With college football's playoff system garnering national attention for much of the last six months, it didn't take long for it to come up Thursday. The first question of the question and answer session was directed at all five coaches, asking them what they thought of the move to a four-team playoff to decide the national champion.
Tom O'Brien said the league as a whole hopes to see the system move to an eight-team model at some point in the future.
"It's been a while coming, and I think it's a step in the right direction. As a conference, though, we don't believe that four is the right number. We believe the number should be eight. If you're going to have six BCS conference and Notre Dame involved, there has to be some merit given to the regular season and the regular season champion.
"There are ways to work it out. If you're a regular season champ but you lost more than two games you forfeit the chance to be in the championship. Somewhere, somehow, it will probably end up at eight, or we believe it should as a conference. Who knows if it will go further than that."
Owning The State
Within the first five minutes, emcee Don Shea brought up NC State's five-game winning streak over North Carolina by posing a question to new head man Larry Fedora about what the Tar Heels plan to do to reverse it.
"You know, Don, that's the first time I've heard that. I didn't realize that's what has happened the last five years."
After the laughter in the conference room died down, Fedora and O'Brien both commented on the rivalry between the Wolfpack and the Tar Heels and what it means to the area.
"I'm really excited to be a part of this rivalry, it's a great rivalry. That's what makes college football what it is. I know we're 99 days away, so we'll see what happens."
O'Brien, after a quick jab back at Fedora, was brief in describing how NC State will approach a run at a sixth straight win.
"How many days is it? We'll approach it the same as we always have, it's one game on your schedule. We haven't won five games in a row, we've won one game at a time for five years. Obviously our focus is we open with Tennessee, the third time in my six years at NC State that we've opened with an SEC school. We've got a lot of work to get done to go get ready to play Tennessee."
"I just promise you we'll show up (against UNC) whatever day it is. If we have to play in the parking lot, we'll play in the parking lot. We don't care."
Expectations In 2012
With the return of quarterback Mike Glennon, essentially the entire offensive line and several key contributors along the defensive line and in the secondary, expectations have been high in Wolfpack country heading into the 2012 season.
Many expect NC State to improve on its 8-5 mark in 2011 and win a bowl game for a third consecutive year. To that end, emcee Don Shea was blunt in his third question of Tom O'Brien Thursday, asking simply if the Wolfpack has a chance to be "really good" in 2012?
"Injuries have killed us in year three and five, but certainly going forward we're in the best shape that we've been in my previous five years as far as experience and depth," said O'Brien. "We think we can be very competitive and play with anybody in the country.
"We start with Tennessee and Connecticut, so we're going to find out real quickly what our capabilities are and where we're headed."
Are Older Coaches Better Coaches?
In one of the several lighter moments of the 45-minutes Q&A, the spotlight turned to O'Brien and David Cutcliffe when a question about the ability of older coaches came up. Cutcliffe offered a quick "what do you think?" response before talking about how he's continued to learn throughout his 37 years of coaching.
O'Brien also took the chance to respond with some humor, taking a page out of Washington Nationals outfield Bryce Harper's book.
"You know, I been waiting to say this, Don. That's a clown question, bro."
O'Brien went on to speak about the ability to impact the lives of young men as something that keep him going.
"It's the ability to get up every day and try to make your players better, not only as football players but as individuals. They all come to us and think they're men. They are still little boys. An 18 or 19-year-old boy is not a man yet. It's great to be able to get up and to see the world through the prism they look at it.
"It's great to see their faces when they accomplish something that they didn't have any idea they could do, whether it's in the classroom, in the community or on the football field. That's the great thing and what keeps coaches…it's that challenge every day to make them contributing members of society when they leave your program."
Strengths, Weaknesses For 2012 Wolfpack
A particular area of concern for O'Brien heading into fall camp will be the experience and depth at the linebacker spot, a position that took a big hit following the 2011 campaign with the exit of Terrell Manning and Audie Cole and the suspension of D.J. Green.
O'Brien said linebackers coach Jon Tenuta has "promised" he'd have three guys ready to go when the Pack take the field in Atlanta Aug. 31.
"As I said before, we have more experience and more depth going into the season that we've had. That gives us more opportunity to create competition for guys to get on the field and play. That's always a good thing.
"The question mark, certainly, is the linebacker position on defense. When we walked off the field at the bowl game we knew we lost two tackles and a middle linebacker, but subsequently we lost two other guys at linebacker. The linebacker situation will work itself out in camp."
Mike Glennon's Progression
After a 31-touchdown season in 2011, Mike Glennon is firmly entrenched as NC State's starting quarterback. O'Brien said his experience and maturity have allowed him to be prepared for a special senior season.
"He's in a much better starting spot this August than he was a year ago. His maturity helped him withstand all the scrutiny that he went through, I guess that I put him in, last year from spring practice on. He improved as the year went on.
"Until you get out and actually play, you can't get any better. He certainly was a work in progress, early on he showed some of his abilities, but he got hot in November. He made great strides in bowl practice, he's been down at the Manning camp, he's at the Elite 11 camp right now. He wants to be the best quarterback in the country and we want him to be that, so we're going to work with him and try to make him the best quarterback there is in the nation."
Most Memorable Moment
Each coach spent a couple of minutes answering a question about the most memorable moments they've experienced in their coaching careers. O'Brien offered an on-the-field answer.
"I would say anytime you win, it's really hard to win any game. I don't care where you are or what league you're coaching at. I think every win is special because it's probably special to someone in your locker room. It isn't easy to win football games so you cherish each one you have the opportunity to be in and win."
On Issues Facing College Football
When asked about some of the "major issues facing college football," all five coaches were in agreement, saying that the role of agents and runners has had a huge impact on their programs. O'Brien also commented on the difficulty of keeping players out of trouble because of temptations available on a college campus.
"The influence of runners and agents and how we control access to players, the way that communication has opened up on so many fronts. There are so many temptations out there for young guys, so many ways that they can get in trouble, that's the one thing in most of our meetings that keeps a lot us worried at night.
"They've cut (coaches) so far back with our interactions with our players, the time we're allowed to spend with them, and anytime they aren't spending time with us, other people have access to them. There are people out there that don't care one way or another, they are looking at (the players) as a money-making proposition."
Admitting Those Awkward Superstitions
Near the end of Thursday's Q&A, all five coaches had a chance to answer a question about their superstitions. The answers were varied, from Larry Fedora saying he always puts his right shoe on first to David Cutcliffe discussing the possibility of carrying feathers or charms in the near future.
O'Brien, not surprisingly, didn't offer up any superstitions and gave a straight-laced answer.
"I really don't have any set way I do anything, I just kind of let it go."
Hitting The Big Screen
In terms of laughter, a question about which famous actor would play each coach in a movie took the cake Thursday afternoon. David Cutcliffe, who answered first, said Matthew McConaughey, fresh off the release of Magic Mike, would be his choice: "Didn't he just play a stripper?"
Larry Fedora, after some thought, went with Al Pacino while Ruffin McNeill picked Denzel Washington. Dwayne Foster, citing a person who claimed he looked similar, chose Forest Whitaker.
O'Brien's wasted little time picking everyone's favorite redhead from the Andy Griffith show, Ron Howard.
"I used to have red hair, and they used to call me Opie. I guess Ron Howard."
Each coach signed a helmet from his respective school to be auctioned off at the event. Duke's helmet won the top bid, going for $2,000. North Carolina's checked in second at $1,500 and NC State, ECU and North Carolina Central all pulled in $1,000 each. The helmets were auctioned off in this order: NC State, Duke, North Carolina, ECU and North Carolina Central.
During his closing remarks, David Cutcliffe gave a brief update on wide receiver Blair Holliday, who was injured earlier this month in a jet ski accident.
"He suffered a severe brain injury, I would take this opportunity to help us with the prayer chain to pray for he and his family. He's a tough youngster and he's fighting hard, but he's got a huge fight ahead of him."
Prior to the Q&A session, emcee Don Shea informed the crowd that the Bill Dooley Triangle/East Chapter of the National Football Foundation is the largest of the country's 121 chapters. The chapter raises money for Triangle-area high school athletes.