Tudor: Virginia loss underscored O’Brien’s struggles in league play

ctudor@newsobserver.comNovember 26, 2012 

Tom O’Brien just didn’t win enough league football games in a weak conference to keep his job for a seventh season at N.C. State.

The most damaging of his 26 ACC losses (versus 22 league wins) almost certainly was a 33-6 drubbing from Virginia on Nov. 3 in Carter-Finley Stadium.

If Wolfpack athletic director Debbie Yow didn’t make up her mind to fire O’Brien that day, the team’s performance put the former Marine in harm’s way.

Although the Pack would bounce back to win two of its final three games and qualify for a post-season game, the loss to Virginia emptied the stadium early in the second half and drained much of the coach’s once solid support among fans.

When O’Brien began his post-game remarks with “bad day,” you got the feeling he knew right then the way this season would end.

The 7-5 (4-4 ACC) record was not what O’Brien anticipated before the season began. He put a degree of pressure on himself by calling 2012 his best Wolfpack team yet and one that should compete for the league title.

But on balance, 2012 alone won’t define his six seasons at the school.

He may not be remembered for any sort of championship run, but TOB will leave with his good name intact, a winning record (5-1 against UNC) and a staff that had a knack for producing exceptional quarterbacks.

During a period when several ACC schools have been in trouble with the NCAA, O’Brien proved it’s possible to have a winning record without breaking the rules.

Where the school goes from here is up to Yow, who presumably already has her wish list narrowed to a handful of possibilities. She made it clear several times Sunday that the next coach will be expected to have O’Brien’s morals and impressive academic record.

Yow’s track record indicates that she’ll put a high priority on a hot recruiter and perhaps someone in their 30s or 40s.

Yow said one obvious contender -- Vanderbilt’s James Franklin -- will not be a candidate.

Unlike the situation with basketball hire Mark Gottfried, the recruiting aspect of the equation will be considerably more difficult in football.

The next coach will take over a program that hasn’t won a championship since 1979 and is located in the middle of a hectic recruiting area -- a state that doesn’t come close to producing enough prospects each season to adequately stock the rosters of four ACC members and one in Conference USA.

The next staff will also have to find a replacement for departing quarterback Mike Glennon, much of his offensive line and one of his top receivers.

Then there are the expectations.

Many Wolfpack fans are convinced the program should be a double-digit winner on a regular basis even though it’s happened only once and then by a 2002 team (11-3) that went 5-3 in the conference.

Golfer Lee Trevino once said of the PGA Tour, “Oh sure, the pay’s great but sooner or later, the courses win. They grind you down.”

Until someone proves otherwise, that line more or less sums up coaching college football teams in this state.

Tudor: 919-829-8946

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