RALEIGH — Most of Mark Gottfried’s tenure at NC State took place in close proximity to the State Fair, which is appropriate, because his time in Raleigh mostly felt like a rollercoaster ride.Gottfried took over for former Wolfpack player Sidney Lowe and was handed a ton of talent in a group that included Lorenzo Brown, Richard Howell, Scott Wood and C.J. Leslie. The new coach got off to an 11-4 start entering ACC play. The Wolfpack started 4-1 in the conference, picking up an early pair of conference road wins — a rare achievement under Lowe — against Wake Forest and Miami.The Wolfpack wasn’t much of a match for ranked teams like UNC, Duke and Virginia, but Gottfried still steered the team to a 9-7 record prior to his first ACC Tournament in Atlanta. NC State made it all the way to the Semifinals, eventually losing to UNC again. More importantly, it led to NC State’s first berth in the NCAA Tournament in five years.Then the real magic happened. Gottfried’s team, an 11 seed in the Midwest Regional, took care of No. 6 San Diego State before stunning No. 3 seed Georgetown for the Wolfpack’s first Sweet 16 trip since 2004-05. The Wolfpack would fall, just barely, to eventual NCAA runner-up Kansas. The only thing bittersweet about the run? Kansas would beat a Kendall Marshall-less North Carolina team in the next round, making a hypothetical Final Four berth tantalizingly close for Wolfpack fans.That was year one — Gottfried took a program desperately looking for success and turned it into a winning one.Gottfried’s second season, however, would exemplify the issues that have plagued NC State for going on several decades. After sniffing some success, the Wolfpack returned a talented team, with Brown and Leslie both declining to enter the NBA Draft. Add in T.J. Warren and the hype was out of control. NC State began the year No. 6 in the country, but barely stayed inside the top 25 throughout an 11-2 start that including a humiliating 20-point, early season loss at the hands of Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State.An 11-7 mark in ACC play — including home wins over North Carolina and No. 1 Duke — was good for a top-five finish in the conference. But even another run to the ACC semifinals weren’t enough to secure a decent NCAA seed, and Gottfried’s second squad, lost an 8/9 game to Temple.Following that season, Gottfried experienced his first mass exodus from Raleigh. Seniors Wood and Howell graduated while Brown and Leslie left for the NBA. The first significant transfer came in the form of Rodney Purvis, who left for UConn after not getting the playing time he expected as a freshman.A quick offseason retool followed, which would become a staple of the Gottfried era. Say what you want about the roster attrition, but Gottfried knew how to scramble for talent.NC State added Cat Barber, BeeJay Anya, Lennard Freeman and Kyle Washington to a roster that already featured Warren and transfer Ralston Turner. Warren, a future first-round pick by the Phoenix Suns, would morph into a monster in his second season, carrying NC State’s offense en route to winning ACC Player of the Year.NC State’s entire offense went through Warren, but it was still a short-handed team, that he and secured a First Four bid in the NCAA Tournament and a win over Xavier in Dayton. Things were setting up for another impressive tournament run, but ultimately ended in tragic fashion, with an overtime loss to Saint Louis in the first round of the tournament that saw NC State blow a 14-point lead due to missing 17 free throws.Then came the next loss of talent with Tyler Lewis transferring to Butler and Warren leaving for the NBA. Everything should have fallen apart, so naturally Gottfried put together one of the best coaching efforts of his tenure.Equipped with Barber, Turner, Freeman, Anya and transfer Trevor Lacey, Gottfried led the team to a 19-12 record despite a rocky start prior to ACC play. Those 19 wins included a home victory over No. 2 Duke and a rare road win at No. 15 UNC.After a short stay in the ACC Tournament, Gottfried got his NCAA magic cooking again. The eighth-seeded Wolfpack took down No. 9 LSU on a Anya jump hook in the lane with one second remaining to win by one.Then they created the world’s saddest piccolo player by taking down the No. 1 seed in their region, Villanova, thanks to Lacey’s 17 points and Abdul-Malik Abu’s 12 rebounds.The win over a No. 1 seed was the highlight of Gottfried’s tenure despite losing the next game against Louisville in the Sweet 16. The first four years of Gottfried’s tenure were better than anyone could have expected. The last coach to take the Pack to the Sweet 16 twice? None other than the late, great Jimmy Valvano 26 years earlier.As a result of the accomplishment, AD Debbie Yow rewarded Gottfried with a brand new contract extension through the 2019-20 season. It was one laced with massive bonuses and a base salary of $760,000 per year. Gottfried would never see the end of it.Less than 24 hours after the extension was announced, NC State lost its season opener to William & Mary in embarrassing fashion. To compound the 0-1 start for the Pack, Terry Henderson went down seven minutes into the game and would ultimately miss the rest of the season.Henderson’s injury coupled with Lacey leaving for the 2015 NBA Draft in the offseason left Gottfried with very little options offensively. Barber resorted to takeover mode in nearly every game while Abu and Maverick Rowan slowly blossomed into scoring threats.The season spiraled out of control with Gottfried falling below .500 on the season (16-17) and finishing near the bottom of the ACC at 5-13. It was a major speed bump, but with the injuries he faced and the success he forged in his first four years, Gottfried was given a longer leash than some coaches after a sub-.500 season.Not to mention, the future was bright. Despite several transfers, and plenty of early summer concern about how he would handle a thinned-out roster, Gottfried rallied quickly. Adding 5-star freshmen Dennis Smith Jr. and Omer Yurtseven to add to an already talented roster of Abu, Henderson, Rowan and Torin Dorn, and there was a recipe for sleeper success cooking.It never happened, or even came close to happening. The Pack started 11-2 out of conference, but couldn’t keep up in ACC play. Outside of a 26-point win over Virginia Tech at home and a win at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Gott’s re-tooled team was drubbed by nearly every ACC team this year.Six straight losses, four straight home defeats and three consecutive losses by 24 points or more sealed Gottfried’s fate. While his teams showed plenty of promise during the first four years, the direction of the program was headed the wrong way, according to Athletics Director Debbie Yow.Gottfried, the eternal optimist, is sticking with his team for the final four games out of respect for his players. Regardless of how Pack fans remember him, it’s important to remember that Gottfried was a last-second Hail Mary from Yow who managed to find immediate success in a bleak situation and bring NC State back into the national discussion multiple times during March, something Wolfpack fans didn’t think was possible right away.It wasn’t always smooth, and it came to a screeching halt, but for fans in Raleigh, Gottfried’s tenure was a heck of a ride.
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