Story Poster
NC State Football

LOOKING BACK @ PACK FOOTBALL: Dick Sheridan's Legacy

May 17, 2020

In this feature, we'll take a look back at NC State football and various eras while opening up discussion on what could have changed had situations played out differently. Today we discuss Dick Sheridan’s legacy.

What is Dick Sheridan’s legacy at NC State? 

After Bo Rein left NC State, the Wolfpack actually had winning seasons in two of the next three years. 

In 1980 the reigning ACC champions hired Monte Kiffin to replace Rein. Various attempts to drum up enthusiasm were concocted; these included a Lone Ranger horse ride, a helicopter leap of around five feet, and a ‘prizefight’ with Joe Frazier. A bellcow at running back (Joe McIntosh) along with solid weapons at wide receiver (Mike Quick) and tight end (Lin Dawson) could not, however, lift the Pack to a bowl berth over the next three seasons. 

Kiffin’s final game as head coach of the Wolfpack was a 41-3 thrashing on the road at the hands of a Miami team led by Jim Kelly at quarterback.  That game was the 1982 season finale. NC State was 16-17 in Kiffin’s three years in charge, but it was about to get worse. 

Tom Reed took over in 1983 and NC State football became an afterthought. The Wolfpack slumped to three consecutive 3-8 seasons. 

Closer scrutiny shows just how bad things got. In Reed’s three seasons in charge State won only one home game against ACC competition, and that was the final regular season game he coached at Carter-Finley Stadium -- a one-point upset victory over Virginia. 

The Pack never beat North Carolina or Maryland from 1980 through 1985 and only knocked off Clemson once during that span. Reed lost to lowly Duke in each of his three seasons in Raleigh. NC State was 4-15 in ACC play during his tenure, and two losses to the Tigers (1983 and 1984) did not count in league play, else the record would have been worse. 

Dick Sheridan was a winner at NC State, leading the Pack to six bowl games in seven seasons.

Two of NC State’s defeats under Reed had a positive impact, however. 

It was in 1984 when Furman, led by  a 43-year old head coach by the name of Dick Sheridan, strolled into Raleigh to take on NC State in the second game of the campaign. The Paladins had reached the NCAA Division 1-AA semifinals the previous season but, in terms of Sheridan’s previous success, were not exactly world-beaters. After claiming four straight Southern Conference titles, Furman would finish 3-3 in league play that season. However, Sheridan guided his team past the Pack in a close affair. 

The next season it would not be close. Sheridan and Furman played the Wolfpack in Raleigh and walloped an NC State squad that was coming off a rare conference win. The 22-point loss to the Paladins was an embarrassment, but it signaled brighter days ahead.

It was no secret that State would pursue Sheridan as its head coach after the 1985 schedule concluded. The program was stuck in the mud, and he projected a youthful enthusiasm – but he also demanded uniformity in a way that sort of meshed the better qualities of Kiffin and Reed. Sheridan’s introduction of the diamond logo was a needed change for a program that had gotten stale. 

More importantly, Sheridan was a winner at NC State. Over his seven seasons at the helm the Wolfpack went 52-29-3 and played in six bowl games (only an 0-4 record in non-conference play in 1987 prevented the team from being bowl eligible that season).

The Wolfpack played exciting football and was also a factor nationally as NC State was ranked in three of the seven years Sheridan was in Raleigh. 

NC State recruited top-tier talent under Sheridan’s leadership, both within the state of North Carolina and throughout the Southeast. His teams sent players into the NFL regularly, and Carter-Finley Stadium was the place to be for college football fans in the Triangle. 

In Sheridan’s final two seasons (1991 and 1992) NC State won nine games in consecutive years for only the second time in program history. 

A league title, though, ultimately proved elusive.

State finished second in the ACC three times in Sheridan’s seven seasons. While he sorted the issues against North Carolina (6-1), Maryland (5-2), Clemson (4-3), and Duke (5-1-1) that plagued his predecessors, it was schools to his immediate north that kept him and the Pack from reaching elite status. Virginia beat Sheridan’s teams six times in seven tries while Virginia Tech, years away from joining the conference, was 3-1-1 against the Pack during that span. Each of the five contests with the Hokies were within one score, including a loss in the 1986 Peach Bowl and a tie in 1992 when VPI finished 2-8-1 under Frank Beamer. The tie was the only game the Hokies did not lose over the final eight contests of the campaign. 

While Virginia was a source of consternation for NC State in conference play, things were about to get much harder for the Wolfpack and the rest of the ACC. 

The arrival of Florida State in 1992, prior to what would ultimately be Sheridan’s final season in charge, shifted the narrative in the conference. In a league where the unpredictable was almost the norm, the Seminoles would change the narrative and rule the ACC with an iron fist in the 1990s. A realistic guess is that if he remained at NC State his teams could have probably only hoped for a second-place finish in the league at best. 

It was a heart-to-heart talk years earlier with Jim Valvano that led to his decision to resign in 1993. Valvano reminded Sheridan of the importance of health. When Sheridan felt he needed a respite to focus on his personal well-being, the decision was tough, but easy. Although there were overtures from South Carolina prior to the 1994 season, he ultimately decided to remain out of coaching. 

Dick Sheridan is one of the greatest coaches in NC State history, and his recent inclusion into the College Football Hall of Fame is a testament to that. He rebuilt the Wolfpack program to a point where bowl games and rivalry wins were the norm. 

What are your thoughts on Dick Sheridan’s tenure at NC State? What would he have done if he stayed? 

What do you think? Premium subscribers can leave their thoughts and opinions in the comment section. 

NEXT: Inside Pack Sports will look at more defining moments in NC State’s football history in the next installment in the coming days.

subscribe Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.