Tom O’Brien And His Gang Return To The Heights
|10.16.09 at 3:30 pm ET|
CHESTNUT HILL — Reunion Day is coming to The Heights, and there will be little need for introductions on Saturday.
NC State head coach Tom O’Brien roamed the sidelines at Alumni Stadium for 10 years. As the head coach of Boston College he turned around the storied program and won more games than any other coach in the team’s history. The Eagles won an NCAA-best six consecutive bowl games under O’Brien’s watch while posting a 74-45 record. Known as a disciplinarian and a tough-minded coach, O’Brien thrived on Chestnut Hill before heading south to take the reigns in Raleigh in December 2006.
O’Brien’s legacy is still present at Boston College, as the players he recruited in his last years are now the starting corps for the current incarnation of the Eagles. Co-captains Mike McLaughlin, Matt Tennant and Rich Gunnell all had full doses of O’Brien while others were just rising freshman when O’Brien left.
“It’s a story line for those who it may concern,” junior free safety Wes Davis said. ”For me it is NC State. Coach O’Brien, I hope he remembers my name, maybe he doesn’t, I was just a freshman backing up Jamie Silva when he was here.”
It is definitely a story line for a lot of players on this team and not just because of the return of O’Brien. The older guys have been through this before. This is the third meeting betweens the teams since the coach’s departure. Boston College won the first two with the last a 38-31 victory at Alumni Stadium last October. When O’Brien left he took with him most of his staff — six coaches in all — to ply their wares in Raleigh.
“I just want to play them so I can see [defensive line coach Keith] Willis again,” defensive lineman Alex Albright said. ”You know, I haven’t seen him in a long time and he was my first real mentor here. That is a big reason I like playing NC State is to see him again, talk to him, even if it is for five to ten minutes. It still means a lot to me and I know it means a lot to others guys who had [offensive line coach Don] Horton and [Jerry] Petercuskie.”
Dana Bible (offensive coordinator), Jim Bridge (tight ends), Horton, Petercuskie (special teams), Jason Swepson (running backs) and Willis all spent time with O’Brien at Boston College and are now part of his staff at NC State. Almost every upperclassman on the Eagles roster has worked intimately with one of these coaches at one point or another. They want to go out and show that the coaches who recruited them did not make a mistake.
“I think it is really a major aspect for the older guys,” Albright said. ”With Tom and all the other coaches that were there, too. I don’t know if it is so much, it is not like anger or anything, more just like a friendly thing, like competition. You want to go out and play the people that recruited you and prove that you still got it and that they did a good job recruiting you.”
At the same time NC State represents a significant hurdle to the Eagles’ goal of making it back to the ACC championship game. The Wolfpack are a division opponent that the Eagles must defeat if they hope to be playing in Tampa in December. In that vein, McLaughlin and others do not think much of their former mentors.
“I think now this is just a huge football game for us, playing an Atlantic Division opponent. You are not putting a name on it, like ‘O’Brien and the Wolfpack,’ it’s more, this is a must win,” McLaughlin said. “We have respect for one another . . . it is good to see familiar faces but you are going out to win a huge game.”
On the opposite sideline is Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani, a disciple of O’Briens and a branch of the George Welsh coaching tree through their shared time at the University of Virginia. All in all the two coached together for 26 years before O’Brien made the jump to NC State and Spaziani stayed in The Heights as defensive coordinator under Jeff Jagodzinski.
Though O’Brien’s time at Boston College was a successful era for the football program, some look back on the period with negativity. O’Brien as a man and a coach is about as tough as they come and he rubbed some people the wrong way. When asked if O’Brien does not get the credit he deserves, Spaziani paused to contemplate how to answer the question.
“I appreciate the job that he did here. I understand what he did,” Spaziani said. “People are going to think what they think about everything, so I don’t spend too much time worrying about that.”