O'Brien: No anger, no frustration in N.C. State firing

CorrespondentJanuary 19, 2013 

Virginia Football

Tom O'Brien, the new associate head coach for offense and the tight ends coach at Virginia, talks to reporters during a news conference Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, in Charlottesville, Va. (AP Photo/The Daily Progress, Sabrina Schaeffer)

SABRINA SCHAEFFER — AP

— Within two weeks of his dismissal as N.C. State’s football coach, Tom O’Brien knew he wasn’t ready to retire to a life of leisure.

Sure, he had given away all the Wolfpack gear in his wardrobe within 48 hours of the Nov. 25 firing, but that was more a matter of moving on than an expression of discontent. And in O’Brien’s case, moving forward meant accepting an associate head coach position at Virginia, where he previously spent 15 seasons as an assistant under George Welsh before becoming Boston College’s head coach in 1997.

In his first public comments Friday since his return to Charlottesville, Va., he joked that he was eager to defer all future media obligations to Cavaliers head coach Mike London, who coached under O’Brien for four seasons at BC. He offered no sign of irritation or disappointment in the end of his six-year tenure at N.C. State, only pointed pride at the program’s accomplishments during his time in Raleigh.

“I didn’t have any anger, I didn’t have any frustration,” O’Brien said of his response to his dismissal after compiling a 40-35 record and taking the Wolfpack to four bowl games in the last five years. “When I was hired at N.C. State, I was hired to do a job. I went there with the goals of being champions in the classroom, champions in the community and champions on the football field. That’s always been my goal.”

O’Brien cited academic strides – the Wolfpack football team’s 2011-12 Academic Progress Rate was 990, up 70 points from four years earlier – and the support of State’s academic community.

“I got some great letters from the faculty, how their whole perspective of athletics has changed since I was there … When I left Boston College, it was a top 3 [academic program in the ACC]. I went to N.C. State, and it was a bottom 3. Now we’re back in the top 3. I did what I was supposed to there.”

Linking the spring football game with late N.C. State women’s basketball coach Kay Yow generated about $100,000 to cancer charities, he said, while the football program’s participation in the Marine Corps’ Toys for Toys campaign raised more than $200,000.

Yet it was the on-the-field expectations where the Wolfpack failed to live up to the expectations of a breakthrough, 10-win season last year. A 33-6 home loss to the Cavaliers on Nov. 3 helped pave the way for the dismissal of O’Brien, who was 115-80 in 16 years as a head coach.

O’Brien said Friday he thought the Wolfpack was on the cusp of making that expected leap to prominence, just as his Boston College teams did in years seven through 10 of his tenure there.

“Football-wise, it was tough,” O’Brien said of his staff’s efforts to rebuild the program. “We walked into a situation that, I had to get rid of 30 guys the first three years I was there. You take that down to 10 scholarships a year, that’s like putting yourself on the death penalty, but it had to be done to turn the program around to do what I was asked to do.

“… If you look at the injuries on defense, and you look at what we went through on offense this year, we started six different offensive lines in 10 games. We were down to our fourth tailback. We still won seven games. That was a heck of a coaching job.”

Under the original terms of his buyout, N.C. State owed O’Brien $1.2 million, provided that he did not take another ACC job until the end of the 2015 season. Under a negotiated settlement, N.C. State agreed to give O’Brien a $200,000 payout and to waive the noncompete clause.

The new deal saved N.C. State $1 million, as well as another $403,348 on former Wolfpack assistant Jon Tenuta, who also relocated to Virginia as associate head coach for defense. The move marks Tenuta’s return to Charlottesville, after playing at UVa and starting his coaching career there as a graduate assistant.

“It was the right opportunity, and the timing was right,” Tenuta said Friday. “Just so happened, [O’Brien] got the axe, and a couple days later, I got a call, so everything worked out.”

O’Brien and Tenuta are two of four new assistant coaches joining London’s overhauled staff. His personal relationship with O’Brien made hiring his former Boston College boss an easy choice, London said.

“Tom is the associate head coach, the assistant head coach, whatever you want to call it, in terms of helping me and my own development,” London said. “There’s things he’s done as a head coach for several years that have been successful. It’s important for me to continue to improve as a football coach, as a head coach, but you know as you go along and you’re learning how to put your staff together, put your practice schedules together and all that, it’s important to get another voice in there that’s been there done that.”

According to his two-year university contract, O’Brien is scheduled to earn $450,000 a year, with the promise of performance bonuses related to bowl and ACC championship game appearances, as well as a $300,000 “longevity bonus” at the end of the contract.

Tenuta was awarded a five-year contract and is scheduled to earn $450,000 a year, with similar performance bonuses.

O’Brien said he deflected “more than a few” inquiries from London shortly after State dismissed him before agreeing to meet him for dinner last month at Napper Tandy’s Irish Pub in Raleigh.

O’Brien and his wife Jennifer had returned recently from their vacation home in Charleston, S.C. It was clear after 10 days there, O’Brien said, that he was not cut out to unplug entirely after 38 years of coaching.

“I don’t have any regrets. I don’t feel bad,” O’Brien said about how his time at N.C. State ended. “I accomplished a lot. Many people in this profession expressed those feelings, and those are the only people that are really important to me, because they know what it’s like and they know what you have to go through. There were as many people – Carolina people, Duke people, Wake people – that would come up to me and tell me how much they respected what I did, the type of program I ran at N.C. State and had a newfound respect for State. So I think I accomplished a lot, and I have nothing to say one way or another, except to say it’s a new chapter, and it’s time to move on.”

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