Around 1:30 PM today, word leaked out that NC State was parting ways with head coach Tom O'Brien. While this came as a surprise due to the timing, it was not a total surprise that this was the decision that Athletic Director Debbie Yow came to. While O'Brien finished with a 7-5 record for his third consecutive winning season, the rumblings have been coming since the 33-6 debacle at home against Virginia.
While only the most ardent TOB haters would not appreciate what he accomplished at NC State, this was not an unwarranted firing. O'Brien finished with a respectable 40-35 (22-26 in ACC play) record after 6 years in Raleigh. However, it was his recruiting shortcomings, strange losses, and 11-19 record against Atlantic division opponents (including 1-14 on the road) that cost him his job. On the qualitative side of things, I believe O'Brien's ho-hum attitude did not help him. While he was known to fire a few zingers towards Chapel Hill, he was generally a low-profile guy. Pack fans have fallen in love with personalities like basketball coach Mark Gottfried's, and want that for the football program.
In short, Tom O'Brien did what he was brought to NC State to do: have consistent winning records and keep the program clean. When he came to Raleigh, TOB set a ten year plan. He only made it through six, but I would argue that he accomplished many of his goals. While I am not arguing with the decision to change directions, I do think State fans should thank him for what he has done in Raleigh.
In terms of the timing of this decision, I absolutely think that this was the right time to do so if it was going to be this year. With several other openings surely coming up (and Auburn and Boston College immediately did), the coaching search needs any head start that it can get. Also, it gives any new coach time to retain the recruiting class as well as bring in any new players he may want.
As for the coaching possibilities, I came up with the requisite list that this type of article requires:
THE MOST LIKELY CANDIDATES
Chad Morris, Offensive Coordinator- Clemson
This name has been thrown out there the most. Very good offensive coordinator, but can he lead a FBS program? Also, this is only his third year in college after coaching in the high school ranks for many years.
Sonny Dykes, Head Coach- Louisiana Tech
The Bulldogs have had a very good year under Dykes. Solid, unique offense. Is a Mike Leach disciple, take that how you may. I think he may end up as the most likely choice. As pointed out by many today, NC State has a game scheduled with La Tech to open the season next year. This is often part of an agreement in these situations.
Dave Doeren, Head Coach- Northern Illinois
Is 22-4 so far in his 2 years as a head coach, including 11-1 this year and with a shot at a BCS bowl. Like the previous two candidates, somewhat inexperienced.
Butch Jones, Head Coach- Cincinnati
Has been coach at Cinci for 3 years. Has worked behind Brian Kelly at both Central Michigan and Cinci. Jones is a hot commodity in the coaching ranks and may be wanting to get out of the Big East.
Matt Campbell, Head Coach- Toledo
In his first year as head coach at Toledo, he is 9-3. Also won the Rockets' bowl game after Tim Beckman left for Illinois in 2011. However, he is only 32.
Willie Taggart, Head Coach- Western Kentucky
Taggart is a players' coach and a winner. He was a star quarterback at WKU in the 90's and played under Jack Harbaugh (yes, their dad) and worked under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. However, is only 36 and has a 16-20 record. He has led WKU since they joined the FBS ranks, though.
Darrell Hazell, Head Coach- Kent State
Hazell is 16-8, 11-1 this year, in two years at Kent State. This is a remarkable feat and will automatically get him looks at some bigger schools. He worked under Jim Tressel at Ohio State for 5 years, which could hurt or help him depending on how you look at that.
Mike MacIntyre, Head Coach- San Jose State MacIntyre has coaching experience at Duke, played at Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech, and is from Miami. He knows the area. Took SJSU from 1-11 in his first year to 10-2 in this, his third year. However, he just signed a 5 year extension in San Jose.
Gus Malzahn, Head Coach- Arkansas State
Has been an offensive genius for years. However, he has been a head coach for only a year (8-3 so far). Also, he had a chance at BCS schools in the past (Vanderbilt, UNC) and did not seem too interested.
MY PIPE DREAMS
Bob Diaco, Defensive Coordinator- Notre Dame
If you want to win, why not look at a winning program's coordinator? Diaco runs perhaps the nation's best defense and can obviously recruit.
Paul Rhoads, Head Coach- Iowa State
Rhoads is what Dr. Yow wants: a fiery competitor and someone who works on the recruiting trail. He doesn't recruit particularly well, but it's thought to bring players to Ames, IA.
John Chavis, Defensive Coordinator- LSU
Like Diaco, runs an incredible defense and comes from a winning program. He is from South Carolina and played at Tennessee. However, at 56 years old, probably unlikely.
Kirby Smart, Defensive Coordinator- Alabama
Like Diaco and Chavis, defense and winning programs are what he is known for. Has been a hot name for positions , so he would be a tough pull to Raleigh.