N.C. State’s basketball program is not in a good spot right now and hasn’t been for two seasons.
But N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow made the decision Thursday to fire sixth-year coach Mark Gottfried based not only on where the Wolfpack program is but where she sees the program headed.
“It’s about direction more than anything else,” Yow said Thursday.
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Gottfried, 53, will remain the coach for the rest of the season and is owed about $2.5 million in a buyout for the three years remaining on his contract. He has a 122-82 record at N.C. State and led the Wolfpack to the NCAA tournament in each of his first four seasons, one of three coaches in ACC history to do so, but the bottom has fallen out on the program the past two years.
Yow said Gottfried wanted to finish the season.
“He wanted to. He said to me, he’d like to finish what he started.”
Gottfried has a 47-55 mark in ACC play but is only 8-24 since the start of the 2015-16 season. Boston College (2-30) is the only conference team with a worse ACC record over the same time span.
The Wolfpack (14-13) has lost five ACC games by at least 20 points this season, including a 51-point “disaster,” as Gottfried called it, 107-56 at UNC on Jan. 8.
Yow said Thursday that the blowout losses were a factor in the timing of her decision. She was planning on waiting until after the season to make a decision about Gottfried’s future but a 30-point loss at Wake Forest last Saturday expedited the process. UNC beat N.C. State 97-73 Wednesday night.
“It would be disingenuous to suggest that losing by 51, or 30 or 25 in our league, doesn’t matter,” Yow said. “It is different watching a (blowout) loss than it is a well-played and competitive game.”
Gottfried, who could not be reached for comment on Thursday, said after Wednesday’s loss to UNC that he was responsible for a promising season, which included the program’s first win at Duke since 1995, falling into the abyss.
“Everything that happens is my responsibility,” Gottfried said. “I get it. Just like if you beat Villanova in the NCAA tournament or you go to the Sweet 16 you get a lot of praise a lot of times as a coach. Other times you take the hits. That’s part of what we do.”
Gottfried, a strong recruiter hired by Yow in April 2011, was able to find early success with a veteran roster he inherited from former Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe. Gottfried’s first team made the third round, or Sweet 16, of the NCAA tournament in 2012.
He got back to the Sweet 16 in 2015. The program had only been that far in the NCAA tournament once (in 2005) since Jim Valvano had been the coach.
While Gottfried had success with transfers from other college programs, he struggled to keep his own recruits. He signed 15 high school players in his first five classes and seven of those players — five ranked as top 100 recruits — transferred out of the program.
N.C. State starts two freshmen this season, and the youth and inexperience have cost Gottfried.
“We’re caught right now — and I know people are tired of hearing it but it’s truth, it is the truth — we’ve got a lot of young players playing in a league that is really, really good this year,” Gottfried said after the UNC loss.
Yow pointed to the roster problems, and the possibility of it turning over again in the spring, as one of the reasons she made the decision on Thursday.
Yow said she would use a search firm to help find Gottfried’s replacement. She asked for some patience while potential candidates finished out their seasons.
“We’ve got a long runway here because we have two weeks left in the regular season, then we go into the ACC tournament and then we finally get to the NCAA tournament and the coaches that we will be looking at will be playing in the tournament,” Yow said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
Mark Gottfried’s record at N.C. State (2012-2017)
2011-12: 24-13, 9-7 ACC; NCAA Sweet 16
2012-13: 24-11, 11-7 ACC; NCAA Second Round
2013-14: 22-14, 9-9 ACC; NCAA Second Round
2014-15: 22-14, 10-8 ACC; NCAA Sweet 16
2015-16: 16-17, 5-13 ACC; n/a
2016-17: 14-13, 3-11 ACC;
Total: 122-82, 47-55