“I, fortunately, do not have a great need to be popular. I’d rather win than be popular.” —Debbie Yow.
It was with disbelief AND skepticism (if you can have both at the same time since the meaning of each is each other) that the appointment of Debbie Yow as the next Athletics Director at NC State University greeted me. Maybe it was because during the last couple of months as I considered possibilities for that Wolfpack leadership position, she never crossed my mind prior to the moment I received a text message late Thursday night as I enjoyed dinner and a beer or two while watching the College World Series at Shuckers Bar & Grill on the 79th Street Causeway in North Bay Village FL.
When the Blackberry, sitting on the bar next to the plate of lightly-fried calamari and the cold glass of Yuengling, started to vibrate, I put down my fork and reached for my hand-held access to the world. What I found was an instant message with two words: Debbie Yow. I knew immediately the meaning of the IM and, instead of responding, I started to surf the web for confirmation. It didn’t take long to realize the messenger knew what was to be announced the next afternoon.
A few exchanges of typed words and phrases of disbelief went quickly until the person on the other end said I was playing the part of the river that runs through Egypt. I was told I was in denial. Maybe so, but again, this was not a name or a person I or anyone else other than maybe a handful of people with the ear of Chancellor Randy Woodson and the official Search Committee along with the hired consultant used to seek and find the person to lead the Wolfpack Athletics Program to the Promised Land had considered as a possible replacement for Lee Fowler.
As noted in this space last Friday, I wondered if this—Debbie Yow—was the best selection. I admittedly was disappointed not to see Bobby Purcell get the chance to prove he’s the right person for the job. Even into Friday morning and before the official announcement was made Friday afternoon, I continued to read across the Internet to see how this was playing in Raleigh, in Maryland, and in other places just short of Peoria. Most reaction was, “What were they thinking?” That was the theme among many in attendance at the memorial service for the late Fred Barakat, the former Atlantic Coast Conference Associate Commissioner who passed away recently. You can imagine the number of college athletics savvy people at that gathering.
My long-time friend, John Feinstein, a writer for The Washington Post and an author of so many books that I’ve lost track of the number and titles, wasn’t kind at all to Debbie Yow when he heard of the choice by NC State. Friday, in his blog, Feinstein On The Brink, he combined the selection of John Wall by the Washington Wizards and the departure of Yow from Maryland as a reason for Washington area athletics fans to celebrate. Of the Maryland Athletics Director, he said: “Yow won’t be missed by many in College Park. She’ll have a certain honeymoon period at State because her sister Kay, who died in 2009 of cancer, was a beloved coach there for 34 years. My guess is that honeymoon won’t last terribly long.” FYI: John is a personal friend of Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams.
There was a lot more reading throughout the day and beyond the announcement, some positive towards the naming Yow and some not so flattering. Maybe the most humorous was on the WRALSportsFan.Com site where Jeff Gravely interviewed 99.9TheFan host Adam Gold who said this was a great hire. Two things: Gravely and Gold work for the same company and reduced journalism to its lowest levels with that story (if you don’t understand, well it would be like Chip Alexander of The News & Observer interviewing Ron Green Jr of the Charlotte Observer, both members of the shared sports staff of the two papers, about the renovation of Pinehurst #2 golf course) and Gold is a graduate of Maryland (or at least an attendee) and may have his own motives for Yow to move away from College Park.
While questions about the hiring and the process will persist, I was impressed with two short phrases Yow strung together when she was introduced to the public last Friday at Carter-Finley Stadium. “I, fortunately, do not have a great need to be popular,” she said. “I’d rather win than be popular.” That reminded me and others of the way Willis Casey, as far as I’m concerned the standard when it comes to being a college Athletics Director especially at NC State, was in doing his job. He ruled that department with an iron fist, kept pushing the program forward, demanded a lot of his coaches and created an overall winning atmosphere. He hired Debbie Yow’s sister, Kay, to head the women’s basketball program in its infancy.
As said earlier, questions will persist about the hiring, and, like it or not, both Yow and Chancellor Woodson will be under the microscope of Wolfpack fans. For instance, Woodson, from all we know, only met Yow for the first time earlier in the week last week and, with the recommendation of the Search Committee and the consultant, decided to offer her the job that day without the due diligence of talking with other athletics officials from across the nation. He also talked excitedly about Yow’s academic record at Maryland though Maryland ranks under NC State in the two major sports of football and basketball when it comes to the most recent Academic Progress Rate. This is something I mentioned in Friday’s posting.
Obviously, Debbie Yow is smart. In moving to NC State she will be working for a Chancellor who sought her employment, who wants her and who offers what it takes to be successful. Chancellor Woodson had to have said all the right things to get her to leave behind what she had at Maryland. And, if she had stayed at Maryland, she would have to convince a new President to like and keep her as the one who hired her is retiring.
At Maryland, part of Yow’s success was balancing a budget sorely in need of such and improving facilities, also needed for the Terrapins. She has expertise and success in two areas that do not need addressing at NC State. A solid, non-deficit budget and excellent facilities (as good as or better than any in the Atlantic Coast Conference), she said, “are two important elements to have in place.” So she comes into a program where her concentration can be on winning. In doing so, her efforts start with evaluating coaches and determining if the right people are in the right place. She said it is “critically important to match resources with expectations, to determine the needs” and to make sure everything is in place to give the coaches the opportunity to be successful.
This—asking the coaches what it will take to be successful and then providing it to them—is very much how Willis Casey governed: just enough rope to hang themselves unless they can avoid the noose. He would constantly ask the coaches, especially football and basketball, if their budgets were large enough, if the staff was right, if there was anything else they needed. The prospect for success was squarely placed on the coaches. Debbie Yow does not have to be another Willis Casey (not liked by all but respected by most), but right out of the gate she seems to be headed that way in her own style and fashion. And that’s a good thing. Maybe she’s not who I wanted as NC State Athletics Director, but then in the overall scheme of things it really doesn’t matter what I want.
But, I believe I speak for most Wolfpack fans when I say I want Wolfpack athletics—especially the football and men's basketball teams—to thrive, to win games and championships without sacrificing academics and good character. And, with a thriving program—especially the football and men's basketball teams—of winning games and bringing home championships, Debbie Yow, in winning over naysayers, will not only have her cake but she'll get to feast on a wave of her own popularity, needing it or not.