Today, his second Wolfpack squad will hold the first of 15 practices, and the Pack's stoic leader is itching to get started.
Coming off of a 5-7 season that had its share of ups and downs, the goals of O'Brien and his coaching staff for spring workouts are lofty, but certainly attainable with hard work and dedication. "We need to improve at all positions," he said, "and we have to be a much more physical football team. We didn't accomplish what we wanted to accomplish last year, but we have a head start this year."
After coming to NC State in December of 2006, putting together a coaching staff and recruiting his first class for the Wolfpack, O'Brien barely knew his players heading into spring drills a year ago.
"But we're way ahead of that now," the coach said. "They understand the terminology now - what may have been apples when we got here became oranges last spring. But now, it's oranges. Now that they know our terminology and our schemes, we can do a better job teaching so they understand what their jobs and responsibilities are."
Knowing the coaches, the terminology and the system will hopefully allow the players to use their abilities to a greater extent. "Football is a game where you can't be thinking about what you're doing," he continued.
"You have to be able to react and react fast. Hopefully this spring we'll be able to take that next step - take the thought process out of it and just play football ... faster and much more physically than we did a year ago."
In addition to recruiting a nationally-ranked class of signees, O'Brien and his staff have spent hours examining personnel during the offseason and making several position changes, including moving players from defense to offense and vice versa.
"We have to make sure we've got the right people in the right positions," he added. "If these changes work, we'll settle down into a system from here on out where we can recruit to our specific needs as we go on down the line. If they don't work, we'll have to change them again and then our incoming freshmen will come into play. We want to be able to come out of practice each spring with a two-deep that won't change a whole lot in the fall. And if we get a tremendous freshman who can work his way in there, great. If not, freshmen can redshirt and get experience. That's the system we want to have in place."
O'Brien admits that he is looking forward to spring workouts, and for a very simple reason. "It's fun," he said. "As a coach, spring is the best time because you're back to being a teacher. You're not worried about game planning or scheming or trying to figure out this, thatand everything else. You can go back to basics and fundamentals and try to see improvement each day you're out there, so that by the 15th day, you're a lot better than you were on the first day."
NOTE: Stay tuned this afternoon for coverage of the Wolfpack's first practice of the spring. Pack Pride will have player interviews, video, photos and a report from the event.