Just for a moment, we thought everything would be okay, at least for now. The waves of fans moved from Carter-Finley Stadium back towards the parking lots and tailgate fields; everyone in cheer and good humor, happy to leave with a Wolfpack victory and also happy to get away from the cold winds of the Raleigh autumn.
But suddenly, everything changed. Around 1pm of Sunday, Nov. 25, the Tom O’Brien Era at North Carolina State suddenly ended. A tweet went out by @PackPride that stated “Tom O’brien is out per NC State associate AD Chris Kingston.” What followed, for the rest of the afternoon, was a barrage of tweets, Facebook comments, and word of mouths on O’brien firing and what that meant for the future of Wolfpack Football. By the press conference on mid-afternoon it had become clear: O’brien Era was over, AD Debbie Yow wanted a Top 25 team and she was going to get the man for the job.
Seventeen hours into the Post-TOB era, the air feels weird, water doesn’t taste right, and there is a scar in the heart of the Pack Nation. The scar isn’t precisely due to Tom O’brien’s leaving. There were many that had been asking for his departure long ago. The hole is reminiscent of the way in which things took place. If he was going to be fired, most thought that it would have been after the bowl game, but maybe that would have made even more fans angry and upset at kicking away a bowl-winning coach. The scar is also a reoccurring wound, because State fans have been in this place not too long ago. It was little less than two years ago when Debbie Yow fired basketball coach Sidney Lowe after five questionable seasons at NC State. Who knew we would be back in a similar place so soon.
Tom O’brien left NC State University with a 40-35 record spanning from 2007-2012 (including all of my undergraduate time at NCSU). He left with a negative ACC record of 22-26, including 1-14 on the road and 11-19 against team in the Atlantic Division. TOB led the Wolfpack to a five-year winning streak over in-state rivals North Carolina, which ended this year with a 43-35 loss on the last sixteen seconds of the game. O’brien took NC State to three consecutive bowl games (2010, 2011, 2012) including the 2010 Champs Sports Bowl in which NC State defeated a ranked West Virginia and finished the season ranked at No. 25 in the country.
Looking over his stats as coach leaves a sour taste in your mouth. Was it too soon? Should we have waited a little longer? Maybe one more season? Maybe yes, maybe not. The word is that AD Debbie Yow pulled the plug now because of what the next two seasons would look like under Tom O’brien. Could the Pack Nation endure a 5-7 season in 2013 and a 6-6 record in 2014? It would have broken some of us, but then again, that is college sports after all. Whether you are a powerhouse or a nobody, college football breaks you to build you up again. TOB stated yesterday, upon his firing:
“I appreciate the opportunity to have coached at North Carolina State University and I feel that the program is in a better place now than when I started,” O’Brien said in a statement. “I’m proud of the young men that I have coached here, for their accomplishments on the field and in the classroom. Wolfpack football is as sound academically as it’s ever been with a [single-year] APR of 990 to be reported this spring. I appreciate all of my coaches and wish them the best and I look forward to life after football.”
As we head into the post-season, few things are certain for the North Carolina State Wolfpack. The Pack is going to a bowl game, the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl most likely, and they are being led by Offensive Coordinator Dana Bible. The search for TOB’s replacement began Sunday night as the search committee met for the first time to begin the new era of Wolfpack Football as soon as possible. Debbie Yow reaffirmed her commitment to O’brien’s class of 2013 recruits and stated that her goal remains to make NC State a perennial Top 25 team. The search for the man that will take the Pack Nation to that place begins now.
The very first name to jump at everyone was that of Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin, who knows Debbie Yow well from their time together at Maryland (that is before they jumped ship to the Big 10 Conference). However, AD Debbie Yow stated that she believe he wasn’t interested due to the great project he was building up at Vandy (8-4, 5-3 SEC). The next obvious candidate to be offered the job is Clemson Offensive Coordinator Chad Morris, who is the best paid OC in the country as well as one of the best, if not the best, OC in the country. However, the wounds are fresh at NC State and the fans will most likely not hear anything anytime in the next couple weeks regarding who would lead the Pack into the next season.
One last thing is certain: The Tom O’brien Era has ended, and we are well into the Debbie Yow Era at North Carolina State University.