Miami a rung on the ladder for Sendek

The Cincinnati Enquirer

There was no stopping Herb Sendek. Miami University is a fine institution, a picturesque place, but it hasn't the means to hold a young man in a hurry.

It is the Cradle of Coaches, after all, and not Camelot; a layover as distinguished from a destination. It is a school that understands its place in college athletics and also recognizes its limitations. It will take Sendek's loss in stride because this is the natural order in Oxford.

"Because of Herb, we've had three wonderful years," Miami Athletic Director Eric Hyman said Wednesday. "The alternative is we might have someone that no one wants."

This is how they look at things at Stepping Stone U.: rationally, reasonably and with a certain amount of resignation. There wasn't much weeping around Millett Hall when Sendek was introduced as the new basketball coach at North Carolina State Wednesday. You don't get too attached to good people at Miami because you can't expect them to stay.

Recognizing talent requires discernment, but keeping it demands dollars. Miami pays its coaches a competitive wage - Sendek's contract called for a $98,600 base salary - but the school's pastoral setting generates sub-par perks.

While University of Cincinnati basketball coach Bob Huggins is guaranteed $125,000 annually for his radio and television shows, Sendek has had no media income at Miami. His lack of national exposure has also meant a modest shoe contract. Adidas paid Sendek a total of $22,500 over the course of a three-year endorsement deal. On Tobacco Road, he might command 10 times that amount over a similar span.

"We just don't have the financial position that other institutions have," Hyman said. "If you work for IBM and they're paying you $100,000 and Xerox comes along and offers you $400,000, a lot of people would probably take it."

Waiting for big break

Joby Wright left Miami for a lot less following the 1992-93 season. Wright was so eager to improve his cash flow that he went to Wyoming rather than hold out for an opportunity to compete on a national basis.

Herb Sendek decided that he could afford to wait. He beat Arizona in the NCAA Tournament last year, then passed up the neon of Nevada-Las Vegas to spend another season on Walden Pond. Now, his patience has paid off.

North Carolina State is the third point of a basketball triangle that also includes Duke and the University of North Carolina. It is at the epicenter of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the most consistently powerful basketball conference in the country. It is a destination as opposed to a layover.

Herb Sendek will henceforth be measured by his success against Mike Krzyzewski and Dean Smith. This is a task tantamount to sharing a stage with Robin Williams or Luciano Pavarotti, but Herb Sendek is not cowed by the competition.

"If you don't roll the dice, take risks and challenges, it's not very fun to live," he said Wednesday.

Getting goose bumps

Because of its renowned neighbors, N.C. State is inherently riskier and more challenging than Miami. Money notwithstanding, though, it could also be considerably more rewarding.

Norm Sloan won an NCAA championship with the Wolfpack in 1974, stopping UCLA's streak at seven straight. Jim Valvano brought N.C. State its second title in 1983 and became the personification of pleasure as he ran around the floor in search of someone to hug.

Herb Sendek might have coached a hundred years at Miami and never come that close to nirvana. But he had a taste of it on his first day on the job at N.C. State. Walking into Raleigh's Reynolds Coliseum Wednesday, Sendek confessed to "goose bumps the size of golf balls."

Miami's consolation is that it made this moment possible. It recognized a rising star in Herb Sendek, and provided him a setting where he could succeed. When you're in the market for a new coach, this is a pretty strong selling point.

Published April 18, 1996.