What to do about Chuck Amato? What to do?
Now in year 3 PR (post Rivers), it’s clear that NC State is NOT on the verge of greatness. It’s abundantly clear that Chuck has not capitalized on the momentum he built up in his first few years and that the program is no longer the up-and-coming comet it once appeared to be. NC State is not a national power and doesn’t appear to be headed anywhere near there. Worse, with UNC’s hiring of Butch Davis, Wake Forest’s miracle season and ECU’s surprising bowl game run, NC State is possible the fourth hottest program in the state.
Back in the Philip Rivers days, the Wolfpack didn’t quite live up to the outrageous expectations (it may be hard to recall, but many folks were actually and seriously talking about national championships!), but did do quite well. Amato and Rivers whomped Notre Dame (and UNC) in their first year and went 11-3 in year three. Even with a surprisingly mediocre 8-5 in Rivers’ senior year, the Wolfpack’s future looked exceedingly bright. Alumni was rabid, money was rolling in and buildings were going up. Then came the 5-6 season. OK, a little rebuilding was to be expected (although a true Florida State North would go 8-4 in a rebuilding year, right?). Last year, the Pack rebounded slightly, going 7-5 after winning five of their last six.
The two middling PR seasons left Chuck Amato on the proverbial hot seat. Things were nearly bad enough to fire him, but even the most ardent supporters were wondering if they’d been had by a smooth-talking charlatan. Last Saturday’s sloppy loss to the hapless Tar Heels left no doubt. NC State is now 3-8 with six straight losses. They couldn’t beat Carolina, a team with a lame-duck coach that hadn’t beat a 1-A school all year. If John Bunting isn’t good enough to coach anymore in Chapel Hill, what about Amato, who Bunting’s beaten three straight times?
The thing is, the ironic thing, is that Amato’s early success and hype is largely to blame here. In most of NC State’s history, two middling seasons (including one bowl appearance) followed by one terrible year wouldn’t guarantee a firing. That would earn you one more year to earn your job back. But that’s not the program anymore. Chuck Amato came in talking about building a national power and national powers don’t accept four consecutive years without a winning conference record.
For Amato, it’s not even just the ugly record, the angry fans or the embarrassing loss to a crappy rival. Now the newspapers have turned on him. Dick Dascenzo of the Durham Herald Sun skewered the Chest yesterday and the News & Observer’s Caulton Tudor did the same. When the newspaper guys, the ones who need good rapport with coaches to get their stories, turn on you, you know you’re in deep Davenport. For good measure, the student paper called for his head today.
So, what to do? Clearly Chuck has done lots of good at State. He helped build a new football building, expand the stadium, bring in superior talent and create a positive vibe that had been missing in Raleigh since Jim Valvano slinked off campus. Is one terrible season (after three disappointing ones) enough to fire him? Maybe not, but consider what bringing him back will mean. It’s clear to me that Amato just isn’t a good enough coach to compete at this level (unless he has one of the greatest players in ACC history running his offense). Another year isn’t going to help that. Tudor has a nice paragraph about what that extra year would mean:
There’s a chance Amato will get another year. But if so, it would be a plunge into purgatory marked by a weekly referendum on his fate. N.C. State would have 12 games, each a certifiable crisis until the coach either won or lost enough games to make the eventual decision a moot issue.
How would that be good for the program? Would that brutal deathmarch be worth making it appear that NC State gives coaches a fair shake?
On the flip side, could State land a guy who could fulfill Amato’s empty promises? Possibly, but maybe not. Odds are, their search wouldn’t be as quick, painless or as successful as UNC’s was. In the long run that probably doesn’t matter, but in the short term, while local high school kids are still picking their schools, it would have an impact.
What to do?