Nov. 19, 2013
Purchase tickets | 2013 Hall of Fame Class
RALEIGH, N.C. - When NC State began searching for somebody to lead the men’s basketball program in 1966, it needed more than a good X-and-O coach.
The Wolfpack also needed a relentless recruiter and an undaunted competitor who would refuse to retreat from powerful rivals Duke and North Carolina.
The Pack picked the right man -- Norm Sloan. He had played for legendary State coach Everett Case, was fiery, fearless and a proven winner.
Sloan had won at Presbyterian and The Citadel, neither of which were basketball bastions. He had built a winner at Florida, where the two major sports then were football and spring football.
State had tradition, something to preserve. Sloan loved his school, treasured the basketball heritage and embellished it by guiding the Pack to its first national championship in 1974.
He also produced the program’s lone undefeated record (27-0 in 1973), won three ACC regular season and three conference tournament crowns while building a 266-127 record over 14 seasons.
Also credit Sloan with a big assist for State’s 1983 NCAA title. He recruited the three top players on that team, Sidney Lowe, Dereck Whittenburg and Thurl Bailey, before leaving in 1980 for a second coaching fling at Florida.
A Coach of the Year winner in three conferences, Sloan left an indelible footprint at State, in the ACC, and college basketball. He died in 2003 at age 77 of pulmonary fibrosis. But his legacy lives and he will be duly honored with induction into State’s Athletics Hall of Fame November 22.
This marks the third HOF honor for Sloan, who is already in the North Carolina and Indiana Sports Halls of Fame.
Sloan won games with over-achieving underdog teams, most notably the 1970 squad that stunned top-seeded South Carolina in a low-scoring ACC Tournament finals.
He also won with elite talent. Unforgettable is that 27-0 season in ’73 and 30-1 national championship run in ’74, when the David Thompson-led Pack ended the seven-year reign of coach John Wooden’s seemingly invincible UCLA Bruins.
Despite all his accomplishments, some knowledgeable observers say Sloan was underrated as a coach. Those observers included Lefty Driesell, whose Maryland teams waged classic battles with State.
Oh, everybody noticed Sloan’s dapper attire and signature plaid coat. They knew his nickname, “Stormin Norman,” derived from a fiercely competitive demeanor, demanding management style and piercing glare he could cast at officials.
Handball, tennis, basketball, he competed hard in all of ‘em. Conversely, away from the emotional cauldron of competition, he was as charming as a politician seeking election.
“He didn’t get the credit he deserved,’’ said David Thompson, a two-time National Player of the Year and later NBA All-Star. “There’s no way we could have won without his expertise as a coach. He was one of the greatest coaches ever.”
Arch rival UNC coach Dean Smith described Sloan as “a bright man ... a great leader” and noted it “showed in his teams.”
Sloan’s value of victory and disdain for defeat were well defined. Once asked what good he had gleaned from a loss, the forthright coach emphatically replied: “Winning is GOOD. Losing is BAD.”
While his wife, Joan, was singing the National Anthem at all home games he kept the Wolfpack winning and fans happily humming State’s fight song the majority of the time.
He prodded, pushed and drove less talented teams to success. He also had the discernment to step back and not over-coach the ’73 and ’74 champions.
Sloan subscribed to the adage, “Let a great player play great.” And that’s what he did with the peerless Thompson, allowing him the freedom to display his extraordinary skills.
“He gave us a basic offense, a few set plays, set strategy,’’ Thompson said. “(But) he didn’t hold us back. We liked to play a fast tempo.”
During the ’74 season Sloan tried to stay in the background and steer praise to his team that included Monte Towe, Tim Stoddard, Phil Spence, Mo Rivers and Tommy Burleson, also a Hall of Fame inductee this year.
Sloan, who did get a National Coach of the Year honor, masterfully molded that team on and off the court. He housed players three dorm suites to foster a fraternity spirit and they were a close knit group, very close.
Eight players shared one bathroom, Thompson recalled with a laugh.
Although he had many splendid coaching moments -- including nine straight wins over North Carolina -- beating UCLA in the NCAA semifinals still resonates with a special ring.
State appeared doomed when it trailed the Bruins by seven points in the second overtime. But Sloan, who often told his team in crunch situations to “hold a good thought,” kept his poise.
“‘Guys you’ve got to make something happen,’’ Thompson remembers Sloan saying in the huddle before laying out the strategy. “ He always exuded confidence in the players and we responded to that. We went out and got the job done.”
After rallying to beat UCLA,, State defeated Marquette in the title game. Following the championship celebration and before departing the Greensboro Coliseum, it’s reasonable to assume the Pack left its locker room in order.
On road trips Sloan instructed his players to leave each place looking better than when they arrived and he helped with the cleanup.
On the way back to Raleigh that memorable night, Sloan added an extra touch to the journey. He had the bus driver stop at Everett Case’s gravesite off highway 70, a tribute to his old coach who is credited with bringing big time basketball to the area.
Beneath his intensity, Sloan had a sensitive soul and compassionate heart.
He helped Joan, his wife of 55 years, raise three children. Part of the time he taught a college-age Sunday School Class at Edenton Street United Methodist Church and he embraced the community.
“He was a good man, a Christian man,’’ Tommy Burleson, with whom Sloan shared his faith.
“He cared about us... he was very caring,’’ Thompson said.
Sloan took his teams to play and visit at Central Prison. On one trip he met a young African American inmate, arranged to take him out on weekends and gave him a seat near the Wolfpack bench.
“He was really a good coach, but he was more than that,” said Monte Towe, who served on Sloan’s staff at Florida. “He was a great father, great family person.
“My life is much better for being around him. All the things he did (for me) and others can’t be measured.”
After retiring in Florida, Sloan returned to Raleigh, befriended then Pack coach Herb Sendek and supported State’s program that he had elevated to national championship status.
By A.J. Carr