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The Wolfpack coaching carousel: A historical comparison

Myth or Reality

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Wake Forest vs North Carolina State Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we have our man Keatts, hopefully it will be 20 years before we have to hear the media again speculate on the value of the NC State coaching job relative to other schools. Their misinformed notions:

· Our fan base has unreal expectations (I do expect to win the ACC more than once every 30 years)

· NC State Athletic Directors (ADs) do not give coaches the chance to succeed (Gary Williams, anyone?)

· NC State ADs do not allow the time necessary to build an elite program (even Google doesn’t provide a timeline)

We heard it a nauseating number of times from Bilas, Patrick, Gminski, etc., but it reached down into the coaching ranks with the Rick Pitino interview on the Keatts hiring . . .

Around the 0:42 mark of the 53-second video, after praising State for hiring Keatts, Pitino couldn’t resist jabbing Wolfpackers everywhere, reinforcing the ridiculous national media narrative that NC State bumbles/fumbles at getting basketball coaches, then for inexplicable reasons won’t keep them.

Here are Pitino’s words, accompanied by his mocking laugh . . .

“Sit back and let the guy coach and recruit . . . go for longevity . . . let’s not make any coaching changes for about 10 years.”

But how does NC State really rank in the coaching carousel?

To find out, I compared the average length of stay of a coach at State to the tenures at the other Power 5 conferences.


· Began with the 1990 season . . . Les Robinson’s first year . . . provides us with 27 years of data for all 65 Power 5 Conference schools, which seems to be a legitimate sample size

NOTE: There are issues wherever you begin the research over the period. For example, using the 1990 season, or any other season, usually will cut short the tenure of a long-term, top-flight coach – lowering the school average solely due to the year chosen. Therefore, Nolan Richardson (Arkansas) only coached in 12 of the 27 years in the period, although he was the head coach for 17 total years (first year = 1985)

· 1990 season also starts after our so-called “glory years” . . . used this timeline, so detractors can’t say I used the relatively long, stable years of Case, Sloan, and “V” to increase our average

· Some coaches left for perceived better positions (i.e., they were not fired), so you can’t completely blame a school for a short average length of stay, when the average was skewed lower by a coach using the school as a stepping stone or a way station

Here are the stats, which I gleaned from the Sports Reference web site (I’ll be glad to provide the Excel data for anyone who is interested):

At first glance, the numbers seem to support the “Talking (Bone)Heads”. Over the period, the average length of stay (ALOS) of State basketball coaches was 6.75 years, while the Power 5 average = 7.31 years. However, only 13 of the schools had a higher ALOS than State (26 other schools had the same average), while 25 schools had a lower ALOS . . . but you rarely hear pundits disparaging other schools as being out of touch with reality.

Taking it a step further, if you remove the tenures of Hall of Fame coaches (no school will get rid of a HOF coach while he’s winning), State’s results are even more positively comparable. It is easy for the media to observe that State has significantly more turnover than Duke, but I suspect even Lee Fowler would not have canned K if he had the same record while coaching State.

Using this metric, now only 7 schools have a longer ALOS than State (22 the same; 31 lower).

NOTE: The reason this metric does not include all 65 schools is because four schools had one or more HOF coaches for the entire period (e.g., Coach K).

When comparing State to the Power 5 Conferences as a whole, State has the longest ALOS, when HOF coaches are excluded:

Power 5 Conference (wo HOF)

Power 5* Avg Seasons
Power 5* Avg Seasons
State 6.75
Big 10 6.59
ACC 6.05
Big 12 5.85
Pac-12 5.81
SEC 5.72

* = w/o HOF Coach

Even with HOF coaches included, State ranks in the upper middle (hardly a thumbs up to the media who always seem to rank State in their Top 5 most delusional fan bases):

Power 5 Conference Summary Data

Power 5 Avg Seasons
Power 5 Avg Seasons
ACC 9.59
Big 10 7.80
State 6.75
Big 12 6.66
Pac-12 6.10
SEC 5.90

In summary, I conclude from the data that Wolfpack Nation has been more than fair and flexible with our basketball coaches, and these results run counter to the media narrative (Carowhina Kool-Aid media conveniently forget that the Heels only allowed Doherty three years before raising the guillotine).

Would State have liked to have hired a Hall of Fame coach and kept him around for 20 years? Of course, but if it were easy . . . well, you know the rest.

Who knows? It might be our man Keatts.