But last week, O'Brien made the wrong decision. He chose to let Russell Wilson walk away from NC State.
First, let's dispense with the idea that Wilson didn't want to come back. In a recent interview with the Raleigh News & Observer, Wilson stated, "If I had been given an equal opportunity to compete for the starting job, I would not have asked for my release." Wilson is going to play football in 2011, but now he'll be playing for a different school.
Last year O'Brien allowed Wilson to play baseball in the spring and summer but return to football in the fall. This season the Pack's head coach wasn't as willing to bend the rules for Wilson, naming Glennon the starter in the spring and definitively stating several time that Wilson would be the back-up if he returned.
The problem is that Wilson is a special circumstance. O'Brien has never had to deal with a situation like the one Wilson presented him - a player who was trying to become not just a professional athlete but a pro in two sports simultaneously.
Wilson is the kind of kid you bend the rules for - a shining example of all the things a student athlete should be and a tireless worker in all phases of his life. His only fault is wanted to do too much, and it's this fault that apparently caused the tension between him and his head coach.
In 2010 Wilson showed up for camp and despite missing all of spring and summer managed to throw for 3,500 yards and 28 touchdowns. Both those statistics led the conference. Wilson has already proven he's capable of missing practice time and still being the best quarterback on the team - arguably the best quarterback in the conference. If you need further proof of his capabilities, look no further than the list of schools rumored to be recruiting him for the 2011 season. Wilson is a known commodity.
Glennon is not a known commodity. No one knows how good Mike Glennon will be when the lights come on and the game matters. O'Brien and his staff have seen Glennon practice for four years and they clearly have the utmost confidence in his ability. But even they don't know how he'll react to the enormous pressure of not just following a legend - but essentially replacing that legend before his time was over.
The popular belief is that if Wilson was allowed to come back then the Pack would lose Glennon. Like Wilson, Glennon has graduated and has the ability to go to another school without having to sit out a year. If O'Brien had committed to Wilson returning and battling for the starting job, Glennon would likely go elsewhere.
This belief led to the debate of whether the better scenario is Wilson for one year or Glennon for two. O'Brien went with the second option, discarding a player who has proven himself time and time again on the field when it mattered. Anyone who followed the Pack after the departure of Philip Rivers knows how hard it is to find a good signal caller and Russell Wilson wasn't just good - he was spectacular.
The best case scenario for O'Brien is that NC State follows up on its successful 2010 season with a stellar 2011 season. The schedule works in both he and Glennon's favor - giving the pair a few relatively low- pressure games before diving into conference play.
But if Glennon fails to meet expectations, or NC State struggles out of the gate while Wolfpack fans watch Wilson win with another team, things will get ugly. This was O'Brien's decision and he will have to take full blame if it all backfires.