Those who have been with us longer than a year may recall last season an article was published titled “Benchmark Tom O’Brien: The Race to Perceived Success“. There is some good discussion on our message boards regarding Tom O’Brien’s trajectory as a program builder and why he is a good asset for our athletic department. Rest assured that with new athletic direct Debbie Yow, Tom O’Brien’s performance and trajectory will be evaluated based on what’s best for NC State, based on what we have seen so far in our recent basketball coaching search.
Still, it’s worth while to look at Tom O’Brien’s success on the gridiron to see how he stacks up against NCSU’s other coaches. First, let’s summarize where TOB sat as of this time last year:
Tom O’Brien, after his third season, was 0.432 overall and 0.375 in ACC play. Not too hot. The only permanent coach worse than that was Tom Reed (0.273/0.190 ACC) who also came into NC State as a “successful” coach at his former post (32-19-2 at Miami-Ohio). Not a fair comparison of TOB to Reed, but the numbers ‘are what they are’. link
The point I would like to make at this time is two fold: The first is that O’Brien is statistically on the right path. And while it may be necessary to get more data to support any definitive answers on where O’Brien is heading, the statistics show that “something” positive is occurring in Raleigh. The other point I would like to make is not that Tom O’Brien is a good or bad coach, but rather that because of his results in the first few years, he has reached a point where there will always be a period during his tenure that he is behind most of his other NCSU predecessors. User ‘ACC 10K’ said it best in last year’s article when he stated: “…though it wasn’t stated explicitly, [this article is a] good demonstration that when you get a certain distance behind a standard, it becomes impossible to catch up within a constrained time period.” Does that mean that Tom O’Brien couldn’t reach a level that Holtz couldn’t even reach? Of course not; O’Brien is in control of his own destiny. It does mean, however, that for now, all we know is how his results stacked up against previous coaches.
SO, LET’S DIVE INTO THIS… (averages analysis)
O’Brien finally had his first winning season in 2010. It was an amazing season filled with plenty of owed congratulations towards an experienced coach and the inevitable “WTF” play calls that will accompany every coach from Chuck Amato up to Joe Paterno. Currently, Tom O’Brien sits at an overall 0.563 winning percentage. This brings him above par with Chuck Amato by about 1% and above Mike O’Cain by 5%. In my analysis, I attempted to determine why so many fans, despite the results, have been so enamored by this coach. The answer can be found as clear as day in O’Brien’s record against conference opponents. While Chuck Amato only won 45% of his games against conference opponents and Mike O’Cain only won 46% of his conference games, Tom O’Brien is beating his conference opponents 53% of the time. This effect mixed with the 10,000 reports of injuries on the practice field that have been commented on extensively on our forums and blog give Wolfpack fans a reason to believe that if the roster can stay healthy, that 53% could easily be over 60%.
By the way, Dick Sheridan beat ACC opponents 63% of the time, Bo Rein at 65%, and Lou Holtz at 76%.
Tom O’Brien did very well against ACC opponents last year (6-2). The last time a coach at NC State beat ACC opponents that well was in 1994. Again, this helps explain some of the fandom that we see exhibited over Tom O’Brien. Before this last season, O’Brien’s records against ACC opponents was 3-5, 4-4, and 4-4 during his 2007-2009 seasons, respectively.
Another interesting side-note, Tom O’Brien posted the first 4-4 conference record in 20 years in which NCSU did NOT make the post-season. Take it for what it’s worth (AKA, not a lot).
The highlight of O’Brien’s ACC record is, obviously, his 4-0 run on Carolina. Despite Carolina having a squad with more NFL draftees than almost anyone “in their class”, O’Brien has still managed to beat Carolina by 31-27, 41-10, 28-27, and 29-25. The discussion of “we might have won/lost if only this one play went different” is just as messy as it is irrelevant to the discussion, but with NCSU being in such poor shape during the 2007-2009 period, coming away from Butch Davis’ “hired football teams” with four wins in a row is deserving of celebration and congratulations to Tom O’Brien, his staff, and to the Russell Wilson lead football squads.
Tom O’Brien’s overall record is a little more ominous than previous coaches. Note that I like to look at “conference” and “overall” records, rather than strictly Out of Conference (OOC) opponents, since that gives enough data points to actually draw any sort of conclusion from the numbers.
O’Brien is currently beating any opponent on his schedule approximately 56% of the time. Chuck Amato and Mike O’Cain only managed to beat scheduled opponents 55.6% and 51% of the time. This statistically places O’Brien above Mike O’Cain and puts him on par with Chuck Amato. There are many theories for why Tom O’Brien is only matching, rather than exceeding, Chuck Amato’s number (injuries, harder OOC opponents, et al), but at the end of the day, the results are the results and I’ve never seen a record book with asterisks to explain why an particular football squad should have done better than the record reflects.
PROGRAM BUILDER ARGUMENTS (3-year trend analysis)
This is where the results start to get interesting. As I noted earlier, there has been a lot of discussion on our message boards concerning whether Tom O’Brien is more of a program builder than our previous coaches. Those who have voiced their unyielding support for O’Brien will be proud to note that the numbers 110% support this conclusions.
Note the table below (I’ll explain it in a second)…
(CORRECTION: There are three errors in this chart. 1) The record in 2009 was 5-7, not 7-5. 2) The record in 2010 was 9-4 (5-3). 3) The bowl game against Miami in 1998 was a loss. After re-running the numbers, I determined that (a) these errors only exist in one of my two stat sheets (the one you see here) and not in my sheet I actually use for my analysis. The results of the analysis are roughly the same and point to the exact same conclusion: TOB’s 3-year average is increasing at a rate of 21% overall and 18% in conference play. This points to a positive trajectory for O’Brien as a program-builder.)
In this table we have the records, winning averages, and percent change for each of our previous three coaches. Also note that I have “Three-Year” values. What I am attempting to do is ‘get a track’ on where each coach was trending. In short, I averaged a three year period and gauged how that three-year average changed as a coach continued on-board at NC State.
What you will notice about Mike O’Cain is this turbulent up-and-down pattern. This really personified O’Cain’s tenure at NC State as many did not necessarily see a strong year-to-year reason to fire him, rather they got tired of the inconsistent and unpredictable performance of his squads. This was true in both his overall and ACC records. Usually when you see this kind of turbulence, it implies that a coach does not have the long-term vision for build a program, but rather is building individual teams. In other words, a coach decides today to build a team for 2013. When 2013 happens, the results are positive since the personnel and staff are geared towards that year. As soon as the personnel and staff vary from the 2013 plan, the team begins to exhibit poorer performance. A true program builder will ensure that even with player and staff turn-over, the program is consistently leaning forward and exhibiting above average, at worst, results. O’Cain’s squads simply didn’t survive player turn-over.
Amato’s tenure was a bit easier to characterize, even with “The Philip Rivers Effect”, or the inflation in initial success of Amato’s coaching record based on having one of the best QB’s to ever enter Raleigh. In both his overall and ACC records, three-year averages show a steady decline in performance. Even though Amato’s career at NC State saw some tremendous highs, which contributed to NC State’s visibility greatly, it was also marred by crippling lows. Over time, the lows outweighed the highs and thus we see the increasingly large decrease in performance over each three-year average.
O’Brien is showing the opposite effect as Chuck Amato. Now that he has been coaching for 4 years, we are able to look at two different three-year averages and determine if he is improving. Initially, it appears as if Tom O’Brien is building an increasingly more successful program, despite the injuries that plagued the squad in 2009. Keep in mind that just as the three-year average helps eliminate the positive effects of Rivers in the early 2000′s, it also helps eliminate the negative effects of fluke injuries.
The problem with analyzing if O’Brien is a program builder is having only two three-year averages to compare against each other. It appears that O’Brien is improving each season (5, 6, 7, and 9 wins over his last 4 years respectively), but the factual conclusions regarding the program O’Brien is building can not be found in his results at Raleigh. That doesn’t mean there may not be compelling arguments for such a claim, it just means that as of pre-season 2011, O’Brien “appears” to be building a program in West Raleigh and anything else is based on intangibles rather than the results on the field. In my humble opinion, these intangibles are only of value to those inside the NC State fanbase but prove nothing to the rest of the conference and do nothing for the program at large.
What O’Brien Must Accomplish
If O’Brien has a respectable 8-4 season with a bowl appearance, his year-by-year and three-year percent changes will be less than stellar, but his ACC and Overall averages would increase to 58% each which shows definite improvement and gives much higher credibility to the claim that O’Brien is building a solid program. The three-year average doesn’t have to increase each year, it only has to be a positive percentage. Positive percentages mean that the program is increasing it’s performance over the past three years. If the rate of percent-increase continues to rise, that’s awesome, but at some point in time you have to begin to asymptote. From O’Brien’s previous records, he hits a ceiling at 9-wins. O’Brien has arguably more resources and better visibility at NC State than at Boston College, so hoping for some 10-win seasons and BCS visibility is a high-bar to meet, but within the realm of possibilities.
TOM’S PAST WILL HAUNT HIM… KIND OF… (bottom 5-year analysis)
Ultimately, if Tom O’Brien is able to match that +60% winning percentage that the likes of Bo Rein and Dick Sheridan brought to Raleigh, no one will care about any of this. Until that point, it’s worth while to compare O’Brien’s first 5 years against his predecessors and determine what it would take for him to match the records of those who came before him.
Last year, we looked at what O’Brien needed to do over his 2010 and 2011 seasons to match the success of his predecessors. What we arrived at is that O’Brien needed to make sure he could keep above an 80% win mark between 2010 and 2011 if he wanted to move from the “lower echelon coaches’s five year worst records” to the “high echelon coaches five year worst records”.
Now we know that with 9-3 record, Tom fell short of an almost unreasonable goal of 80% by 5%. Therefore, the same figure modified to account for last year’s results changes to…
I want to point something else out at this time: these figures take into account each coach’s worst records over a 5-year period while in West Raleigh. What you see from the updated graphic is that in order for Tom O’Brien to match the success of each coach’s worst 5-year record, he would actually have to win more games in 2011 than he has scheduled. Maybe when Carolina vacates some of their wins, we can have them give some wins to O’Brien.
Conclusion From the Analysis
One step at a time:
1) Does NOT mean: Tom is an inferior coach to Chuck Amato. As noted in the three-year trend analysis, Amato had a problem with building programs. However, the “low” point of Amato’s overall record was not as low as O’Brien’s will inevitably be. That’s just the penalty we pay for losing some games earlier on.
2) Does NOT mean: Tom will never be in the same category as Bo Rein or Dick Sheridan. Again, this is a 5-year analysis of each coach’s worst 5 years. While this means that O’Brien’s lows are lower than the other “higher echelon coaches”, it doesn’t mean that his highs won’t be just as high.
3) DOES mean: Tom will have a period that reflects behavior of a lower-echelon coach. In other words, while this does NOT mean that he will definitively be a lower echelon coach, is does mean that no matter what he does this season, there will always be a period of time while he was coaching at NC State that he reflected results that make him appear to be a lower echelon coach.
A supervisor once gave me good advise: If you want people to always think you’re great at what you do, never be wrong. This applies to this analysis. While nothing about this says that O’Brien will be a bad coach or should be on the hot seat, it does say that ‘he made the mistake’ of not winning. I put that in quotes because I know, and am incredibly tired of rehashing, the excuses and rationales for why O’Brien’s performance is what it is. The bottom line is that his results are what they are and there is nothing he, or any fan, supporter, or analyst can do about it.
Two out of the three analyses conclude that O’Brien is on the right track and taking beloved NC State where she needs to be. My father once told me that NC State would be thrilled with a Dick Sheridan-styled coach who was successful overall, stayed at NC State for a longer period of time, went to a bowl a little over half the seasons he was here, and always promised a good chance at a winning season. In my humble opinion, Tom O’Brien is poised perfectly to be that kind of coach.
However, O’Brien is also 110% in control of his own destiny. While a record of 8-4 would bring him in a transitional position between the lower echelon coaches and the high echelon coaches, a 6-6 record would bring his three-year percent change to 0% or lower, making him appear to have more of the “up and down” trend of a Mike O’Cain. (This is at the root of why I, personally, am in wait-and-see mode over this coach.) It’s worth noting that given O’Brien’s previous record at Boston College, there is no reason to think that he would lead the Pack to a 6-6 record, especially given the Pack’s 2011 football schedule. If Tom O’Brien finished 2011 with a record of 6-6 or worst, it would be the first time in his D-1A coaching career that he finished a season with more than one less win than the previous season. Being fans of the great NC State University, it would be extremely foolish to consider it unthinkable that O’Brien couldn’t have his first here in beloved Carter-Finley.
Until then, I’ll continue to root for the Red and White and cheer O’Brien on. That being said, IF things turn sour, my hope is that we all have the sensibility to know what needs to be done. If that hope never comes to fruition, I have faith in Debbie Yow’s ability to know what is best for NC State. Go Pack!
UPDATE REGARDING CORRECTIONS: As noted by a few of our posters, there were three errors in the three-year analysis chart. These errors have been noted and their effects stated. These errors, in no way, affect the conclusions of this article. Thank you for your input to our community and the analysis we provide.
Also, please let our authors know anytime there is an error in any of our pieces. StateFansNation is composed of a group of alumni and fans, working and otherwise, who find time out of their busy weeks to provide the fanbase with the quality inside information that many other “premium” sites so often lack. Sometimes that means that our authors do not have the time to triple check their stats. Though statistical flaws are minimal, they still occur. Thank you for your input and for helping us provide a high-quality community for the Wolfpack Nation! Enjoy! -NCStatePride, 11:45PM, 6/13/2011