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The Bloom Is Officially Off The O’Brien Rose Nationally

July 22, 2010

Whatever goodwill Tom O’Brien built up over the years building BC into a solid program has officially been washed away with the three losing seasons under O’Brien at N.C. State. The confidence that O’Brien can get the job done seems to be fading rapidly, if not completely faded:

Those in the gambling world (and let’s be honest–nobody takes effectively handicapping teams more seriously than those in Vegas) are saying it:

In three seasons on the job head coach Tom O’Brien is [sic] yet to break through with a winning campaign. Following a 5-7 showing in 2009, O’Brien is now just 16-21 since taking over as North Carolina State head man. … But this is a program that is still searching for consistency…

Those in the media covering the league are saying it:

Atlantic Division
4. North Carolina State
Why are the Wolfpack fourth? As dependable as Richmond native quarterback Russell Wilson (59 percent completions last season for 3,027 yards, 31 touchdowns and 11 interceptions) is for coach Tom O’Brien, Wilson can’t do it alone. With the departures of running backs Toney Baker and Jamelle Eugene, N.C. State must find some semblance of a running game to improve upon its 5-7 mark from last season. Also, there has to be improvements made on defense, where coordinator Mike Archer must be feeling a little heat after his unit surrendered an average of 31.2 points per game last season (tied with Maryland for most in the ACC). The schedule, which includes games against Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Florida State and at Georgia Tech, East Carolina, Clemson and UNC, isn’t exactly full of patsies. At least O’Brien has one thing going for him – the Tar Heels haven’t been able to touch the Wolfpack, losing three consecutive games to the O’Brien-led bunch.

Those outside the media (i.e. bloggers like yours truly) covering the league are saying it:

6. Ralph Friedgen/Tom O’Brien’s job security

O’Brien came to NC State expecting to contend for division and conference titles. Instead, the ‘Pack have a losing record under O’Brien in three seasons. This year, he has one of the ACC’s best , albeit under appreciated, quarterbacks in Russell Wilson to go with a suspect defense. O’Brien’s contract runs through 2015, so it’s unlikely that Yow pulls the plug on him after this year, but the pressure to win is a lot higher now that O’Brien is operating almost purely with his own players.

Most damning, those who write for the national media (SI’s Stewart Mandel) are beginning to say it:

I was on board when NC State hired Tom O’Brien thinking he would be able to exceed what he did at BC. Now I am seeing BC fans are right. O’Brien is what he is — he will beat the rival but lose plenty to the Dukes and Wakes on the schedule. Do you think new AD Debbie Yow will make a move if TOB doesn’t win this season?
— Mike, Charlotte

Count me among those disappointed with O’Brien’s Wolfpack tenure to date. Even with one of the most exciting dual-threat quarterbacks, Russell Wilson, NC State was all over the map last season, beating Pittsburgh and North Carolina but finishing 2-6 in the ACC. As a result, the Wolfpack posted their third straight seven-loss season (with a 2008 PapaJohns.com Bowl appearance wedged in there). Meanwhile, the BC fans Mike mentions who grew dissatisfied with O’Brien’s perceived ceiling — whom I considered to be spoiled at the time — have been validated by the Eagles’ continued success under Jeff Jagodzinski and Frank Spaziani.

Arguably O’Brien’s biggest problem is that Butch Davis arrived in Chapel Hill the same year he came to Raleigh. While O’Brien has won all three on-field meetings with his rival, Davis, with a few exceptions, has killed him in recruiting. But I wouldn’t throw in the towel on O’Brien just yet. His is by no means a program in disarray. Wilson, amazingly, is only a junior, and star linebacker Nate Irving returns this year after missing all of last season following a severe car crash. Provided O’Brien posts a winning season, I don’t see Yow bouncing him out the door, but if he wants to truly curry favor, a nine- or 10-win season would help a lot.

Mandel wraps with basically a “but he still might get ‘er done! *fingers crossed*” apology, perhaps out of need to not spend the entire answer slamming a respected coach. That’s fine.

But if he thinks we’ve got a shot at 10 wins with that schedule and our defense, my faith in his ability to objectively evaluate a program is severely shaken. I would have to think he’s the kind of person that keeps email scammers in business. In any event, folks are shifting their opinions on O’Brien from “he’s a guy that’ll eventually get it done” to “well, I’m surprised he hasn’t gotten it done.”

The X Factor in the validity of this shift is the injury situation. Whether you believe the injuries are due to O’Brien’s training methods or just freaky coincidence, injuries have made it very difficult to assign blame for the losing season thus far to entirely coaching. State averaged over 30 points per game last year on offense but gave up over 31 on defense. Forget everyone else–if you just add back in a healthy Nate Irving to the fold, would State have shaved 2-5 points off that 31 to a more manageable 26 or so (not good but not horrible)? And how many more wins would that have been worth, two, maybe three? Fielding decimated teams certainly impacted O’Brien’s first three teams and can’t be ignored before simply saying “he sucks.”

The shift is happening, nevertheless. The BC folks have picked up on it, and are applauding it as it seems everyone else is discovering the emperor’s new clothes.

Sound familiar to a certain fanbase regarding a certain coach who shall not be named?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael permalink
    July 22, 2010 6:46 pm

    I’m still on the TOB bandwagen. I agree with the site above that says that TOB’s problem has been getting outrecruited by UNC. He’s proven time and time again that he can do a lot with a little, but he needs to improve his recruiting (or get UNC on probation).

    It will be interesting to see how this recruiting year pans out – considering that we only have 3 recruits so far.

    • July 22, 2010 9:34 pm

      Michael, thanks for stopping by.

      I think a bit too much is being made about this year’s recruiting class at the present time. Yes, Butch Davis is doing a great job this year, and I would say he’s the overall leader in terms of recruiting this state over these coaches’ tenures. But let’s be honest, the majority of kids these days (not born into State-fan households) grow up in NC as UNC fans, so it’s not surprising that Butch has been able to do so well. It makes his job so much easier, and he’s already one of the best in the business at it.

      But for the first time in O’Brien’s tenure, he isn’t being forced to recruit his full allotment of scholarships this year. The team only plans to sign 15 or so kids come signing day, versus the 25 or so you would normally see. As such, the staff doesn’t feel as compelled to load up on a lot of commitments early and can be more judicious with their offers. Now, is that the BEST way to do it? I don’t know. I would probably disagree with it because recruiting timetables have continued to advance over the years and taking your time hoping the Johnny Football will wait for all his offers to come in before making a decision just isn’t realistic anymore.

      All of that’s to say I don’t think we have only three commitments at the moment because we suck and no one wants to play for us. I think O’Brien’s simply not in a rush to load up on commits just to match the number on Butch’s–or anyone else’s–list. The final tally that counts is on signing day, and even then it’s tough to compare classes because you don’t know which of those kids won’t make it to campus in the fall, if at all.

      One thing’s for certain: If O’Brien posts another 5-win, or even a 4-win season, the recruiting trail will get MUCH more difficult to mine…assuming he even has a job at that point.

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