The easiest thing members of a fanbase can do after a game is call on the coach to be fired. That visceral reaction after a tough loss or an embarrassing blowout is easy to find across social media and on the message boards directly after the game ends. For the bulk of people, that reaction represents the only answer to the question of “what needs to change.” Folks feel the need to react but understandably lack the experience or in-depth knowledge of the personnel, strategy, and gameplan to truly articulate what could or should be done to make changes otherwise. Fans just know something is wrong and must be fixed…and it rightfully starts with the head coach.
State fans aren’t close to being unique with reactions of “fire the coach” after a loss (I mean if you get weary of our own postgame, I suggest you stay away from any NFL boards) but those reactions that happen in the moment typically fade after a few days have passed, hope springs for the next game, or life around us takes up much more of our bandwidth.
But what happens when that feeling doesn’t fade away? When losses pile up and the sound of drums grows louder, so much so that the push for a change no longer feels possible or probable, but inevitable?
Is that where we are with Kevin Keatts? It’s a question not just asked by our fanbase but on the minds of national talking heads like Gary Parrish who lists Keatts as one of 5 coaches on the hottest seat. Now there’s plenty of bad faith from guys like Parrish as he unnecessarily and annoyingly brings up us “pushing” Herb out the door (that was over 15 years ago Parrish, stop peddling ancient history to fit your narrative and move on...we have) and has regularly maligned State fans as being unhinged. Yet one area in which I think he has a point is at times in the past when he’s spoken about how difficult it is for a coach, who has already lost a vocal portion of the fanbase, to course correct and pull themselves out of that negative perception.
I mean from the start of a coach’s career we see folks take the very easy stance predicting they won’t work out and hey, they are usually right...because most coaches don’t work out. Every time we have hired a coach for football or basketball a good friend of mine would purchase the domain of “fire(insert coach’s name here).com” not only because it was easy to do so and could make a quick buck selling it to a more frustrated person but because he assumed, as many of us would, that the day of reckoning for Coach ________ would come. And right now those early predictions feel like they are solid. Kevin Keatts is in a position eerily similar to Gott’s last year. Year 6, a complete overhaul of staff, a potential NBA lottery pick surrounded by role players and talented newcomers…and, more importantly, the heat of meeting higher expectations. Gott was fired midseason after faltering early...it’s not impossible to happen here. Now while Gott’s year was supposed to equal “ACC title contention” before quickly bottoming out, for Keatts it’s probably just “make the NCAA tournament.” Still, in the minds of many even making the NCAAs in 2022-23 just provides a stay of execution, because they have seen enough (fairly, in my opinion) to be concerned as to what will happen in 2023-24.
To show where we are note that a top 100 player committed to NC State this week and the reaction was muted. This is no shade to Dennis Parker or the coaching staff, because he seems like an excellent addition and I would personally relate most of the dearth of excitement to the lack of faith that any new recruit will finish their career at most schools (thanks transfer portal and NIL!). But the other massive element is questioning the state of the program going forward...if these same coaches will even be here.
For all the successes we’ve had, every major sport has taken a gut punch of misfortune these past couple of years in women’s basketball, football, and baseball but unlike the others, while there were major injuries, a malaise is surrounding this men’s basketball program. There doesn't even seem to be a palpable feeling of morbid curiosity about how we’ll look. This, compounded with disappointments in other sports, doesn’t make Keatts job easier when many fans are doubtful we’ll be a success in basketball, while simmering underneath about the bad breaks in the others. Folks are going to want change somewhere to bring back that optimism, and Elliot Avent, Dave Doeren, and Wes Moore have mostly earned the right to not have to worry about going anywhere. That just makes Coach Keatts look like the slowest runner among them in a zombie apocalypse.
So, what can he do? Is it a forgone conclusion that this year…or next…is his last season? I’m not so sure it is. The last guy I know who believed something to be inevitable disappeared in a cloud of dust, so of course, because of the nature of the sport, with the snap of a finger he could turn it around. Basketball is the one major sport that a few tweaks and some luck can flip an entire program. As stated before, we have a NBA lottery pick at the most productive position in this system, seasoned and successful vets at every other spot, and young athletic talent pushing for a breakthrough year...add that to the ACC as a whole having a lot of question marks on the sidelines and on the floor. We’ve seen how Keatts has spoken about reflecting on changes he could make as a tactician and how he seemingly has a hunger to prove his doubters wrong. Clearly, the pieces are in place, he just has to solve the puzzle.
Frankly, I look forward to my own and others' overreactions this year. Game by game, even play by play…live and in technicolor on our own love blog. It’s a guarantee after a tough loss many will say it’s time to move on or “x” player isn’t very good and can’t play at this level. And after an impressive win others will exclaim that this team could make a deep NCAA run or that “x” player is the best “y” since player “z.” It’s in our nature, so while I hope we see a lot more of the latter than the former due to our on-court results this season…whille not my opinion, maybe it’s too little, too late…and, short of raising a banner, for some Keatts fate is already sealed.