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Tom O’Brien And The Art Of Player Psychology

September 28, 2009

We’re just not a very good football team right now. There’s too many mistakes and I’ve done a bad job coaching.

It’s just a bad job. We have to face up to some facts.

We have a lot of work to do this week.

If I showed you these post-game comments from Coach O’Brien and you didn’t know the outcome of the contest, pretty clearly you’d assume that State was beaten by Pitt, not the other way around.

But O’Brien — man of even keel — is clearly waging some psychological warfare (friendly fire exercises?) intent on not letting his team get too high following an emotional and important come-from-behind win against the Panthers.

Coaches will sometimes say they don’t want to see one loss turn into two, i.e. you’ve got to put the previous loss behind you. The same thing can occur with an emotional win. Fourteen-point, come-from-behind wins late in the second half are pretty rare, and in this instance it masked some poor play and lots of mistakes…mistakes that O’Brien knows his team needs to be made well aware of.

He did so in a public forum, I think, because it enters the media as an added agent to hammer the point home over the course of the coming week. If O’Brien had kept his criticism confined to the locker room, spending his post-game conference instead lauding his team’s fight, resiliency and the play making ability of his offense, would the media even bother to bring up the 12 penalties, missed tackles and lack of execution in the kicking game this week leading up to the Wake game? I’m inclined to think not. This was a calculated move on O’Brien’s part to keep this team’s issues squarely in the forefront of the public discussion this week. That public discussion should make its way to the team and further help the team stay focused.

Letting a previous week’s result impact the following week is an easy trap to fall into. All of us — fans, agents of the press, players and coaches alike, tend to get tunnel vision, judging a team’s performance only in terms of wins and losses.

As an example, a last-second drop of a game-winning touchdown in the endzone by one team (Florida State) helped propel the other (Miami) into premature championship discussion. Did that one drop negate the fact that Miami’s secondary played poorly in that game? Apparently it did, as that win — plus the win over the Yellow Jackets — had the whole college football world talking about how “The U” was back.

Flash forward to this weekend where Virginia Tech exploited Miami’s defensive weaknesses and put a 24-point buttwhoopin’ on ’em to bring the Canes back down to earth, and you have to wonder if the ‘Canes started reading too many of the their press clippings.

O’Brien is trying to inject the same dose of humility into the team before it becomes another blemish on the win-loss record. He’s putting the focus on just how badly this team played now, and by taking it public, it stays in the forefront of everyone’s mind. While the win was nice, performances like that will likely result in losses against competition ready to take advantage of them.

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