The Wolfpacker

January 2015

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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76 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY TIM PEELER H e flew in from New York on a private Lear jet. He brought with him, not sur- prisingly, his own reporter to cover the events of the day. And in a room full of media — a veri- table brain trust of ACC basketball knowl- edge — he quickly won over a crowd that, for more than a decade, had been openly called the "Worm Brigade" by his prede- cessor, Norman Sloan. That's how Jim Valvano arrived in Ra- leigh on March 27, 1980, to begin the cir- cus of his NC State coaching career. The Italian coach from Queens, on a stage unlike any he had ever seen, made a strong impression long before he led the program to its second national champion- ship and later took over as athletics direc- tor, the event that started his downfall. That early spring day some 35 years ago was magnificent, and a bit more animated than the press conference two weeks earlier in which Duke introduced its straight-laced new coach, 33-year-old Mike Krzyzewski of Army. As was his wont, Valvano told some whoopers that day — about changing flights in Charlotte, about being a co-owner of a bar in New Rochelle — but he cer- tainly got off on the right foot with the collected media, which was quite a stew of hospitality room philosophers and North Carolina newspaper luminaries. They liked him as soon as he walked by the photo corps and said: "I'll take a dozen eight-by-10s, please." To set things straight: he flew from New Rochelle to Raleigh on a private jet with NC State assistant coach Marty Fletcher, a holdover from Norm Sloan's staff, and Al Mari, a writer from New York's Gannett News Service, for which Valvano wrote a weekly basketball column. (Probably not coincidental: Four months after Valvano arrived in Raleigh, with his blessings and those of new football coach Monte Kiffin, a newspaper covering NC State athletics featuring a column by Valvano in each is- sue called "The Wolfpacker" was born.) At the time, Valvano also had a cable access coaches show before most of the rest of the country had cable television, 10 weeks of summer basketball camp and an outside income of more than double his base salary at Iona — a cool $35,000 per year. Valvano, 34, told the gathered people that he was part owner of two bar-restaurants, one of which was called "The Fonz," where fans and players came by after games to see the coach, adorned in an apron, serve Ama- retto sours and lead everyone in singing. He walked back those claims pretty quickly when it was suggested that the "The Fonz" was a place where local gamblers hung out, as well as agent Paul Corvino, whose illegal signing of Iona star Jeff Ruland got Valvano in trouble with the NCAA before he ever coached a game for the Wolfpack. Few may remember it, but Valvano was not the first choice to replace Sloan, despite what the people on the search committee called the greatest in-person interview they had ever participated in. The first choice of athletics director Wil- lis Casey was Morgan Wootten, the famed coach of DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md. On the day Valvano was introduced, Casey so vehemently denied that Wootten had ever been extended an of- fer that it absolutely had to be true. Casey did say four college coaches had been in- terviewed for Sloan's vacancy, and they were thought to be Valvano, Bill Foster of Clemson, Tom Young of Rutgers and Jack Hartman of Kansas State. In other words: Who? Valvano had been a hot coaching com- modity for a while. He definitely had been offered the Providence job two years be- fore, and had been in talks with both Okla- homa and Saint Louis. "Can you see me at one of those south- ern schools?" Valvano said a few years ■ PACK PAST Jim Valvano's First Day At NC State Was One To Remember On March 27, 1980, Valvano was introduced as NC State's men's basketball coach and quickly endeared himself to those in attendance at the press conference. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE MEDIA RELATIONS

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