Commentary

Tudor: O'Brien's critics have points, but don't expect TOB to lose his JOB

ctudor@newsobserver.comOctober 6, 2012 

If you read the chat boards and listen to some phone-in regional sports talk shows, the phrase “TOB is going to lose his JOB” is going around a lot these days.

TOB is N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien, and there’s no question his team is underperforming as it enters Saturday’s game in Carter-Finley Stadium against undefeated Florida State.

After last week’s disastrous defensive show in a 44-37 loss at Miami, Florida State equates to an ACC championship elimination game for the Pack, which is 3-2 overall but without a substantial win.

Few, if any, fans expected State to win so much as the ACC Atlantic, much less the overall league title. That fact needs to be repeated regularly during these next few weeks.

Almost no one envisioned the Pack as better than an eight-win team. In the official ACC preseason forecast, O’Brien’s team was slotted behind FSU and Clemson in the division.

But it’s also true that O’Brien might not have survived the 2011 season had it not been for an incredible rally against Maryland in the final regular-season game. There’s even room to think O’Brien needed not only the win over Maryland but the 31-24 Belk Bowl win over Louisville to stay off athletic director Debbie Yow’s radar.

But regardless of the Pack’s performance against the No. 3-ranked Seminoles and to some extent the rest of the season, much has changed within the UNC System about sports in general and football specifically since that 35-point fourth quarter resulted in a 56-41 win over Maryland on Nov. 26, 2011.

Even if State loses big Saturday night, it doesn’t change the fact that O’Brien is a clean coach with a spotless NCAA record – a 63-year-old man who values the school’s image and emphasizes academics and player discipline.

The ongoing backwash of UNC’s numerous scandals stemming from Butch Davis (and earlier) almost certainly will impact traditional hiring and firing policies throughout the UNC System.

The UNC developments have taught us nothing if not the staggering downside that can result from rash coaching hires.

It’s apparent now that some of UNC’s failings were going on long before Davis was hired, but there’s no doubt his arrival accelerated the series of transgressions that eventually led the resignation of a chancellor while deeply damaging the school’s reputation.

And what does UNC football have to show for all of the time, money and embarrassment? The answer is basically the same football clout it had under John Bunting and Carl Torbush. Then there are the extras – scholarship reductions, NCAA probation, ongoing investigations and a shell-shocked, exasperated fan base.

It’s not that O’Brien’s critics are without valid talking points.

In his sixth season, the program is still mediocre in a generally weak conference. A loss against the Seminoles would leave O’Brien 0-2 in the league this season 18-24 against ACC foes since leaving Boston College.

But as the season plays out and O’Brien’s stock fluctuates, fans need to remember that Yow, chancellor Randy Woodson and the board of trustees only have to look a few miles west to get a forceful reminder of what can happen when bad hiring/firing decisions are made.

Tudor: 919-829-8946

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