I've been thinking about the head coaching situation since the frustrating end to the UNC game. NC State is, historically, a .500 football program. Tom O'Brien came in and re-established a program that could count on bowl appearances like it could during the Dick Sheridan era, and he did this despite having spent a decade coaching and recruiting in the northeast, and despite the dumpster fire Chuck Amato left behind. NC State had some talent but was generally a complete mess in the waning years of the Amato era. Tom O'Brien has not done a bad job here by any stretch of the imagination.
And yet... Tom O'Brien's tenure feels stale. Why is that? Is it simply that coaches wear out their welcome after x number of years? Like we become an old married couple, and all we can see is the other person's faults? On the margins, this is irrelevant--either a coach is terrible enough that he gets canned within a few years, or he's great enough that statues are made in his honor. In cases like this, though...
Is it the loss to UNC that has everybody confronting their concerns about TOB and his staff rather than shrugging and saying, "well, he did beat UNC, so..."?
I could get into the nuances of coaching decisions and clock management--moreso than I did earlier this week, I mean--but the sad truth of the matter is that anyone we might hire would be arrested by the same inertia that has plagued this sport for decades. There is no alternative to what we have now, from a fundamental perspective, unless Bill Belichick decides he's had enough of the pros.
But there is also recruiting, and that's the primary issue for Tom O'Brien and his staff. If they're all essentially the same in their kindergarten-level understanding of probability, what makes the difference for football coaches is recruiting. Chuck Amato, for all his faults, at least brought in the talent necessary to win league and national championships during the first half of his tenure. It didn't last, and his timing could have been better in certain cases, but that's the sort of thing that tends to prolong one's expiration date.
Tom O'Brien has not been able to sell himself to the kids of the southeast. No one can relate to him; he is old and comes off as boring; his offense is boring, his team's uniforms are boring. All of those things matter, whether you believe they should or not. Tom O'Brien succeeds--relatively speaking--because he is good at the actual teaching of football, but every year he loses a lot in the margins.
To borrow a line from The Big Lebowski, this is my concern, Dude.
Is that enough? I mean, is that enough for us to want or hope for change? Strictly from a results perspective, we can't honestly expect better on the average. From a can-we-win-a-league-title-at-this-rate perspective, though, what we've seen from TOB's staff is troubling. And that's really what it's all about, right? If we can't win the league, then what are we doing here?
These are the issues I have difficulty reconciling internally. Based on history, winning seven games every year is worth a party for NC State, but then again, there is a certain futility to a program that recruits on a Wake Forest level in-state, which is not only frustrating but embarrassing. Times change. If State were recruiting like this with the facilities it had in the '90s, it would make sense. Now it just feels like a waste.