Tom O’Brien said he doesn’t wonder about his future as the coach of N.C. State.
He’s too busy trying to make sure this season is better than his past three with the Wolfpack.
“The only thing we do is work hard and try to put a football team together to go out and have a winning season and go to a bowl game,” O’Brien said after practice Wednesday. “That’s what our goals are, and that’s what we’re working toward.”
After going 16-21 with a losing record in each of his first three seasons with the Wolfpack, O’Brien’s job security seems tenuous as the team prepares to host Western Carolina on Saturday in its opener.
He came to N.C. State after turning around Boston College. But aside from a 3-0 record against rival North Carolina, O’Brien has had few highlights at N.C. State.
Now he is working for a new chancellor and athletics director in Randy Woodson and Debbie Yow, respectively. Yow, hired to replace Lee Fowler, said she isn’t going to discuss O’Brien in depth unless the two are in a room together.
“We both want to have a winning record,” Yow said. “We both want to go to a bowl. We both want to win the bowl.”
O’Brien’s teams did that during his final seven seasons at Boston College, but they haven’t done it at N.C. State. His Wolfpack teams have been set back by long-term injuries to key players such as Nate Irving, Toney Baker, Anthony Hill and Donald Bowens.
As players such as Irving and Hill returned from injuries late in 2008, the Wolfpack won its final four regular-season games to go 6-6 and reach the Papajohns.com Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.
There, Russell Wilson passed for 186 yards and ran for 46 more to stake the Wolfpack to a 17-6 halftime lead against Rutgers. But on the final drive of the first half, Wilson injured a knee.
N.C. State managed 95 yards after halftime and lost 29-23.
“There isn’t any reason why we can’t be” a top ACC program, O’Brien said. “But you can’t be unless you have the pieces in place to be that way. And for the last three years, we haven’t had enough guys to do what we wanted to do.”
Junior quarterback Wilson said O’Brien has been unfailingly consistent in his plan and demands.
“He sticks to what he says, and you know what you’re going to get every day,” Wilson said. “I think that’s a positive thing.”
O’Brien has made subtle changes during the offseason. Following the lead of schools such as Duke and Central Florida, he has N.C. State practicing in the mornings before classes.
Thirteen of his freshmen were among the approximately 100 students participating in the university’s new, academically intense “summer start” program in summer school. O’Brien said the grades they posted were encouraging.
N.C. State’s most recent NCAA Academic Progress Rate mark of 937 ranked 10th in the 12-school ACC, and O’Brien wants that to improve. It’s part of his three-pronged plan to make the Wolfpack champions in the classroom, in the community and on the field.
“If you don’t do it right off the field, you’re never going to get it right on the field,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said there’s no reason N.C. State can’t reach another of Yow’s goals – to be a Top 25 program.
“You’ve got five teams in this conference in the preseason Top 25,” O’Brien said. “The goal is to be there at the end of the year. But if there’s five in this conference that get there, we think we can get to the top of the conference. We were able to do it at Boston College. Certainly we can do it here.”