After six seasons as head coach, four bowl appearances (including one this season) and a 40-35 overall record, Tom O’Brien has been fired at NC State reports The News & Observer.
NC State wrapped up a 7-5 regular season yesterday with a 27-10 win over ACC opponent Boston College. Ironically, BC head coach Frank Spaziani entered Saturday’s match-up squarely on the hot seat and projected to be fired at season’s end. Yet, Spaziani has not been let go as of this writing while O’Brien is ousted before the Wolfpack’s bowl appearance.
To call O’Brien’s firing unexpected is an understatement. There was little, if any hot seat buzz surrounding O’Brien during the season. Some persisted while NC State struggled midway through 2011, but the Pack rallied to finish strong, including a win in the Belk Bowl for an 8-5 finish. This season, the Pack upset Florida State for a marquee win, but Michael Felder of In The Bleachers tweeted me this:
@kensing45 they’ve been calling for it basically since October.
— Michael Felder (@InTheBleachers) November 25, 2012
With quarterback Mike Glennon returning and All-America cornerback David Amerson anchoring a talented secondary, NC State gained some modest preseason attention as an ACC contender. The Pack finished 4-4 in the conference, the third time it has gone .500 in O’Brien’s tenure. His best conference mark since taking over in 2007 was 5-3 in the 2010 campaign, when NC State went 9-4 overall to finish in the top 25.
Perhaps its conference mediocrity is to blame for O’Brien’s dismissal. It certainly cost previous head coach Chuck Amato, who was fired after a 3-9 season in 2006, two years removed from a 5-6 finish. However, like O’Brien, Amato had an impressive string of bowl appearances when his teams made the postseason five out of six seasons.
The clear message being sent is NC State brass wants conference, and perhaps national championships. Cue the conference realignment speculators banging the gong about a hypothetical NC State move to the SEC.
An interesting note from The News & Observer comparing NC State under O’Brien to another program in the state that hasn’t won an recent ACC championships:
A noted disciplinarian, O’Brien, 64, ran a clean program in Raleigh. During O’Brien’s six-year tenure, a third of the ACC schools ran into trouble with the NCAA, including UNC, which was banned from the postseason this year for multiple violations under former coach Butch Davis.