It would have been easy for Mark Gottfried to disappear, just take the money N.C. State owes him and walk away.
But that’s not how Gottfried wants his six-year tenure with the Wolfpack to end. Fired on Thursday afternoon, Gottfried asked to remain as the coach for the final four games of the regular season and the ACC tournament.
Why? The answer is simple.
“I don’t want to quit on my players,” Gottfried said. “I truly think it’s the best thing for them.
“I care about our players a lot. I care about them as individuals and I want them to have success more than anything else.”
N.C. State (14-13) has lost six straight games and a season that started with so much hope has turned into a disaster. At 3-11 in the ACC, the Wolfpack is a game out of last place in the conference.
Gottfried, 122-82 at N.C. State, led the Wolfpack to the NCAA tournament in each of his first four seasons, but, for the second straight year, the Wolfpack will likely miss the tournament.
I care about our players a lot. I care about them as individuals and I want them to have success more than anything else.
Not that Gottfried is ready to give up on that, either. As he has all been season, Gottfried has a positive attitude, almost incredibly so.
“I’m still hopeful that this group can put it all together and enjoy winning, one way or another, whether it’s in the regular season or the (ACC) tournament, anything can still happen,” Gottfried said.
Appropriately, in that “never give up” spirit, Gottfried did his regularly scheduled radio show on Thursday night at Jimmy V’s restaurant in downtown Raleigh. The team and most of Gottfried’s family joined him at the Italian eatery named for the former Wolfpack coach, Jim Valvano, the leader of the unlikeliest national title run ever in 1983.
Gottfried was the first coach since Valvano to lead the Wolfpack to the Sweet 16 twice (in 2012 and ’15). N.C. State’s 2015 NCAA tournament win over Villanova was the school’s first over a No. 1 seed since Valvano’s national title win over Houston in ’83.
“I’m really proud of the accomplishments we had and I think there’s a lot of them,” Gottfried said. “I don’t think there’s a few, there is a lot.”
Most coaches hide when they’ve been dismissed, but Gottfried, the son of a coach in a family of coaches, took N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow’s decision in stride.
“I can disagree with the decision but truthfully that doesn’t matter,” Gottfried said. “Debbie has the prerogative to do what she needs to do and I understand that. That’s part of our business and I’m not going to complain to her.”
Gottfried is owed about $2.5 million with three years remaining on his contract. He said Thursday that he hopes N.C. State makes a great hire.
“I know this season has been challenging, especially for our fans, and I hate that for our fans because I think they deserve better,” Gottfried said.
He even joked that there would not be any “sabotage” on his part in this coaching search. Yow, who previously worked at Maryland, famously accused former Terps coach Gary Williams of interfering with her N.C. State search in 2011 that ended with Gottfried.
“I don’t want to be that guy,” Gottfried said. “I want her to hire a good coach and I want N.C. State fans to get on with it and have a great run.”
This was Gottfried’s 20th season as a head coach, with previous stops at Murray State (1995-98) and Alabama (1998-2009). At 53, he said he still has a lot of good years in coaching in front of him.
“I will learn from the experiences I’ve had here, good and bad,” Gottfried said. “I thought I was a better coach at N.C. State than I was at Alabama. Hopefully, at my next stop, I’ll be a better coach than I was here.”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio