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With a grin, Amato digs in against critics

The N.C. State coach jokes when asked about being on the hot seat, and adopts Bobby Bowden's philosophy to stay strong in the face of adversity.

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published October 5, 2006


North Carolina State coach Chuck Amato, the former longtime Florida State assistant, didn't react as you might expect to what must have been the umpteenth question about his job performance.

Have you and Bobby Bowden talked about dealing with criticism?

Amato is known for being emotional after big wins (apparently there is crying in football) and for being combative (something he didn't learn from Bowden) with the media. But he didn't get defensive about early NFL defections or parity in college football. Nor did he get offensive and start comparing his record to that of some of his peers along Tobacco Road both in football and basketball.

He has responded both ways in the past, but not this time.

Instead, he laughed. And even joked.

"Why? Do we need to?" he deadpanned.

Well, yeah. Amato may not have read the preseason magazines, the ones that virtually all had him on the hot seat, or visit Internet message boards, something he professes he doesn't know a thing about, but he's aware of the chatter. And that's come up during his weekly calls to his old boss, mentor and close friend.

"It's tough, it's tough on all coaches," said Bowden, who brings his Seminoles to Raleigh for an ACC showdown tonight (ESPN). "I've had my share, but I've learned to live with it. It's part of it. The faint-hearted get out. The weak get out. It's as simple as that. And Chuck is a tough guy. ... I know this; Chuck won't buckle."

Amato, who returned to his alma mater in 2000 boldly talking about championships, the lone yardstick for success he saw implemented during his 18-year stint at FSU, isn't shying away from that goal.

"What is wrong about getting people excited about winning?" he asked.

Amato's preacher-like exuberance has helped raise the tens of millions of dollars needed to transform the football facilities, sell season tickets like never before and attract talent.

Quarterback Philip Rivers, Amato's first target as head coach, shattered records, was the fourth pick in the 2004 NFL draft and is now the starter in San Diego. In all, Amato has had 15 players he recruited get drafted, including defensive end Mario Williams as the first pick in 2006. State had three first rounders off the line.

But if you don't win enough, you face third and long.

Is that Amato's down and distance? Well, despite a solid 48-30 overall record, he's just 24-25 in the ACC and that's with a 3-3 record against FSU. Go figure, huh? The Wolfpack, which last won the league in 1979, hasn't finished better than fourth and was tied for eighth the past two seasons.

While the Wolfpack is coming off a last-minute win against then-No. 20 Boston College, it has lost at home to Akron and lost badly at Southern Mississippi. Oh my.

He has been booed at Carter-Finley Stadium and not for the fashion train wreck that were those bright red shoes he has worn in the past. SI.com listed Amato as the nation's worst coach and other pundits have speculated the Wolfpack may turn to Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher.

Before the season, the Raleigh News & Observer unveiled an animated Web cartoon, the product of a proud N.C. State alumnus, that lampooned Amato's record and his assertion that he was "The Man" to build his program into a contender.

The cartoon has drawn more than 230,000 hits but not a single comment from the N.C. athletic department.

"You never can see the future, but I didn't have a good feel for what was happening there with the program," said FSU redshirt freshman defensive end Everette Brown, a native of Stantonsburg, N.C. "... I just didn't see the steady program I saw here at Florida State."

Can you say, hot seat?

"I don't even want to answer that question any more," Amato said. "The hottest seat I have been in is when I drove my 1969 (red) Corvette from my house to the office on a Sunday and it was 98 degrees and I don't have any air conditioning in it."

For his part, N.C. State athletic director Lee Fowler continues to support his coach and praised the job Amato has done in raising the bar of expectations. He plans to ask the school to add another year to Amato's contract soon and then ask for another year in April to put him at five years.

Another win against the Seminoles would surely quell some of the criticism, not that Amato said he's paying attention to it. But joking aside, he and Bowden have talked about that facet of the job, and how to react to it.

"I know one thing that Coach Bowden's always, always said when I was there and since I've been up here and that is, there's going to come a point in time when you've just got to be strong," he said. "You've got to be strong in everything, in your meetings, in your meeting with your coaches, in your meetings with your players. You can never flinch on anything."