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A chat with the author who changed the image of Jim Valvano forever

InsiderApril2012_VSports TV does not get much better these days than ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary series. It's latest installment appeared on Sunday with "Survive and Advance", the story of the 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack's unlikely run to the NCAA title win against the University of Houston.

The film is a fun look back at a time when college basketball had players who went to more than four classes. We think. The movie mostly centered on the late Jim Valvano, and a handful of the players from that '83 team. The movie did briefly cover Valvano's demise at NC State, when he was fired after the NCAA penalized the program for a lack of institutional control, which was prompted by the publication of "Personal Fouls".

No way was this film, which was made by ESPN, where Valvano became such a popular figure, going to trash the memory of this man. Since his death, and specifically his "Don't give up" speech and the V Foundation's success at raising millions for cancer research, we have forgotten he was a human being with flaws. As is often the case, in death Valvano has become a deity among college basketball coaches.

417CM0JMV1L._SL500_In the mid '80s, author Peter Golenbock wanted to write a book about the late Len Bias and interviewed his former Maryland coach, Lefty Driesell. Instead of writing that book, he was handed some evidence that suggested Valvano's program was not so clean and he pursued that project instead.

What he wrote changed NC State, and Valvano.

"My God - do you know how long ago that was?" Golenbock said when I reached him on the phone on Monday.

Shortly after the book was published, the chancellor of NC State resigned. Eventually, the NCAA knocked on the door and that was it. As charming as Valvano could be, he was eventually fired as the head coach and athletic director.

I read that book as a teenager, and it was the first time I realized just how corrupt big-time college athletics really are, and how much power a money-hungry college coach can wield in an effort to keep people buying tickets and making donations.

Golenbock did not want to trash Valvano's reputation today, and specifically mentioned the millions his foundation has raised. 

He also said he has zero regret about the book, and stands by every single sentence in its pages.

"What I learned from that was that big money had corrupted college sports entirely," Golenbock said. "There were two groups of people who listened to the book's message - the people in power, who did everything to discredit me. I got death threats. The others were the educators who were grateful for what I wrote. ... I have no regrets at all. I'm sorry it wasn't taken more seriously by more people."

Peter_Golenbock3A great deal of the damning accusations came from a student manager, who said Valvano was going to let him walk on to be a player but essentially turned him into his own personal gopher. The other claims came from former players who had transferred out, but did not want to put their names on the most damning material.

"They thought it was going to hurt their chances at the NBA; that Valvano will make sure they didn't get into the pros," Golenbock said. "What I wanted to say was, 'You barely made it in college, why do you think you are going to make it in the pros?' As a journalist, I had to respect their wishes, even though I knew I was going to take a lot of heat for it. It wasn't terribly difficult to find those people, though. It was the guys who had left."

Golenbock said he has not watched the documentary, which includes some of fallout of the book's release. It also includes an interview with the NCAA investigator who claimed most of what they found were players selling tickets and shoes, and none of the other things which the book portrayed - a program that brazenly skirted academics to get players.

"Let me tell you - those (blanking-blankers) didn't interview a single player I talked to," Golenbock said. 

NC State received two years probation in December of 1989.

When the book was released, Golenbock received a lot of threats from NC State alums and there was conisderable outrage that never could such things occur under Jim Valvano at NC State.

"I think the difference is today is that the same things go on and nobody cares and it's the way it is," Golenbock said. "(To find things that go on inside programs today) you have to find someone that is on the inside who is willing to talk, and that is damn hard."

What Golenbock discovered is that what Valvano was really good at was PR, and making money.

"Valvano was not about basketball. He was about making money and he made a ton of it," Golenbock said. "What is so beautiful about this guy is after he is fired, the people at ESPN saw that this is the greatest PR guy in the world and they hired him to be their No. 1 basketball guy. He was fabulous. He could go on press row and talk about how important an education was, and none of his players graduated."

Today, Golenbock resides in Florida and remains an active writer and also teaches at the University of South Florida. 

Click here for the V Foundation's website.


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TCU Alum

Your article could be a book. Great article. Maybe the best thing I've ever read from you. Easily the best thing you have ever written on this blog. Good article.


What a joke. The NCAA did not find hardly anything that Galenbock wrote. He was wrong and a joke.


Just a heads up...that Golenbock article is just a paragraph or two short of fiction. Lots of inaccuracies and errors. Feel free to contact me if you'd like a rundown of what those are.

The problem at State is you had an administration that caved in to the pressure instead of standing up for their coach. They are still paying for it today. If you thought college coaches were all about money back then, how do you feel about them today?

Truth is, Valvano did so much for that school, I can't even begin to try and quantify it. If you knew him personally, like I did, you'd think differently.

hatchet job

"Eventually, the NCAA knocked on the door and that was it."

The NCAA knocked on the door after valvano & NC State invited them to come look through the program in an effort to discredit the book. the NCAA did not find evidence of what Mr. Golenback stated.

"As charming as Valvano could be, he was eventually fired as the head coach and athletic director."
Stepped down as athletic director & offered to coach for $1/yr.

NC State is/was a top tier engineering school. 50% of the student body flunks out. While that may sound horrible, it also means that if you cannot pass teh class, you are not "passed through." NC State players flunked out & did not graduate - is that really worse than getting bs grades, grade inflation, fake classes?

"He also said he has zero regret about the book, and stands by every single sentence in its pages."
He should regret his grammar errors - the book is full of them - & that's not a pot-shot.

One of your lines could be easily edited to read:
"how much power a money-hungry author can wield in an effort to keep people buying books and listening to his drivel."


Golenbock's most self-damning comment is "Valvano was not about basketball. He was about making money and he made a ton of it".

This isn't true at all. I've talked to someone who was a neighbor of Valavano's way before he coached at a large college. This person, who's a UNC fan, said Valvano loved the game and always dreamed of coaching in the ACC.

Galenbock needed dirt, real or fluffed up, to sell his book. Valvano may have taken his eye off the ball and not kept a leash on his players, but he was far from a money grubbing opportunist.


Valvano did not care about basketball? That is a load of crap. I knew Mr. Valvano and his family very well. Even when it was just his family and me around, he would constantly talk basketball and how he wanted to even up the number of championships that NC State had compared to UNC. Golenbock either flat out lied or was told incorrect information.


The guy's information has been proven false multiple times, yet he still spouts off his lies. The whole graduation thing is an out and out lie and here he still says it 25 years later. Golenbock represents everything that is wrong with modern day media.

Dr. Vinnyboombatz

Golenbock should now write a fact book on the UNC Chapel Hill academic fraud to go with his FICTIONAL account of NC State basketball in the 1980's.


How comical, the guy writes the entire book on unamed sources and then complains the NCAA didnt talk to his sources. If you read the book like you say in the article you would know it contains tons of factual errors. Names and places, names of teams etc. Easy stuff that a 7th grader could research and get correct. You can google the errors or I can send them to you. How anyone could say they were proud of that work with all the flaws in research, grammar, technical facts (not just opinions) is beyond me. National Enquirer has more integrity than that book.

Harry Ball

The book received it's information from disgruntled people with an ax to grind. The movie mentioned )and it was chronicled in the Bob Valvano book "The Gifts of Jimmy V"} that Valvano did believe he could change anybody, especially academically underachieving athletes into College graduates. Many of the players who did not leave NC State with a degree have come back and earned their degrees. The book has sensationalized overstated and inaccurate information from questionable sources and has presented them as fact. I wouldn't expect Golenbock to admit it; I do expect anyone reading this book to do some research and determine the facts for yourself. It is easy to sensationalize to make a name for yourself. It is harder to face teh truth and admit when you are wrong.

Alan Pate

It is a shame that Golenbock will not admit that he exaggerated, lied, and spread misinformation. He hurt a lot of people unjustly. He ignored the commandment: "Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor." Jim Valvano was not a saint when he was coaching, but he cared about his players. He cared about young poor kids getting out of the ghetto, and using their physical skills to be in an environment where they could TRY to improve their minds. And they could try to use their skills to achieve something that would enhance their lives, their families' lives, and their communities' lives. SHAME on you Mr. Golenbock. SHAME, SHAME, SHAME.


a true piece of work this guy is.... A snitch... nothing more.... he is worse than the type of human beings (if u want to call him that) that grow up wanting to be a tow truck driver... he ruined players lives, valvano's life, and nc states basketball life... A true piece of garbage... Funny u have the actually NCAA investigator saying this guys book was a bag of lies, that nothing was true, and that he would love and be honored to have someone like valvano coach is own son. its funny that this piece of garbage is reaming the ncaa for calling his publication a pack of lies... But hey, nice investigative journalism fella, u got a university slammed for kids selling their sneakers.... again, a true slime ball doing what he does best... digging up sludge.... The funny thing is, the glorious ncaa puts state on probation for selling their tickets and sneakers, yet the golden university, UNC can send their athletes to fake classes, and the ncaa is mum.... typical garbage from the ncaa.... As far as the author of this "inquiring minds" tabloid style book... he would be better suited to go crawl back under what ever rock he's sliming under; and stay there... no one wants to here ur slandering trash....


Mr. Golenbock is a disgusting human being. Why does he find it necessary to continue to lie about a man who has been dead for twenty years?


Even today Golenbock is loose with his so called facts. From a January 1989 SI article by John Feinstein- "42 players Valvano has recruited for State since his arrival in Raleigh in 1980, only 11 have been awarded degrees. Twelve of the 42 are still undergraduates at State (one, Byron Tucker, dropped off the team earlier this year), and four are currently enrolled at other schools. In short, 11 of a possible 25 players—44%—have graduated."

Funny how Golenbock talks about money, since he got his facts by paying a digruntled former team manager for them. John Simmonds, the source for most of the book, offered both John Feinstein and Dave Kindred the same "story" but would only tell it if they gave him money. This is an actual fact that both journalists have written as opposed to that thing Golenbock wrote.

ESPN hired Coach Valvano to be a color guy for basketball because he was incredibly entertaining and personable besides being knowledgeable about basketball.


LOL @ golenbock being caught LYING again.

what an embarrassment he must be to those close to him. "No player graduated under V"???

LOL, LIE some more, you pathetic, FICTION writer :)


Golenbock took the word of people who had an axe to grind against Valvano and presented it as fact to sell a book. He ruined a man's career and reputation simply to create a scandal and drive book sales.

Valvano wasn't perfect, he spread himself too thin and wasn't able to keep as close a watch over the daily activities of his players as he should have, but selling shoes and tickets DOES NOT equal all of the lies spewed by Golenbock.

Hope it was worth it Golenbock, you were in it for the money.


Dear Mr. Engel,

I just read your article on the book written by Mr. Golenbock.

I am very disappointed that you chose to only mention the fictitious or erroneous aspects of Mr. Golenbock’s book without performing any journalistic due process to fact check or even state that the accusations of his book were unverified or in some instances complete falsehoods.
Your article repeats the assertions as if they are fact and by doing so you do your uninformed readers an injustice. At the same time you throw your journalistic integrity into the same lot as Mr. Golenbock’s.

Even as the book was being shopped for publishers other journalists were stating what a hack job the book was going to be. Follow the link for the source.,4215120

Has Mr. Golenbock ever revealed his sources? Or for that matter has Mr. Golenbock ever revealed who funded his research or maybe even his payoffs for the stories?

You do the Valvano family and N.C. State University a huge injustice by printing information that has been countered by many sources as being falsified or backed by grudges. I know when you read the book many years ago you believed it to be true and perhaps there is a large part of it that was as evidenced by scandals at the University of Miami, Penn State and others. For that matter just Google “UNC scandal” and see what pops up or spend all day reading here at The News & Observer.

A university in the same system certainly didn’t learn its lessons from the N.C. State scandal, but then again that could be because there hasn’t been a book of fiction written about it yet.

Please do the right thing and provide some degree of balance to Mr. Golenbock’s continued delusions.

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