Amato fired after 7 seasons with Wolfpack

Monday, November 27th 2006, 6:05 am
By: News On 6

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ In the end, Chuck Amato couldn't just shrug off all the criticism of his up-and-down North Carolina State program.

The school fired Amato on Sunday, a day after he completed his seventh season at his alma mater. The former Wolfpack linebacker had a 49-37 record at the school and led the team to five bowl games, but his squads were 25-31 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and never finished higher than fourth.

N.C. State (3-9) lost seven straight games this season to finish with a losing record for the second time in three seasons since quarterback Philip Rivers went to the NFL. On Saturday, the Wolfpack finished the season with a 21-16 home loss to East Carolina.

After the game, Amato was asked if he expected to be back for an eighth season.

``Why not?'' he said, following a two-year pattern of deflecting criticism with barrel-chested bravado.

In a statement Sunday, athletic director Lee Fowler credited Amato with helping to improve the program's football facilities and ticket sales, but said a change was needed. He said a search for a replacement would begin immediately.

``No Wolfpack fan can question the excitement and enthusiasm that Chuck Amato brought to the N.C. State football program when he came here in 2000,'' Fowler said. ``However, because the results on the field in two of the last three seasons have fallen far below where we feel our program should be at this point, we have decided to take the program in a new direction.''

Amato, who had three years remaining on his contract, said he was disappointed by the decision but proud of what he accomplished during his tenure.

``My vision was to take this program to places that it had never been before in 100-plus years of playing football,'' he said in a statement. ``I didn't come here to use this job as a stepping stone like many others have or could. I wanted to surround myself with people who would help me stretch my vision and not choke my dreams. This is obviously a disappointing decision for me, but I would never do anything to hurt North Carolina State University.''

Amato met with the players Sunday night at Carter-Finley Stadium; most emerged from the meeting dejectedly and declined to comment.

``It's disappointing,'' said Curt Cignetti, Amato's tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator. ``I think Chuck did a lot of great things for this program and right now I really feel for him.''

Ernest Jones, a junior linebacker, said Amato was positive as he addressed the players and offered his best wishes. Jones said the Wolfpack's struggles this year shouldn't be blamed entirely on Amato.

``It's not only the coaches' fault, but the players,'' Jones said. ``We let the coaches down, so it's coaches and the players also.''

From the day Amato arrived after 18 years as an assistant to Bobby Bowden at Florida State, he talked of building a program that would contend for conference championships and more. Soon, Carter-Finley underwent about $87 million in renovations and upgrades _ from the construction of the 103,254-square-foot Murphy Center to house the football offices and the four-story Vaughn Towers with press and luxury seating, as well as permanent seats that bowled in the last open end of the stadium for this season.

Behind Rivers _ who rewrote the school's passing records _ the Wolfpack went to bowl games in Amato's first four seasons. The highlight was an 11-3 campaign in 2002 that included a top-10 ranking and a Gator Bowl win against Notre Dame.

But after Rivers graduated, the Wolfpack suffered its first losing season under Amato at 5-6 in 2004. Then, the Wolfpack bounced back from a bad start and won five of six to close the year with a win against South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. But with each loss, the criticism seemed to increase even as Amato shrugged it off.

When asked this season whether he felt he was on the hot seat, Amato quipped, ``The hottest seat I've been in is when I drove my 1969 Corvette from my house to this football office on a Sunday and it was 98 degrees and I don't have air conditioning.''

His program looked poised to take another step this season when the Wolfpack beat Boston College on a last-second touchdown pass and rallied to beat Florida State in a pair of nationally televised games. But the 24-20 win against the Seminoles on Oct. 5 was Amato's last.

From there, N.C. State lost six times by eight or fewer points behind a familiar pattern of bad penalties and undisciplined play.

``I have nothing but admiration for Chuck,'' said Johnny Evans, a former All-America punter and quarterback for the Wolfpack and father of current quarterback Daniel Evans. ``Probably the greatest thing about him is he instills in his players a real sense of vision. And in large part that's been one of the biggest criticisms because he got everybody thinking so big and the wins and losses didn't match up.''