Almost 22 months ago, Tom O’Brien was on the verge a possible dream season – Matt Ryan’s (future Top 5 NFL draft pick, and Day One starter for the Atlanta Falcons) senior year, surrounded by a bevy of seasoned upperclassmen. The kind of team that wins league titles. The kind of team that, given a few good breaks, might find itself playing for the national championship.
Tom O’Brien walked away. He left the table for 2007 holding pocket aces, to play out the string with the eight-duece offsuit left by Chuck Amato. All because he believed in NC State.
I will repeat part of my post from December 6, 2006:
According to SFN’s sources, Coach O’Brien sought out the NC State job with the same vigor and tenacity as did Jimbo Fisher. He really wants to be here, and I think it’s safe to assume it’s because he believes he can elevate his success to a whole new level at NC State. He can go from “pretty good” to periodically competing for the ACC title, and regularly make good bowls (as even his current level of performance would land NC State in good bowl games). His floor essentially is identical to the Dick Sheridan level of performance, and few Wolfpackers complain about that era. And that’s not to say we expect that to be his ultimate ceiling – there’s every bit as much reason to hope for upside from TOB as there was with respect to PJ. I don’t think O’Brien would have made this move if he didn’t think he could take it to the next level at NC State. We should be honored and very enthusiastic that such an accomplished, respected coach feels that way about our university.
It’s every bit as true today as it was then. Tom O’Brien has done a great job with the horrible hands he has been dealt since he arrived in Raleigh. He is, without a doubt, the right man for the job. Watching ESPN two weeks ago – Coach O’Brien stood outside the team bus, calm and silent as the players filed out. Nobody chuckled or horsed around. They waited respectfully for their leader to take them into battle. He did so with a slight nod of his head, and a calm “Let’s go.” No yelling, no showboating. Just quiet, confident leadership from a man who has earned his injury-decimated team’s respect.
State had no business winning that game, but win they did. After losing the leaders of both the offense and defense, the already paper-thin Pack couldn’t compete with South Florida. But they kept fighting until the final whistle (otherwise, they would have lost by 70).
Tomorrow, TOB gets his second shot at his former team. There’s no Matt Ryan to bail “Jags” out anymore. Instead of 20,000 bored, arrogant, delusional Eagle fans (who blamed O’Brien for not landing better bowl bids, despite the fact that fan apathy was the very reason for it) – he’ll have a sea of red cheering him on. In the middle of yet another bad season (as the program shakes off the last vestiges of the Amato regime), the stands will nonetheless be packed.
Tom O’Brien really wants this win. NC State really needs this win. Despite the inflated record, these Eagles can be had. Part of the reason O’Brien was attracted to NC State was the incredible support provided by our fans – as he witnessed firsthand in 2006. Tom O’Brien believed in what we could accomplish together. He believed in you. He believed in me. Let’s reward his faith by giving him the best gameday crowd he’s ever seen tomorrow. I’ll see you there.