Nov 272012

Published Mon, Nov 26, 2012 06:23 PM

O’Brien sacked

Should N.C. State University become a college football powerhouse – not just a winning program but among those regularly competing for national No. 1? The Wolfpack’s athletic director, Debbie Yow, implicitly raised that question Sunday by firing coach Tom O’Brien after a 7-5 season and by saying, in a comment relayed by a senior on the squad, that she wants a coach who can recruit “Alabama type talent.”

Hope springs eternal, but caution is in order when making a commitment to big-time college sports. An embarrassing example stares at State from nearby UNC-Chapel Hill, which boosted its football profile in 2006 by hiring noted coach Butch Davis but wound up vacating Davis-era victories, and on NCAA probation, in 2011.

In fairness, Yow is probably aiming more for a program such as Virginia Tech’s than for Alabama’s. She seeks a more “aggressive, assertive” recruiter who’ll lead State to ACC championships, possibly more. In the process, she wants to fill every Carter-Finley seat and to generate increased enthusiasm for the school.

It’s a course that many institutions – including N.C. State – have charted before, with mixed results. Meantime, there’s the matter of Tom O’Brien.

State owes its now former coach $1.2 million for the remainder of his contract, but that’s not all it owes him. O’Brien compiled, after all, a winning record (overall) in six seasons, with several bowl appearances. Equally if not more important, he oversaw what appears to have been an honest program, one that didn’t get in trouble with the NCAA. He’s said to have held his players to high standards, on the field and as students.

When things have gone badly – and they did, including a one-sided loss at home to Virginia this season – he didn’t whine or blame others. And it’s hard to imagine O’Brien cozying up to influential boosters, of which State has its share.

In a sense, he was an old-fashioned coach, emphasizing teaching and the development of solid players over the recruitment (with its attendant hazards) of high-rated stars.

That’s not the way forward, Yow declared Sunday, as is her right. The AD has a heavy responsibility to keep the crowds and the revenue coming. Yet worth noting is another firing that made news Sunday: at Auburn, coach Gene Chizik and his entire staff were dismissed two years after winning a national title and at a combined contract-buyout cost of $11 million. That’s really big time.

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