RALEIGH, N.C. — Mark Gottfried wants his North Carolina State basketball players to believe they can win after five straight years of struggle. He's unafraid of going head-to-head against the national powers from just down the road for recruits. And the coach isn't shy about changing the mentality and habits within a program that hasn't been to the NCAA tournament in five years.
Hired in April to replace Sidney Lowe, Gottfried's efforts to reverse the program's sagging fortunes have touched on the conditioning of players, the scheduling philosophy, even the way he wants the players to carry themselves in class and on campus.
"I'm talking about a mindset that they begin to understand day in and day out what it takes to be successful," Gottfried said Tuesday. "You've got to learn how to be on time. You've got to learn how to have a great attitude in class. I tell them: 'Look nice, dress nice, speak nice, be nice — be a professional.'
"We're getting there. Not that these guys are bad guys. They're not. But what's going to happen is you're going to get in a game for the first time and it's those periods where the rubber meets the road — and how are we going to respond? We don't know yet. And these guys haven't been there, to be quite frank, where they can turn that into a win and turn that into success."
Few of the Wolfpack's frustrated fans are going to question Gottfried's moves right now. As he said, "The bottom line in winning fans over is winning games," and N.C. State hasn't done much of that in the Atlantic Coast Conference lately.
Lowe, the point guard on the "Cardiac Pack" team that won the 1983 NCAA championship, was a beloved figure at the school who could never build any sustained on-court success. He went 25-55 in ACC regular-season play, never finished higher than ninth in the league and went 3-16 against nearby rivals Duke and North Carolina before resigning after five seasons.
Gottfried and his staff managed to avoid mass defections after taking over — freshman point guard Ryan Harrow transferred to Kentucky — and has spent the three months since trying to forge relationships with those players even though they were limited to only a handful of workouts due to NCAA rules.
In the case of rising junior Richard Howell, Gottfried pushed the 6-foot-8 forward to get in better shape. He said Howell weighed 271 pounds in the spring, but is down to around 250 and carrying himself with more confidence.
"Everybody was a little bit different," said Gottfried, who had worked as an analyst for ESPN since leaving Alabama in 2009. "Guys want to know what their role is. Some of that is hard because I've watched them on television, but until you coach somebody, you don't really know their game sometimes. ... Guys want to know how they're going to fit in. They want to believe we can win, so that was our job with these guys."
With the learning process ongoing, Gottfried said it's hard to predict exactly how his first team will stack up with the rest of the ACC. While he talked about his players embracing the early changes and the program having some early momentum, he also cautioned Wolfpack fans not to expect too much, too fast.
"I've got no magic dust that we can just sprinkle over our guys," he said. "There are habits that have to be built. We're trying to get those built right now, and I think we're making steps."