Familiarity Leads to Quick Hire
April 5, 2011
RALEIGH, N.C. – Mark Gottfried and Debbie Yow didn’t need a lot of time to get to know one another.
The two have been friends for nearly three decades, having first met when Gottfried was a freshman on the Oral Roberts men’s basketball team and Yow was the women’s basketball coach. Gottfried happened to be dating one of Yow’s players at the time. The two players would hang out at the gym for hours, spending time with each other and living basketball. Yow got to know them well.
Yow took notice of the freshman All-America guard and began following his career. She watched him help Alabama advance to three consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearances after he transferred into the Crimson Tide’s program.
She followed as he became an assistant coach at UCLA, where he helped the Bruins win the 1995 NCAA championship.
She congratulated him when he took over his first program at Murray State soon after that title, leading the Racers to three consecutive Ohio Valley Conference championships in his three seasons with the team.
And she was proud to see Gottfried win as the head coach of the Crimson Tide, where he guided his team to a No. 1 national ranking and the 2002 SEC regular-season championship.
So the get-to-know-you portion of the interview when Yow began talking to Gottfried about becoming NC State’s 19th head coach didn’t take too long.
“The advantage for me was having known him since he was 18,” said Yow, who officially hired Gottfried on Tuesday to lead the Wolfpack men’s basketball program. “I knew about his passion and his work ethic. We didn’t have to spend all that time learning about each other.
“Nothing he has achieved has really surprised me. His tenacity and his focus are personal traits that will serve NC State well. He shares the vision of returning State to national prominence. He has the qualities we value at State. He develops talent, he values graduation, he respects the personhood of the players and he motivates them to achieve. He has a fiery attitude and a can-do spirit and that is exactly what State needs at this time in our program.”
Gottfried is more than comfortable working for someone he knows well and is excited about returning to the coaching ranks after two years of working as a college basketball television analyst. He considers those two seasons of working more than 100 basketball games as an opportunity to mature as a coach, as he attended practices, broke down film, considered strategy and learned from some of college basketball’s brightest minds.
He scribbled more than 100 pages of thoughts and ideas he gleaned from others into a notebook, knowing that one day he would return to the sidelines to lead another program. When he received a phone call Monday night from Yow, asking him to leave the Final Four in Houston and be in Raleigh on Tuesday morning to talk about the job, he jumped at the opportunity.
After a brief flight to Pensacola, Fla., to drop off his three sons, Gottfried and his wife Elizabeth flew to Raleigh to start talking about his future. It was the right opportunity at the right time for both parties. At 5 p.m., Yow introduced Gottfried to a room full of reporters, supporters and the current members of the Wolfpack basketball team.
It was the players that Gottfried addressed most frequently in his introductory remarks, telling them candidly: “I became the head coach at Alabama at 33 years old. It was a challenge. We had a phenomenal run there and did some great things there, like get a No. 1 ranking and go to the Elite Eight. Those were things that had never been done before at that school.
“But I have to tell you, that ain’t enough for me. I’m here today because I want to play for a championship. That has to be your goal too. That will be the goal and the mindset we have as a team.”
Gottfried knows well that NC State already has two national championship banners hanging from the rafters of the RBC Center and that the school has won 17 conference championships. When he was at UCLA, he came to Raleigh to face the Wolfpack in a game that featured a reunion of the 1974 team.
He knows about the history and tradition of the school, and is eager to add to it.
“This is a great place,” he said. “I’m very familiar with the tradition here. I understand it. I want to cherish it with the fans. I know what you want – to play for a national championship.
“That is my passion. My job is to determine how we can build a team that can compete nationally with any team in the country. That’s the goal and that’s why I’m here.”
After two years as an announcer, Gottfried is ready to oil his coaching hinges. He had a short meeting with the players on Tuesday. He’ll begin getting to know them and their families better in coming days, as well as the high school players who have made verbal commitments to play for the Wolfpack. And he’ll start learning his way around campus and the basketball offices at the Dail Practice Facility.
He’s eager to hit the ground running, just as his former ESPN colleague and UCLA coaching buddy Steve Lavin did at St. John’s this year after a couple of seasons as a television analyst. Lavin guided St. John’s to a 21-12 record and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
“He and I talk regularly,” Gottfried said. “We’ve talked about all the stuff and the positives of coming back in from television and some of … the challenges. The situations aren’t exactly the same because he had nine seniors on that team, but it’s something we’ve talked about.”
At heart, Gottfried always knew he was a coach with an athletic pedigree. His father, Joe, was the longtime athletics director at South Alabama. His uncle, Mike, was the head football coach at Pittsburgh and Kansas. His oldest son just finished his freshman season with the Stanford football team.
So he knows a little about trying to satisfy the expectations of a passionate fan base.
“Every job in America in athletics has different challenges, obstacles and things that make the job difficult,” Gottfried said. “I’m not backing down from anybody here, period. We want to win, period. Whatever those obstacles are, you have to overcome them. You have to beat them.
“For us, whatever the challenges are here, you have to look them dead in the eye and say we are going to go after it. That’s what we’re going to do.”
• By Tim Peeler, firstname.lastname@example.org.