If you asked Herb Sendek to describe himself, he'd probably tell you that he's just an ordinary guy. Sure, he's in a high-profile job at a high-profile school in a high-profile league, but if you met him at the local sandwich shop or saw one day at the pool with his kids you would probably agree with him.
But what makes this ordinary guy stand out from the crowd is his drive, competitiveness and passion. His extraordinary commitment to the things that he deems important have brought him success in life and in his career. In fact, a quick trip to Sendek's office on the NC State campus will give you great insight into the kind of man he is and the passions that guide him daily.
The front half of the room contains the usual accoutrements of the coaching profession and the amount of time he spends there attests to the passion he feels for the sport that he has made his vocation. A chair is usually positioned directly in front of a large video screen. If Sendek isn't actually sitting there watching videotape of a game or practice, the pen, clipboard, remote control and empty soda can sitting nearby tell you it hasn't been long since Sendek vacated the spot. In all likelihood, the chair is still warm.
At least one or two chairs are pulled up close by, where his players sit when they stop by to look at tape or simply pass some time with their head coach. Tapes of games, pads filled with diagrams of plays, notes about prospective student-athletes, players' class schedules and maybe even a basketball or two neatly cover the remaining surface space of the table. A change of clothes folded discreetly behind a chair attests to the long hours that Sendek spends on the job.
The office walls are covered with photos of those he holds in high esteem, who helped build the foundation for his program's success: former NC State coaches such as the legendary Everett Case, Norm Sloan, Jim Valvano, and Sendek's predecessor, Les Robinson.
On an opposite wall hang two photos of Sendek's visit to the Vatican. In one he is reverently shaking the hand of the Pope, evidence of the large part that his faith plays in his life.
The rest of the office is devoted to his other passion: his family. Photos of his wife, Melanie, and their three daughters, Kristin, Catherine and Kelly, cover the surface of his desk, another table and the back of a credenza. Crayon drawings and notes addressed to "Daddy" hang from the cabinets. An aging black-and-white photo shows his father, Herb, Sr., with his first college team.
In other words, when Herb Sendek is in his office, he is surrounded by the three things he cares about the most: faith, family, basketball. And it is his undying commitment to all three that might make this self-described "ordinary" man extraordinary in the eyes of others.
Sendek's three passions have kept him well-grounded throughout his two decades of coaching. Basketball is his livelihood, but the combination of faith, family and basketball has allowed him to maintain a healthy perspective in the highly pressurized world of college coaching. And Sendek's perspective and sense of what truly matters in life have brought him the respect of his peers and his players.
While the game of basketball allows for individual expression on the court, Sendek's coaching philosophy at NC State has been about the team, not the individual. With an emphasis on teamwork and togetherness, Sendek's teams have become known for their intensity, preparation and relentless tenacity, traits best summarized by his teams' trademark theme: "One Heartbeat."
The unity Sendek has fostered within his teams has led to success on the court. Five of Sendek's first six Wolfpack teams participated in postseason play, a feat matched only by Case, the legendary coach often credited with bringing big-time basketball to Tobacco Road. More impressive however, has been the way Sendek's teams have performed -- displaying togetherness while focusing on improving each and every day. Sendek knows no other way and expects nothing less from his teams.
The Wolfpack's strong foundation of unity, success and improvement has brought Sendek and his staff distinction in the area of recruiting. His 2001 recruiting class was ranked as high as third nationally, and his recruiting classes have ranked in the top 20 nationally three of the past five years, with the upcoming class promising to be one of his most highly-regarded ever.
At age 41, Sendek is one of the youngest coaches in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but his basketball pedigree runs beyond his years. As a youngster growing up in Pittsburgh, Pa., he constantly tagged along with his father, Herb, Sr., a teacher and basketball coach at both the high school and junior college levels. During his youth, Sendek was influenced by several coaches who had a great impact on him, including legendary junior college coach Bill Shay.
Sendek became a standout guard as a senior at Penn Hills High School, earning All-East Suburban notice as the team captain. He was also a leader in the classroom, graduating with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average. He was recently named to the Penn Hills Hall of Fame and to the East Boros Chapter of the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame.
From there, Sendek opted to attend Carnegie-Mellon University, earning a prestigious Carnegie Merit Scholarship and the opportunity to play for coach Dave Maloney.
One week into practice prior to his senior season, Sendek's playing career ended unexpectedly when a new coach cut him and two other players recruited by Maloney. What seemed like a disastrous event for Sendek, however, turned out to have a silver lining. Chuck Crummie, the head coach at Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, gave Sendek the opportunity to serve as a volunteer assistant coach.
After graduating from Carnegie-Mellon with a 3.95 GPA in 1985, Sendek launched his college coaching career. He joined Rick Pitino's staff at Providence College that fall, serving as an assistant coach with the Friars until 1989.
Sendek rejoined Pitino, who has had 14 former assistant coaches advance to the head coaching ranks, in 1989 at the University of Kentucky. He served as an assistant (1989-91) and then associate head coach (1991-93) for the Wildcats, earning a national reputation as a standout recruiter. Sports Illustrated named him one of the nation's top 10 recruiters in its 1992-93 College Basketball Preview.
His biggest recruiting coup during his tenure in Lexington, however, came away from basketball. Sendek met his wife, the former Melanie Scheuer of Danville, Ky., in Lexington and the couple was married nearly two years later. The couple's three daughters, Kristin (10), Catherine (7) and Kelly (5) are some of the rowdiest Wolfpack fans and one or more are usually waiting to give Daddy a kiss when he takes the court before home games.
After 11 years as a collegiate assistant, including Final Four appearances in 1987 with Providence and 1993 with Kentucky, Sendek took over the program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. There, in his first venture as a head coach, he led the Redskins to three consecutive postseason appearances and the 1985 Mid-American Conference regular-season championship. His three-year record at Miami was 63-26, giving him the highest winning percentage (.708) in school history. He is the only coach ever to lead Miami to postseason play in each of his first three seasons, and he reached 50 victories quicker than any other Redskins coach.
After winning the MAC regular-season title in 1995, Miami earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, where Sendek's 12th-seeded Redskins defeated fifth-seeded Arizona (ranked No. 15 in the national polls), 71-62, before losing to 13th-ranked and fourth-seeded Virginia in overtime, 60-54. Sendek was named the 1995 Mid-American Conference and Ohio Coach of the Year.
Following the 1996 season, Sendek was named the 17th head basketball coach in the 110-year history of NC State University. After being introduced to the media and a gathering of Wolfpack fans in Reynolds Coliseum, Sendek expressed his heartfelt gratitude for the opportunity to coach at an ACC school with the tradition of NC State.
In Sendek's first season, the Pack won 17 games and posted the program's first winning record in six years. NC State exhibited the resolve of a championship team, advancing to the finals of the ACC Tournament and earning a berth in the NIT. The Wolfpack finished the year playing its best basketball, winning eight of its final 11 games.
The improbable run to the ACC Tournament championship game had NC State fans, the ACC, and college basketball fans throughout the country buzzing about the progress and potential of the Wolfpack program. Despite relying heavily on six players throughout the tournament, NC State pulled off upsets of top-seeded Duke (66-60) in the first round and No. 5 Maryland (65-58) in the semifinals, before falling to North Carolina in the final. With a bid to the NIT, the Wolfpack made its first postseason appearance since 1991.
In 1998, NC State made its second-straight postseason appearance despite battling injuries throughout the year. Reduced to eight healthy players at one point, the Pack rallied together to defeat No. 1 North Carolina in Chapel Hill and once again advanced to the second round of the NIT.
The Wolfpack continued its climb under Sendek in 1999, finishing the year with a 19-14 mark. NC State also finished fifth in the tightly contested Atlantic Coast Conference and advanced to the postseason for the third straight season. Sendek joined Everett Case as the only coaches in school history to lead each of their first three teams to the postseason.
In 2000, NC State began the year 15-3 before injuries to its top two reserves contributed to a seven-game skid. Still, the Pack was able to finish the season strong with its first 20 win season since 1990-91, and advanced to the ACC Tournament semifinals for the third time in four seasons. NC State made its fourth straight trip to the postseason under Sendek as well (and Sendek's seventh postseason appearance in seven years as a head coach), advancing to the NIT semifinals in New York.
Injuries were once again a big factor in the Wolfpack's fortunes in 2001, but the season was highlighted by a victory over sixth-ranked Virginia, the fourth over a top-10 team by a Wolfpack squad coached by Sendek. The four seniors from that 2001 squad -- Kenny Inge, Damon Thornton, Ron Kelley and Cornelius Williams -- all graduated.
The 2002 season may have been Sendek's most challenging, yet most rewarding. He took a team with just two seniors and five freshmen and won 23 games (nine in the ACC) for the first time in over a decade. He led the Pack to a third-place ACC finish in the regular season (after being picked to finish seventh in the preseason) and his team advanced to the ACC Tournament finals and the second-round of the NCAA Tournament.
Sendek won his 100th game at NC State in 2002, was named the NABC Districk 5 Coach of the Year and was a finalist for the Naismith Coach of the Year Award. The Sporting News selected him as the ACC Coach of the Year.
Last season, Sendek took his sixth Wolfpack squad to postseason play and became just the seventh coach in the storied history of the ACC to take three of his first seven teams to the ACC Tournament championship. For the second straight season and the third time in his seven years with the Wolfpack, his squad knocked off the tourney's top seeded team. For the second straight year, a Wolfpack player was named to the All-ACC first-team (Anthony Grundy in 2002, Julius Hodge in 2003).
In 2003-04, the Wolfpack posted some of its best marks in over three decades, winning 11 regular-season league games for the first time since 1974, with five coming on the road. NC State was ranked in the top-20 of the national polls for the last six weeks of the season and defeated five ranked teams, including No. 1 Duke. Sendek was named the NABC District 5 Coach of the Year for 2003-04 and won the ACC's Coach of the Year honor.
With 148 career wins at NC State, Sendek ranks 18th in the storied history of the ACC and among current league coaches trails only Duke's Mike Krzyewski (24 years) and Maryland's Gary Williams (16 years).
SENDEK'S CAREER RECORD YEAR SCHOOL RECORD POSTSEASON 1994 Miami (Ohio) 19-11 NIT 1995 Miami (Ohio) 23-7* NCAA Second Round 1996 Miami (Ohio) 21-8 NIT 1997 NC State 17-15 NIT 1998 NC State 17-15 NIT 1999 NC State 19-14 NIT 2000 NC State 20-14 NIT Semifinals 2001 NC State 13-16 --- 2002 NC State 23-11 NCAA Second Round 2003 NC State 18-13 NCAA First Round 2004 NC State 21-10 NCAA Second Round ^