Tuesday, May 02, 2006

NC State Offers Basketball Coach Position To Gene Hackman

A month after Herb Sendek departed for Arizona State, North Carolina State is still looking to replace him as the school’s men’s basketball coach. The program has been the frequent butt of jokes during its seemingly futile search for Sendek’s successor. However, athletic director Lee Fowler hopes he has finally found his man. Fowler has offered the position to Academy Award-winning actor Gene Hackman.

The Wolfpack AD cited Hackman’s stellar portrayal of coach Norman Dale in Hoosiers, one of the most beloved sports films of all-time. As Dale, Hackman defied the odds in leading the underdog Hickory High to the Indiana state basketball championship. Athletic department officials feel that he can provide similar inspiration as the leader of the Pack. Reportedly, Nick Nolte was eliminated from consideration due to his rampant recruiting violations in Blue Chips.

“We realize Gene played a fictional coach,” noted Fowler. “But we’ve tried and tried to get a real-life coach, and that just hasn’t worked.” Indeed, Rick Barnes, John Calipari, John Beilein, and Steve Lavin all have rebuffed the Wolfpack. Fowler even contacted Phil Ford – an all-time great player for the hated UNC Tar Heels - apparently in response to a drunken dare. Fordham coach and NC State alum Dereck Whittenburg has also been mentioned as a possible candidate. However, athletic department officials did not believe that Whittenburg could be successful without Lorenzo Charles around to clean up his mistakes.

Wolfpack fans’ gripe with Sendek was that he was usually good, but never great. While he finished his decade-long tenure in Raleigh with five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, he reached just one Sweet 16 and no Elite Eights. For supporters of a program that won national championships in 1974 and 1983, their expectations are higher. In Hackman, they would have someone who has also won the ultimate prize on two occasions – collecting Academy Awards for The French Connection and Unforgiven. NC State fans are starved for such a level of excellence and could ignore the fact that Hackman’s last film was Welcome To Mooseport.

Most importantly for Wolfpack devotees, they need someone who can take on the neighborhood big boys. NCSU has not reached the Final Four since the storied 1983 national title run. Since then, North Carolina and Duke have combined for 17 Final Four appearances and five national championships. Sendek fared miserably against the local powerhouses. However, Hackman has experience in battling superpowers, portraying Lex Luthor in the Superman movies. Although Superman still reigned supreme, he suffered numerous setbacks to Luthor along the way and regarded him as a formidable opponent. Hackman would enjoy an even stronger position off-screen in the event of an NC State victory over the Tar Heels or Blue Devils. Unlike Superman, Roy Williams or Mike Krzyzewski could not circle the earth at superhuman speed to turn back time and reverse an undesirable outcome. Such activity is in violation of NCAA rules.

Hackman’s performance surrounding the championship game in Hoosiers was particularly endearing to NCSU insiders. Hickory faced a seemingly unbeatable opponent in the finals and won by two points. Jim Valvano’s 1983 squad accomplished the same feat against Houston’s Phi Slamma Jamma powerhouse. Equally important was a subtle reference to academics. As Norman Dale, Hackman used a tape measure to relax his nervous players, showing that the court in their home gym contained the same dimensions as the much larger field house that hosted the title game. His skill with the tape measure demonstrated that he understands NCSU’s pride in its engineering program.

It remains to be seen whether Hackman will accept the offer. The actor could not be reached for comment. Some observers feel that Hackman is too old at age 76, but he was apparently inspired by Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden – both born before he was – coaching in January’s Orange Bowl. Hackman told Larry King during a 2004 interview that he believes his acting career is finished, so availability does not seem to be an issue. Wolfpack officials have indicated that they would allow Hackman to periodically leave practice to record voice-overs for Lowe’s and Oppenheimer Funds. On those occasions, practices would likely be run by assistant coach Dennis Hopper.

Whether Hackman takes the job or not, Wolfpack fans are eager to see a new man in charge. Herb Sendek took the Princeton offense out to the desert. Perhaps the picket fence will come to Raleigh.