N.C. State’s athletic future looks bright

Times are pretty good these days if you’re an N.C. State fan. And they could be on the verge of getting a lot better.

Known for their long-suffering loyalty to the red and white, Wolfpack fans have endured some positively awful basketball and frightful football over the last couple of decades. The non-revenue sports haven’t excelled, either.

Baseball has underachieved more often than not, and many of the other sports have experienced little success.

Going back to 1994 when Mike O’Cain was at the helm, Wolfpack football has gone 107-99, including 59-77 in ACC play, and finished nationally ranked just twice. In 2002, NCSU finished No. 13 after winning 11 games – the only time the program has reached double figures in victories – and last season it finished at No. 25.

Chuck Amato’s penalty-laden, on-field mediocrity and foot-in-mouth syndrome era eventually cost him the job in 2006 after seven years at his alma mater.  The base forked over mega bucks to expand and renovate Carter-Finley Stadium, but it saw little payoff.

But consecutive bowl victories in football and a Sweet 16 appearance in basketball have changed the outlooks at “State,” and for good reason.

Football coach Tom O’Brien struggled in getting the ship humming after jumping to Raleigh from Boston College five years ago. His last eight BC teams won bowl games and he had coached several NFL quarterbacks, including Matt Ryan, who was still at BC when O’Brien took the NCSU job.

Senior quarterback Mike Glennon is a certain NFL prospect. The Pack has the ACC’s best secondary, a darn good offensive line, and has the inner cycles that make programs efficient is working in proper order.

The season-opener versus Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Classic in Atlanta could springboard NCSU to one of its best seasons ever. That potential is real.

On the hoops side, the decade after Jim Valvano left in 1990, aside from an NCAA trip the following year, was the worst in the proud program’s history. N.C. State had become a joke in the ACC until Herb Sendek at least made things respectable with five consecutive NCAA trips. But he was run out of town after the fifth such year because fans tired of his hybrid Princeton offense and numerous other factors. It was time for a change.

Sidney Lowe helped lead NCSU to a national title on the court in 1983, but he was a disaster as its head coach from 2006-11. Apathy for a program that also won a national title in 1974, went unbeaten in 1973 (ineligible for postseason), claims the ACC’s greatest player ever in David Thompson as well as the Father of the ACC in former coach Everett Case had grown to a shocking level.

Since 1992, N.C. State has a hoops record of 357-310, including a rancid 126-206 in ACC play with six trips to the NCAA Tournament. This includes last season’s 24-win team that reached the Sweet 16.

But Mark Gottfried will enter his second season at the helm with a team probably picked to win the ACC and as a second-tier Final Four contender. The Wolfpack’s incoming recruiting class is ranked among the top-five by just about every service, and optimism for N.C. State basketball hasn’t been this high since the 1980s.

Then toss in the many Olympic sports teams that are improving and the nationally-ranked baseball team, which is led by a pair of freshmen, including arguably the nation’s top pitcher in Carlos Rodon. The baseball Wolfpack is hosting an NCAA regional site and is a dark horse to reach the College World Series in Omaha.

Not coincidentally, many of these strides have taken root since Debbie Yow was named athletic director two years ago. Yow proved when running Maryland’s department for 16 years that she understood how to cultivate a culture of winning and uniformity.

Fractured and falling behind the rest of the ACC under its previous leadership, N.C. State is now the athletic department collectively moving forward the fastest. For a change, good times are indeed ahead for the red and white.