Tom O’Brien may be an Ohio native who’s spent the past decade in Boston, but he’s got a certain nature about him that seems distinctly southern.
In a way not entirely different than Sidney Lowe, O’Brien has unified a fan base that hasn’t been completely united across the board in twenty years, a refreshing change of tempo around here. With a coaching philosophy that’s considered simple and an approach that seems deliberate, he still shows an apparent panache for fitting in.
One of the first things he did upon his arrival in Raleigh was contact former players for a reunion – a town hall meeting of sorts. Whereas Lowe already knew what it meant to be a State fan and what we would expect of him, O’Brien was keen enough to bring in the very best representatives of State that could explain exactly that to him: winners like Bill Cowher and Torry Holt.
A legacy of George Welsh, who is second only to Bobby Bowden in all-time ACC victories with 80, O’Brien is also a staple of winning consistency. Two years after taking over a Boston College program mired in scandal, he led the Eagles to eight consecutive winning seasons; he became a perennial eight-game winner and won nine games four of his final five years in Chestnut Hill. To put that into perspective, we’ve had only four nine-win seasons in the past twenty years (two of those were under Sheridan in ’91 and ’92).
It’s a consistency that, as far as I can tell, is born out of pragmatism. We’ve been told by our athletic administration for years that we can only win if we have $100 million facilities; yet O’Brien has done nothing but win despite pitiful resources, outdated facilities, and an apathetic fan base much too occupied with winning Super Bowls and beating the Yankees.
Now he has arguably the nation’s finest college football facilities; add to that a large, rabid, loyal fan base (with open checkbooks, let’s not forget), and it seems nothing less than a winning combination.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his hiring is the seemingly appropriate quiet buzz it has generated. While it’s garnered nowhere near the circus-like attention that Nick Saban has received, the national media has seemed largely impressed by O’Brien’s move South. O’Brien may be the antithesis to Saban’s flashy style (Saban’s won a title so he’s earned it) but, except for the buzz being generated, it’s no stretch to say that as of right now, this season, Alabama is no further ahead as a program than we are.
After all, buzz doesn’t win championships – a painful lesson we’ve all no doubt learned – and after the past seven years, it’s nice to finally not have the circus in town each fall. For the first time in as long as I can remember, all State fans seem to be very excited and intensely hopeful about the future; it’s an odd feeling, I know.
I like the guy; I think the South suits him quite well. My only question is: Coach, just how bad are we going to beat Carolina?