Coach O’Brien Keeping Pack on the Track to Coming Back (Updated with 850 Audio Link)

The Red & White football game is approaching this weekend and Wolfpack fans are starting to look ahead to the 2008 season. (That’s what we do as NC State fans – look ahead…OR…look very far in the past).

I just had to tell you how impressed I continue to be with NC State’s Head Coach, Tom O’Brien.

About this time last year we were basking in the love of a lot of national praise for TOB. You will be interested in the entry which is accessible by clicking here.

Similarly, just this week The Sporting News‘ Matt Hayes picked NC State as one of “Four to Watch” in this article because of his respect for TOB.

NC State: Don’t kid yourself, Tom O’Brien is one of the top five coaches in the game. (SN colleague Tom Dienhart ranked him 4th in the ACC) It took him awhile to weed out the malcontents last year, but by November, the Wolfpack were playing as well as anyone in the ACC (insert your joke here).

This is how Tom O. works: First, he makes the team smarter, then tougher — and once he finds a quarterback, the winning begins. The question: Can junior Harrison Beck become that leader?

I have NO DOUBT that NC State will be a better football team in 2008 than we were in 2007. How much better, and how that improvement translates into wins against a very tough schedule is another question.

I have little doubt that Russell Wilson or Mike Glennon will start the 2008 season at quarterback for the Wolfpack. The worse the offensive line, the more chance that Wilson and his scrambling abilities will get the nod.

Yesterday the N&O ran an article focused on the Wolfpack’s spring practice that I thought was particularly good. It wasn’t the information from practice that was so interesting to me; it was the perspective and tone of Coach O’Brien and his attention to detail

It is no secret to anyone who has privately spoken with the coaching staff that they were nothing short of astounded at the general mess that they inherited when they arrived in Raleigh. I think that this helped set the foundation for a year where TOB and the staff never found their footing or felt 100% comfortable. I think that the transition to a stronger, better program is clearly happening in front of our eyes and some of TOB’s comments in the N&O’s piece indicate his level of comfort with the Wolfpack’s progression:

A year ago, few knew what to expect as the Pack conducted spring practice. O’Brien, after 10 years at Boston College, was unsure about his new players’ work habits, their willingness to learn a new system. The players were unsure about the new coaches.

It was an uneasy time for everyone, a feeling-out process. Baby steps were taken.

And now?

“It’s night and day,” O’Brien said. “I think everything in our program is way ahead of where we were a year ago.

“They have a much better understanding of our coaching staff. We stayed intact for a year, which I think is very key and very important in the long-range success of your program. The coaches are all still here. We’re in the same system.

“We’re out of the huddle, we’re at the line of scrimmage, the ball’s being snapped, we’re headed in the right direction. We’re lined up on defense. We’re starting to play faster on both sides of the ball. Those things all become important because they’re all cumulative. They all add up.”

Similarly, Coach O’Brien gave this radio interview earlier in the week to ESPN Radio 93.1 in Columbia, SC.

“The biggest thing you get out of spring practice is individual improvement.”

“We had our second scrimmage last week, and talking to the coaches they think we are making strides in the right direction.”

“I think everybody was somewhat embarrassed by the way we played the last game of the year.”

“The coaches did a great job. We changed a lot of things around and we changed some people around. As you said, we went on a four-game winning streak and got ourselves back to .500 at 5-5 and had a chance to make ourselves bowl eligible.”

We haven’t been very diligent recently in linking to some of our blogging brethren…so, allow me to leave you with this TOB-related entry from RAWFS discussing the ‘rankings’ of “Coaches on the Hotseat”.

UPDATE: 850 am had a nice 15 minute chat with TOB this morning. Hat tip to Joe Ovies.

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48 Responses to Coach O’Brien Keeping Pack on the Track to Coming Back (Updated with 850 Audio Link)

  1. whitefang 04/16/2008 at 6:14 AM #

    This is one of the few areas of NC State athletics I feel really good about. I still think we have too many holes to fill for this to be a good year, but I hope to be surprised.
    With O’Brien here the best thing “Coach” Fowler can do is stay up at the lake or out on the course, but most importantly stay the hell out of the way. I think we have a football coach who actually has a clue and a plan which is more than I can say about our administration.

  2. Plz2BStateFan 04/16/2008 at 7:11 AM #

    To say I expect a 8 win season in the next 2-3 years is no joke. You cannot understate TOB’s proven track record. The fact that the program was in such a mess when he got here proves the difference between the real deal and pretenders.

    Fire Lee Fowler

  3. packbackr04 04/16/2008 at 7:52 AM #

    you dont have to worry about Fowler sticking his nose in the football program. Lee can be called alot of things, but being “proactive” is not one of them. that was part (a very big part) of the problem with Chuck. Fowler just let him be with no guidance, and Chuck showed he was more a friend to the players than a father figure. “Coach” is not a hands on guy. Which for a coach like TOB is fine, but for young coahces like Sid and Chuck is proving to be detrimental.

  4. StateFans 04/16/2008 at 8:03 AM #

    EXACTLY my thoughts.

    Couldn’t agree more with that perspective.

    It is called LEADERSHIP.

    Just because someone holds a leadership position does not mean that they are a good leader.

  5. packbackr04 04/16/2008 at 8:08 AM #

    I also loved this little bit from his radio intvw.

    “The more reps we can give him the better he can be(Wilson). I don’t know if our quarterback situation will be solved until right before the game against Carolina”

    referring to South Carolina. I dont know if it was intentional but i love jabs at UNC-CH like that. You know it really grinds their gears over there in Chapel Hill. Thank you Tom Obrien. Thank you.

  6. choppack1 04/16/2008 at 8:31 AM #

    packbackr – He has a home in Charleston – so I’m sure he’s familiar w/ the lingo down there too.

    Does anyone else here think/hope the QB situation is solved and TOB is just being coy so USC doesn’t know who to prepare for. (I know that I hope it’s Wilson.)

  7. Noah 04/16/2008 at 8:40 AM #

    If you are within a 30 minute drive of Raleigh and don’t have an otherwise pressing engagement on Saturday, I would strongly, STRONGLY urge you to attend at least the first half of Saturday’s Red-White game.

    There will be recruits there and there will be some press coverage. It’s always nice when we can put lots of butts in seats and have people cheer on the guys in spring practice. It’s a teeny, tiny little thing you’ll be doing…but it adds just a little more atmosphere to the day and if we can get 20,000 folks there, it shows the coaches, the players and the recruits that we’ve got their back. It’s going to be a beautiful day, the masters is over, NASCAR sucks, come to C-F and enjoy a spring day with a little football. You don’t have to stay for the whole thing. Give it an hour at the very least.

    As for the team, I concur that Wilson is probably going to be our starter. If it’s Glennon, that is a very negative omen. Take a look at all of the true freshmen (who, like Glennon, didn’t get the benefit of spring practice…thus removing P. Rivers) who started over the last 10 years. How many of them didn’t stink? Jimmah Clausen was supposed to be the greatest QB prospect ever. Mitch Mustain was supposed to be able to pick up a mountain and hit a receiver on a 20-yard-out with it. Hell, go back far enough and I remember seeing Drew Bledsoe and Peyton Manning as frosh and they were pretty bad. So, I’m betting strongly on Russell Wilson.

    If we can develop some form of a respectable OL, I feel pretty good about the offense. I think Wilson can be, at the very least, a league-average QB. When we are healthy, we’ve got three good running backs, any one of which could start at 85 percent of the college programs in the country. We’ve got a great receiving corp.

    We need numbers at TE. When A. Hill is healthy, we’ve got two good ones with him and George Bryan (whose had a nice camp). But the only other TE on scholarship is Matt Kushner, a converted DL who mostly made a name for himself last year by dropping passes. RJ Armstrong and Rashard Phillips left the program.

    Fullback is another concern. We’re bringing in a guy from Georgia, but he’s coming off an ACL tear and is making the jump from a small high school program.

    And right now, the OL is probably a mess. We’ve got major instability at center, right tackle and a guard spot. At some point between now and September, we’ve got to get probably seven guys who we can count on for an entire game. And we’ve got to get those guys on the same page as a unit.

    On defense, I feel reasonably confident about the front seven. We’re bringing in two JUCOs that ought to help right away. Shea McKeen and Leroy Burgess are both probably going to see a lot of time. I don’t know if they’ll start, but they’ll get plenty of snaps. Combine that with the rest of the returners and we ought to be better at defending the run this year (we were last in the ACC) and we ought to have a little more push on the pass rush.

    Linebacker is a concern. We were thin last year and we lost four guys.

    Dear Chuck Amato, exactly what the HELL were you doing on the recruiting trail the previous four years? Didn’t you…ya know…PLAY linebacker?? Signed, everyone.

    I think we’ll get by at linebacker. Ray Michel will probably be the starter at MLB. Dwayne Maddox and JR Sweezy were behind him this spring. Maddox has played very well and Sweezy has been moved back to DE. I hope that’s a good sign that neither has supplanted Michel and that means he’s really stepped it up. Nate Irving and Thomas Barnes will play on the outside. I believe O’brien has also commented on Irving playing well this spring.

    The secondary is my big concern. This was an area where I thought our guys struggled the most with the new system last year. Amato wanted to blitz on every down with that FSU-pressing style of defense…which meant that we played man coverage almost exclusively. O’Brien plays a more bend-but-don’t-break defense. Amato’s style means that you get more big plays, but you give up big plays too. O’Brien’s style is designed to make the offense sustain drives. More plays means more chances for the offense to screw up and the defense can exploit it. Instead of giving up a two play, 80 yard drive, you have to have an 11-play, 80 yard drive.

    But that means that you have to have different kinds of players. Our corners in the future are probably going to look like Amato’s safeties…and our safeties will more closely resemble Amato’s linebackers. Corners have to come up and play in run support. It took half the season before we saw that last year.

    I’m hopeful that another JUCO, Clement Johnson, can man a safety spot, that Javon Walker can come back from a knee injury, and JC Neal can make the most of his senior year. If all of that happens, our safeties can be okay. If not…well, hopefully, we’ll get a lot of sacks.

    IF….we avoid the devestating injuries that hit us last year (everybody has injuries, we just need the guys to avoid the season-crippling ones) —

    IF…we can get league-average play out of our QB, OL and secondary (they don’t have to be great, they just can’t be the among the worst in the ACC) —

    IF…we can get a little bit of luck (not Powerball-winning, just a flip of the coin here and there) —

    If we get those things, I think we can be a solid, 6-6 squad and get into a bowl. If not, who knows? I thought we were a 3-9 squad last year and I think we’re noticeably better today.

    I think the year AFTER next, we’ll be even better. We’ll be seeing guys like Brandon Barnes and Earl Wolff getting time at safety (and maybe Roy Mangram, if he can do well at prep school). We’ll be seeing more of Maddox and Terrell Manning (who will redshirt). We’ll be seeing the first of guys like Andrew Wallace and RJ Mattes along the OL. You’ll see Stephen Howard and Jay Smith at WR this year, and you’ll see more of them next year.

    We need to land some big-time DEs this year. We need to bring in a couple of TEs and some h-back/fullback types. We need, IMO, at least one marquee RB and one marquee WR. Xavier Nixon would greatly help at tackle, of course. And we need to bring in a couple of good linebackers.

    First things first. Go to the spring game.

  8. choppack1 04/16/2008 at 8:42 AM #

    One thing about the coaching hotseat – I think that’s probably a fair ranking. His job is safe – Butch Davis’ seat is actually noted as being “hotter” than TOB’s.

    The only thing I disagree w/ is that Tommy Bowden has a relatively “cool” seat. IMHO, if los Tigres don’t do something special this year, he’ll be in a very similar situation to Sendek. (Of course, Tammy does beat his rival on a regular basis.) I think T Bowden is on the hot seat – and I think his seat is probably hotter than TOBs.

  9. packgrad93 04/16/2008 at 8:43 AM #

    Great interview with TOB with Gold this AM

  10. boonami 04/16/2008 at 8:49 AM #

    I hope Sid can take some lessons from TOB on how to manage a team as we can already see in year 2. Win or lose, the team TOB puts on the field will better manage the game and pay attention to detail better than the bball team. and if they dont’ you won’t see those guys playing in the near future.

  11. blackdom 04/16/2008 at 9:08 AM #

    ^TOB had that track record before he got here and you can see his teams at least gave an effort despite its flaws.Apparently sid did not take much from TOBs first season.

  12. choppack1 04/16/2008 at 9:19 AM #

    Boonami – TOB had been coaching in the college game since the 80s as an assistant or a head coach. He learned coaching under a man who generated one of the greatest turnarounds of a program in ACC history. He then went to BC where he built a solid program.

    Sidney Lowe and TOB’s resume’s couldn’t be any more different. (Not to mention that NFL football and college football are a much more similar game than the NBA and college basketball are.)

    When you compare these 2 resumes, it’s fairly obvious just what a monumental risk hiring Sidney was.

  13. tcthdi-tgsf-twhwtnc 04/16/2008 at 9:26 AM #

    After the failures of Amato, Sendek and Fowler and their complete dismantling of State’s revenue sports it is nice to see TOB turning around the football program. Both the football program and basketball programs where in far better shape when Les was promoted and O’Cain fired than when Amato was let go and Sendek abandoned the Pack. I think TOB and Sid need some breathing room after the absolute catastrophe of the past regimes.

    Just nice to finally here some good news after about 15 years of disgrace and incompetence.

    As far as Sid and and TOB resuem’s- I think Sid’s looks pretty good with high school, college and Canadian national championships and just missing an NBA ring as an assistant the year prior to coming to State. Not bad if you ask me.

  14. Pack92 04/16/2008 at 9:48 AM #

    It’s been good to hear the reports coming from the practices. Wilson is heads above any of the other QB’s. Hopefully the O-line will improve enough to give him some time. There should be a huge difference on defensive line this year with Kuhn now settled in at DE and I would not be surprised to see Maddox starting in the middle. The kid evidently has the athletic ability but is smart as well. Factor in Manning late in the year or next year and our D is right back where it was when Reggie Herring left – hopefully minus the mistakes.

  15. packbackr04 04/16/2008 at 9:55 AM #

    pack92^ im not sure about that. Herrings Defense was #1 in the country that yr and was anchored by the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft mario williams on one end, and Manny Lawson (not too shabby) at the other end. We also had Tank in the middle that yr i believe. So 3 future NFLers on the D line alone. Im not sure we have 3 future NFL players on our D line this yr. The D will be better, but not as good as in 2004. Which isnt a knock, just that the 2004 defense was a very very good defense, not easily repeatable. Too bad Jay Davis couldnt throw it out of his own shadow or we might have been a damn good team that yr. Oh, and Mazzone was a terrible O coordinator too, so that didnt help our team that yr. i saw more 3 yrd out patterns on 3rd and 9 than i ever wish to see in my life ever ever again.

  16. highstick 04/16/2008 at 10:01 AM #

    Way to go, TO, on the “Carolina” reference. Since I live in South Carolina, I didn’t even notice the first time through!!!

  17. choppack1 04/16/2008 at 10:16 AM #

    Thank you packbackr04 – That Reggie Herring D had the following future NFL players:
    Mario, Manny Lawson, Tank Tyler, John McCargo (4 future NFLers’ on the DL), Oliver Hoyte (NFL), Tulloch (NFL), Pat Thomas (NFL), Andre Maddox (drafted- I believe), Marcus Hudson (NFL), Devonte Edwards (NFL), AJ Davis -(drafted), Lamont Reid (NFL)

    That’s 12 players from 1 defense, 1 year who were either drafted or played in the NFL. We’ll probably never see that kind of talent on the field again for NC State. Most teams never see that kind of talent on the field at one time.

    Makes you wonder what would have happened if Philip and Jerricho had been redshirted…

    packbackr – I don’t blame that year on Jay Davis. He had some OK games – even some good ones – UNC and Miami come to mind.

  18. packgrad93 04/16/2008 at 10:21 AM #

    SFN: Let’s not make this a Sendek thread. Thanks.

  19. packof81 04/16/2008 at 10:25 AM #

    Finally, there’s some good news …

  20. packbackr04 04/16/2008 at 10:42 AM #

    SFN: Cutting off this line of discussion. This will not be a Sendek thread.

  21. haze 04/16/2008 at 11:25 AM #

    The most important thing about Russell Wilson is that he appears to be doing something that hasn’t been done since PR was here, namely, he’s beating out demonstrably mediocre QB’s.

    Seriously, the first clue that Stone wasn’t the guy was the fact that he didn’t clearly beat out Jay Davis despite having had a full redshirt season to prepare. The first clue that Dan Evans wasn’t the guy was the fact that he couldn’t beat out Stone who was coming off of about a 1.5 seasons worth of frightfully unproductive QB stats. The first clue that Beck didn’t have it was that, despite 2 years in college ball (NU + RS), he couldn’t top Daniel Evans. Burke couldn’t top either Evans or Beck, even though both floundered mightily last year.

    I have no idea how good Russell Wilson may be but I do know that if you can’t beat out Evans, Beck and Burke, then you’re likely not a guy that’s capable of changing the fortunes of this or any other BCS conference program.

  22. Pack92 04/16/2008 at 11:27 AM #

    ^packbackr04, you’re right, we had a TON of talent go the NFL from that defense. However, I really do see (and hope) that TOB is bringing in that TYPE of talent. Then he can mold it and turn it into a lock-down, Herring-type of defense. I see the coaching TOB has done at BC and just can’t help but get excited about what he can do with our type of talent level.

  23. RAWFS 04/16/2008 at 11:53 AM #

    The lockdown Herring defense that allowed UNC to run roughshod over it in the TA game? The same one that had the self-discipline of a four year old laying on its back having a temper tantrum?

    I know how highly they were ranked statistically.

    As for Burke, I am surprised that he has stayed at State and not dropped to an FCS school. He was very highly ranked coming in, but cannot even get duty mopping up. Seems like he never really made the leap to the next level.

  24. Daily Update 04/16/2008 at 11:53 AM #

    Herring milked those 12 NFL players into legendary status with some people. Very few people remember that our QB gave up so many pick sixes and short fields that the #1 ranking in total defense(YPG) was a bit misleading statistically. Still a great defense though I would say Herring was in the right place at the right time.

    That was one of the most talented defenses in recent ACC history if you base it on number of guys in the pros.

  25. blackdom 04/16/2008 at 12:12 PM #

    canadian national championship sorry that is very impressive indeed

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