Closer Look: Tom O'Brien

What can Wolfpack fans expect from Tom O'Brien? For starters, a look at his past is telling.

  • Fowler Got it Right the First Time
  • REPORT: Tom O'Brien to NC State

    What can Wolfpack fans expect from Tom O'Brien? For starters, a look at his past is telling.

    A native of Cincinnati, O'Brien attended the Naval Academy and played football for the Midshipmen. After graduation he served in the U.S. Marines and would be active in the military for most of the next decade.

    "When O'Brien was named head coach the Eagles were coming off two consecutive losing seasons. In fact, BC had finished below .500 in seven of the previous ten seasons."
    Before being named BC's head coach, O'Brien was as an assistant to George Welsh at the University of Virginia. He was hired in 1982 and would serve as quarterbacks coach, offensive line coach and offensive coordinator at various times during his stint in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers were smart, disciplined and consistent throughout that time period. Solid quarterback play complimented physical running and reliable blocking. Virginia was consistently ranked among the top offensive teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference in recent years. The Cavaliers scored 320 points during the 1996 regular season to become the first ACC team to score at least 300 points in eight consecutive years.

    In 1997 the Eagles hired O'Brien to replace Dan Henning, who had posted an overall losing record while in town.

    Some casual college football fans might take what O'Brien has accomplished at Boston College for granted. After all, BC has a proud history of success while maintaining high academic standards at the same time. But when O'Brien was named head coach the Eagles were coming off two consecutive losing seasons. In fact, BC had finished below .500 in seven of the previous ten seasons.

    Also, the program's reputation had taken a serious hit when a gambling scandal hit the program. Following an investigation by the university and law enforcement officials, 13 players would be suspended from the team for the season for placing illegal bets — six permanently from the football program. As a result of the scandal and a mediocre 16-19-1 record as coach, Henning resigned at then end of the 1996 season.

    That makes what O'Brien has done all the more impressive. After his first two seasons O'Brien was a combined 8-14. The school stuck with him and he quickly made them proud. Starting in 1999 the Eagles started to look like a near mirror image of the teams at Virginia he helped to coach.

    Since 1999, Boston College has not won fewer than seven games in a season. They have won nine games in four of the past five seasons. BC is 6-0 in bowl games since 2000, with wins over schools like Arizona State, Georgia and North Carolina.

    "Since 1999, Boston College has not won fewer than seven games in a season. They have won nine games in four of the past five seasons."

    For some time BC relied on a powerful running game, just as many of O'Brien's offenses at Virginia had. More recently his teams have been successful passing the ball. Almost all of his teams have played smart football, taking advantage of opponent's mistakes and rarely shooting themselves in the foot. O'Brien's background is on offense, and he has shown the ability to move the ball in a variety of ways depending on personnel.

    For example, in 2001 junior running back William Green was named a first team All-American by various publications, rushing for 1,559 yards and 15 touchdowns. Most recently, through 12 games in 2006 quarterback Matt Ryan has completed 61-percent of his passes for 2,700 yards. Efficient is the best way to describe O'Brien's offenses. This year the Eagles are averaging more than 26 points per game – good enough for second in the ACC. They haven't been overwhelming on offense, but they have been steady and scored enough to win a lot of games.

    While BC has been efficient on the ground and in the air at various times under O'Brien, they have consistently been a ball-control team. O'Brien likes to control time of possession and his teams pride themselves on being opportunistic. When the Eagles get a lead they like to run the ball and drain the clock. It has been important for O'Brien's teams, more than many others, not to fall behind.

    Under O'Brien the BC defense has been consistent. Much like the offense, the defense has been fundamentally sound and physical. Over the past three seasons the Eagles are surrendering an average of only 15 points per game. Most of BC's teams under O'Brien have tackled very well. In recent years the Eagles have been particularly stout against the run. Since 2004 they have allowed an average of just 105 yards per game on the ground.

    "In the two years since joining the ACC, the Eagles have posted a 10-6 record, the third-best mark during that timeframe."

    Off the field O'Brien has run an exceptionally clean program. His players perform at a very high level academically and O'Brien has an impeccable character. He won the American Football Coaches' Association's 2004 Academic Achievement Award with a 100% graduation rate and received Honorable Mention status seven additional times during his tenure. Boston College was ranked number one in the country by USA Today when the paper re-ordered the final 2005 football Top 25 by APR (Academic Progress Rate) score to measure a combination of athletic and academic success.

    In 2004 Boston College won a share of the Big East championship. In the two years since joining the ACC, the Eagles have posted a 10-6 record, the third-best mark during that timeframe as only Virginia Tech (13-3) and Georgia Tech (12-4) have better records. This year BC has defeated six teams that will participate in bowl games. Because of the location of the school and the relatively small (and perhaps less than rabid) fan base, the Eagles have gotten the shaft when the time came for bowls to select participants, and this reportedly bothered O'Brien and his coaching staff.

    On the recruiting front, O'Brien has brought in consistently solid talent. The Eagles rarely field game-breakers, but do have talent at the skill positions. O'Brien has done an especially good job recruiting offensive and defensive linemen. In 2006, Scout.com rated BC's class the 44th best in the nation. In 2005 they were 58th and in 2004 the Eagle's finished 42nd. That could be a sign that O'Brien is signing a lot of diamonds in the rough or his teams simply overachieve. Despite the lack of recruiting success on paper, O'Brien's consistently fielded teams, and he should have a better recruiting base at NC State given the Wolfpack's facilities and location.

    O'Brien has also done an outstanding job of developing players. 19 Boston College football players are currently on NFL rosters. Among the more notable: Will Blackmon '06 (Green Bay), Mathias Kiwanuka '06 (New York), Jeremy Trueblood '06 (Tampa Bay), Marc Colombo '02 (Cowboys), Matt Hasselbeck '98 (Seahawks), Chris Hovan '00 (Bucs), Dan Koppen '03 (Patriots), Tom Nalen '94 (Broncos) and Damien Woody '99 (Lions).

    O'Brien is a proven winner, a leader on and off the field, graduates student-athletes, and develops his players into top-notch football players with many reaching the next level. What's not to like?

    The Bottom Line: We'll learn a lot more about Tom O'Brien in the coming days, weeks and months, but we already know we can expect a few things. Efficient offense, physical line play, physical defense and overall mentally toughness. O'Brien has been remarkably consistent since turning around the BC program, and the Eagles do a lot of the same things offensively that his teams at Virginia did.

    O'Brien is one of the few available coaches that could come in right away and instantly provide credibility with very few quetion marks. His ability to recruit at NC State could determine just how successful his tenure is in Raleigh, but his ceiling for success is much higher at NC State than at Boston College. O'Brien has to be labeled a very, very good hire by Lee Fowler and company.


  • Pack Pride Top Stories