staff. (Question: During the wonderful publicity glow of the record-setting Philip Rivers era, why even bother with a potential public-relations disaster such as Hunter?) Amato bought Hunter's house in Cary two years ago, then sold it to Stroud and his wife.

Amato insists that there was nothing unseemly about the transaction, in which Hunter lost more than $50,000 from his original purchase price of $615,000. But Hunter, a former Olympics shot put champion, is an admitted steroid user who joined the N.C. State strength and conditioning staff after he was banned from track and field.

Hunter currently is cooperating — under pressure — with federal investigators in the probe of Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO, of Burlingame, Calif., which is accused of supplying banned substances to some of the world's premier athletes. The group under suspicion includes baseball slugger Barry Bonds and track sprinter Tim Montgomery, who is now married to Hunter's ex-wife, track superstar Marion Jones.

So what does this all have to do with hiring a defensive line coach?

Nothing, really. But having Hunter on the football staff puts everything he is associated with into question, simply because of his background. That's why someone cared enough to check on his real estate records and make a weak but real financial link between him, Amato and Stroud.

"We did enough background checks," Amato said in the summer. "He's gotten better and better and better (as a coach). He's valuable to us. He does a good job with us, with parents and everybody."

As for Stroud, he is one of Amato's most popular staff members and should do well as an assistant coach, a position he held at Samford and Central Florida before becoming the strength and conditioning coach at Auburn and then Memphis.

Of course, Stroud also has a huge challenge in front of him, since the Wolfpack had one of the worst defenses in the league last year. Much of that was attributed to inexperience up front, where six of the eight regulars were either true freshmen or redshirt freshmen and the two seniors, junior college transfers Alan Halloway and Sheldon Lewin, frequently found themselves in Amato's doghouse.

On Newspapers, GPAs, Goalposts

Three things came to mind when prep All-American tailback Andre Brown finally announced that he will attend prep school this fall instead of playing for the Wolfpack.

First, why were mainstream newspapers still writing articles about Brown's potential impact with the 2004 Pack a full month after he had failed to qualify? Second, Brown claimed he came up 20 points short of the 1,000 he needed to be NCAA-eligible, thereby becoming the first athlete in the history of the NCAA's academic guidelines not to claim he was only 10 points short. Third, how bad was Brown's core GPA, such that he needed to make 1,000 on the SAT to qualify on the NCAA's sliding scale? Answer: about a 2.0.

It's been pretty well-known for several months that Brown, who helped Greenville Rose win the North Carolina Class 4A title by rushing for 3,478 yards and 47 touchdowns as a senior, wouldn't be counted on this year to contribute, and it is a loss. Brown said he hopes to spend only the fall semester at Hargrave Military Academy, get his qualifying SAT score and enroll at State for the spring semester. Technically, he can be recruited this fall by other schools, but Brown repeatedly has stated that he will stick with the Wolfpack.

Amato said he believes that with a healthy T.A. McLendon, a healthy Josh Brown, sophomore Reggie Davis and speedy rookie Darrell Blackman (who preceded Brown by a year at Hargrave), the Pack should have plenty of reliable weapons in the backfield this fall. The coach is probably right, although Andre Brown would've been another nice option.

Meanwhile, the school announced plans in July to install hydraulic collapsible goalposts at Carter-Finley Stadium. They can be taken down immediately with a touch of a button, presumably before fans try to climb up and tear them down.

So what should the fans do after the Wolfpack pulls off a big upset on the field, especially in a season in which Ohio State, Florida State and Miami all come to town?

Amato suggested an attitude change.

"We have to start thinking that they are not upsets," Amato said.