Turns out, given the benefit of hindsight, there is one decision Tom O’Brien would have changed about Russell Wilson and the star quarterback’s football career at N.C. State.
But it’s not the much-scrutinized decision that led to Wilson’s exit in 2011.
Knowing what he knows now about Wilson – that he’s one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks and eight days away from starting for the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl – O’Brien said he could have avoided the controversy by playing him as a true freshman in 2007.
“We probably would have played him that first year,” said O’Brien, the N.C. State coach from 2007 to 2012, on Friday on a conference call with the media.
If O’Brien had done that, Wilson could have started four years, followed by two years of Mike Glennon, and there would have been no decisions to make by either O’Brien or Wilson in 2011.
But that’s not how it happened. O’Brien inferred on Friday that even with Wilson’s subsequent success, the coach still wouldn’t change what he did.
“I’m not clairvoyant, I can’t tell the future,” said O’Brien, now an assistant with Virginia. “You make decisions based on the facts at that time.
“We had to make a decision that was best for N.C. State.”
To recap the soap-opera like drama that eventually led Wilson to identify his college on national television as “a whole Pack of Badgers:”
Wilson played both baseball and football at N.C. State. The Colorado Rockies drafted him, to develop as a second baseman, in the fourth round of the 2010 draft.
O’Brien preferred Wilson to concentrate on football, but Wilson ended up playing 32 games in the Rockies’ farm system before the 2010 football season.
Wilson, a three-year starter for O’Brien after redshirting in 2007, threw for 28 touchdowns and 3,563 yards and led the Wolfpack to a 9-4 record and top 25 finish in 2010.
Despite Wilson’s productive season, and career – he was on track to break some of Philip Rivers’ school passing records – O’Brien thought Wilson could have been better if he had concentrated on football. After the successful 2010 season (the best of O’Brien’s six-year tenure in Raleigh), O’Brien gave Wilson an ultimatum: give up baseball or else.
Wilson chose baseball. He played 61 games for the Rockies’ farm team in Asheville before the 2011 football season. O’Brien chose Mike Glennon, a future NFL quarterback, who had two seasons of eligibility left, compared to one for Wilson.
Wilson did eventually leave baseball behind, seemingly for good, in June 2011 and transferred to Wisconsin. Wilson threw for 33 touchdowns and led the Badgers to a Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl.
Glennon started the 2011 and 2012 seasons for N.C. State, and had comparable numbers to Wilson, but the Wolfpack went 7-6 in ’12 and O’Brien was fired.
Glennon was drafted last April in the third round and started 13 games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season, including a Nov. 3 loss to Wilson and Seattle.
O’Brien has said it before and repeated it Friday – everything worked out for Wilson, Glennon and N.C. State.
“We were lucky to have those kids for five years,” O’Brien said. “People ought to be happy about that.”
It also eventually worked out for O’Brien and Wilson. Wilson wanted to finish his college career at N.C. State, and has since said publicly that he was hurt by O’Brien’s decision, but the two have patched up their differences, according to O’Brien.
Wilson came back to N.C. State in April 2012 before the NFL draft. Wilson and O’Brien publicly reconciled on the practice field that day and have continued to be cordial.
O’Brien said their relationship was never as frayed as it was portrayed.
He said he texted Wilson after the Seahawks clinched a spot in Super Bowl XLVIII with a 23-17 win against the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday.
“It’s always been good,” O’Brien said of his relationship with Wilson. “Maybe some people think it hadn’t been. Certainly it has been fine.”
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