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When basketball coach Mark Gottfried was fired last Thursday by North Carolina State, he did something uncommon in sports: He continued coaching the team. The university granted his request to finish the season when he easily could have collected his $2.5 million and hit the bricks.
"I don't want to quit on my players," Gottfried told reporters in Raleigh. "I think it's the best thing for them. ... I care about our players a lot. I care about them as individuals, and I want to them to have success more than anything else."
It was a classy gesture that will help Gottfried land another job based on character alone. He's also a good coach. He was hired in 2011 and guided N.C. State to the NCAA Tournament four times, including two Sweet 16s. He recruited a superstar in Dennis Smith Jr., who is expected to be an NBA lottery pick.
Gottfried's inability to attract more top players while playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference ultimately led his demise. N.C. State had a 16-17 record last season before the bottom fell out this year. It had lost seven straight games, fell to 3-12 in the ACC and 14-14 overall going into its matchup Tuesday night at Georgia Tech.
In a classic rant, Kentucky coach John Calipari came to Gottfried's defense. North Carolina coach Roy Williams made a point to say he didn't believed college coaches should be fired during the season. Other coaches have voiced similar sentiment in recent years. In effect, college coaches have been put on notice.
"We're firing coaches in midseason," Calipari said in a video posted by SEC Country. "You know what I'm putting in my contract? You can fire me at midseason but you're going to have to pay me $3 million. ... What if Mark Gottfried goes on a run at the end and gets to the NCAA Tournament, which he was in four out of five years? Two Sweet 16s, which is not done at N.C. State. What happens now?"
What happens now?
The trend will likely continue. Coaches get fired during the season every year in every professional sport. The Bruins fired Claude Julien this season, and the Canadiens hired him about 15 minutes later. Midseason firings are still much more common in the pros than in college, but N.C. State was hardly alone.
Years ago, college coaches were practically immune to getting fired during the season. Once considered bad form at the college level, those days are gone. College sports are big business. Twelve Division I football coaches were fired before November during a four-year stretch starting in 2013. The list includes LSU's Les Miles last season. Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn was kicked to the curb in 2014.
Increases in salaries for coaches have led to less patience for failure. Schools were more willing to endure down years before coaches started making the big money you see today. Miles was making $4.4 million, for example. LSU's 2-2 record failed to justify his contract, and he was escorted to the exit.
College administrators have adopted the approach of many professional owners and general managers: The sooner you make a change, the sooner you can find a replacement. N.C. State already began preparing for its search while Gottfried continued coaching through a lost season.
Who will replace Gottfried?
Dayton coach Archie Miller appears to have an inside track. He played for N.C. State and served as an assistant coach under Herb Sendek. He has built an Atlantic 10 powerhouse at Dayton. He's making $1.8 million. If N.C. State needed to fire Gottfried, it better expect to spend more money to replace him.