Should N.C. State University become a college football powerhouse not just a winning program but among those regularly competing for national No. 1? The Wolfpacks athletic director, Debbie Yow, implicitly raised that question Sunday by firing coach Tom OBrien after a 7-5 season and by saying, in a comment relayed by a senior on the squad, that she wants a coach who can recruit Alabama type talent.
Hope springs eternal, but caution is in order when making a commitment to big-time college sports. An embarrassing example stares at State from nearby UNC-Chapel Hill, which boosted its football profile in 2006 by hiring noted coach Butch Davis but wound up vacating Davis-era victories, and on NCAA probation, in 2011.
In fairness, Yow is probably aiming more for a program such as Virginia Techs than for Alabamas. She seeks a more aggressive, assertive recruiter wholl lead State to ACC championships, possibly more. In the process, she wants to fill every Carter-Finley seat and to generate increased enthusiasm for the school.
Its a course that many institutions including N.C. State have charted before, with mixed results. Meantime, theres the matter of Tom OBrien.
State owes its now former coach $1.2 million for the remainder of his contract, but thats not all it owes him. OBrien compiled, after all, a winning record (overall) in six seasons, with several bowl appearances. Equally if not more important, he oversaw what appears to have been an honest program, one that didnt get in trouble with the NCAA. Hes said to have held his players to high standards, on the field and as students.
When things have gone badly and they did, including a one-sided loss at home to Virginia this season he didnt whine or blame others. And its hard to imagine OBrien cozying up to influential boosters, of which State has its share.
In a sense, he was an old-fashioned coach, emphasizing teaching and the development of solid players over the recruitment (with its attendant hazards) of high-rated stars.
Thats not the way forward, Yow declared Sunday, as is her right. The AD has a heavy responsibility to keep the crowds and the revenue coming. Yet worth noting is another firing that made news Sunday: at Auburn, coach Gene Chizik and his entire staff were dismissed two years after winning a national title and at a combined contract-buyout cost of $11 million. Thats really big time.