We’ve gone through a few names in our coaching search here at the BBC. Now it’s time for another name that’s flying under the radar a bit. Of course, by under the radar, I mean that he’s not being mentioned at all. That doesn’t mean he can’t still be a legitimate name for the job.
Special thanks to a friend of the BBC who recommended this feature on O’Brien.
Most of you are probably looking at the title of this post and saying to yourself “who?”. Well, that’s probably your own fault because a few year’s ago O’Brien was one of the top names in college football. You may most clearly remember him as the guy who jumped ship from successful ACC member Boston College to full-meltdown-mode ACC member NC State.
Tom O’Brien was born in the great state of Ohio, in the city generally forgotten by the rest of the state – Cincinnati. He attended High School at St. Xavier, playing at Defensive End.
He matriculated from the Naval Academy in 1970 after 5 years. While there he played ball for the Middies for all 5 seasons (I believe he took a redshirt, though I can’t prove it), including his final 3 as a defensive starter. Unfortunately, Navy was terrible at that time, going overall 5-26 while O’Brien was a starter. The defense also gave up more than 300 points per season while their offense struggled to break 100.
After his playing days at Navy, O’Brien began his service to the US Marine Corps which lasted a total of 9 years. By the end, he had attained the rank of Major while serving at Quantico and in tours in California and Japan. During that time, O’Brien was able to begin his coaching career, starting out as an assistant with the Navy’s plebe team.
In 1975 he was hired as an assistant for the Navy’s Varsity team under George Welsh. He started out coaching the offensive line and tight ends for seven years for the Middies. During that time, Navy found some success with 5 winning seasons and 5 wins over Army (and 1 tie) along with 3 bowl games. You may remember his last bowl game with Navy in 1981, a 31-28 loss in the Liberty Bowl to one Ohio State.
After that season, George Welsh moved to the University of Virginia. UVA had suffered 12 losing seasons since 1968 at that point and were desperate for a switch. After a 1-10 season in 1981, they brought in Welsh to turn things around. Welsh dragged O’Brien with him to continue in the role of offensive line coach. The following season, Virginia went 2-9 including losses to James Madison and Navy.
But things turned around quickly. The following year Virginia succeeded in producing a winning season, only their second since 1968. The following year was even better, despite an opening 55-0 loss to eventual 7-4 Clemson, Virginia rattled off an 8-2-2 season. That year saw the Cavaliers make their first bowl game, the Peach Bowl to face the Purdue Boilermakers – a game they won 27-24.
O’Brien eventually became the Offensive Coordinator for Welsh in 1991, a position he held for 6 years. During the course of his 15 year run at Virginia, the Cavaliers posted 10 winning seasons and a share of 2 conference titles and Virginia’s first 9 bowl games. They ended up going 4-5 in those bowls.
In 1996, Boston College – coming off two consecutive losing seasons – began a staff search that ended in O’Brien’s first job at a head coaching position. His first two seasons were not markedly fantastic successes, with Boston College managing to only go 4-7 in both seasons, including 3-4 in the Big East. His career really began to get off the ground in his third season, posting a winning record and an invite to the Insight Bowl. Unfortunately, his team got crushed by Colorado 62-28.
It certainly wasn’t a sign of things to come though. Over the next seven seasons at Boston College, O’Brien lead them to seven bowl invites, though none was a BCS bowl. All seven bowl games were victories for the Eagles, though the last of the seven was not coached by O’Brien himself. O’Brien had already moved on to another job – replacing Chuck Amato at NC State.
After a couple disappointing seasons with the Wolfpack, a 3-9 record in 2006 was simply not enough to maintain Amato’s job. He was dispatched and a coaching search was quickly begun before the 2006 bowl season. To the surprise of many, O’Brien – widely considered an excellent head coach on the path to success at Boston College – accepted the job.
This moved was viewed at best as a sideways career move. He remained in the same conference, though accepted a team on the decline. He had no obvious connections to NC State, and generally had everything to play for at BC.
One suspected reason for O’Brien’s switch was the lack of fan support in Boston, a city dominated by it’s professional sports teams. Boston College had been regularly passed over for more prestigious bowl bids due to the travel base of the school. That apparently didn’t sit well with the hard working O’Brien, who wanted his team’s rewarded for their efforts.
His first three years at NC State were rocky at best. 2007 and 2009 ended in losing seasons for the Wolfpack, though 2008 did see them make a bowl game – O’Brien’s first bowl game loss since 1999. This last season was much more spectacular as the Wolfpack picked up a 9 win season, including a crushing victory over West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl. Clearly things are on the up.
Except for his star quarterback. There’s been a lot of smoke and mirrors regarding the transfer of Russell Wilson to Wisconsin. Wilson was widely viewed as one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, if not the best quarterback, and just missed being named the ACC offensive player of the year. It is believed in some circles that O’Brien was unhappy with Wilson’s desire to play baseball, believing that Wilson wasn’t putting enough time into his football commitment.
One way or another, many believe that O’Brien made a serious error in this situation. Either way, O’Brien will have junior quarterback Mike Glennon, the #3 rated quarterback in the 2008 recruiting class, leading the way this year.
I will save my usual analysis of O’Brien’s chances for the bullet points at the end. I won’t lie, he’s a successful coach and has some very endearing qualities to him, though he doesn’t have quite the shine that many Buckeye fans might expect.
Defensive End, US Naval Academy, (1966-1970)
Why O’Brien could be the next coach of the Buckeyes:
Why O’Brien wont be the next coach of the Buckeyes: