State Steals O’Brien

I’ve had NC State’s hiring of Boston College coach Tom O’Brien on my brain for a couple of days now. I’ve thought of tons of things I want to write about it, but I realize now that I’ll never get all of that typed out. Instead, I’ll just go through a few of my basic thoughts. Maybe I can flush them out more in the comments if folks want to start a conversation about it.
First off let me say that I think that O’Brien will improve State’s program. They will play a more organized, more disciplined brand of football. They may not beat FSU quite as regularly, but they should be more consistent and successful than they were under Chuck Amato.

But I still don’t like the hire.
The main reason I don’t like it is simply that I don’t believe in raiding a coach from another ACC school. It’s tacky. It’s unseemly. Before Frank Haith tried to be considered for NC State’s basketball job last year, I thought there was an ACC rule against such hirings. Clearly there isn’t, but there should be. It’s just bad business for the conference.
I’m also not convinced that O’Brien is really what NC State fans want. It’s a safe choice, but it’s boring. O’Brien pretty much reached his ceiling at BC. It’s a high ceiling to be sure – 8-9 wins a year – but I don’t think Wolfpack fans will be content with that. Sure, they’d love to have 8 or 9 wins instead of 3 or 4, but what happens after they go 8-4, 9-3 and 8-4? They are going to want to take that next step. If you win 8 or 9 games, odds are you’re coming in second or third in your division and just missing out on the championship. You’re good, probably ranked, but not great. That’s not the path that State fans started down a few years ago when they pumped enthusiasm and money into the goal of reaching the Promised Land of an elite program. Tom O’Brien doesn’t look to me like a guy who can take a program to the 10-12 win plateau on any consistent basis.
Some will argue that TOB will raise his ceiling in Raleigh where he has better facilities, better fans and better recruits. Maybe. State fans may be extremely passionate and numerous, they can also be extremely negative and reactionary. In Boston, they like BC when it’s good, but ignore it when it’s not. Things don’t work that way here.
As I wrote when O’Brien’s name came up with the UNC job, I don’t believe it’s necessarily true that State has access to better recruits. Sure the south has more talent than the northeast, but there are also a ton more schools to fight for that talent. There are five 1-A schools just in this state and many more just across the borders. At BC, you pretty much have only Syracuse to compete with north of New York City. High school football may not be as good up there, but the quantity can compensate for the relative quality. Boston alone has more than half the population of the entire state of North Carolina.
There’s no question that State has had more individual talent recently than BC, but a lot of that was due to Amato’s Florida contacts. O’Brien has no such contacts (that I know of). In fact, assuming he keeps his coaching staff intact, and they’ve been together for a long time so it’s likely, he will have to build his entire regional recruiting network from scratch. That’s going to be tough, especially considering that Butch Davis just moved in over in Chapel Hill.
I would guess that State’s talent level is going to drop off from the Amato years. Can O’Brien compensate for that? Yes, probably. To the tune of, oh I don’t know, about 8-9 wins a year.

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