Posted by Chip Patterson
In just his fourth year as the N.C. State head coach, Tom O'Brien delivered a 9-win season and brought the Wolfpack within a game of the ACC Championship. On Monday I got a chance to visit Coach O'Brien at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh to talk spring practice and the state of Wolfpack football.
CBSSports.com: Reflecting back on 2010, down the road what are some of the things that will stand out from last season?
Tom O'Brien: Well I think it was the first time we won here. We had all those injury problems the previous years, a depleted squad, and really never had a chance. We went into the year feeling we'd be very competitive. It was the first year we almost were all scholarship guys with no walk-on's in the two-deep. We got Nate Irving back, who did a great job for us, was our Most Valuable Player last year. Played one full-year finally in five years of play, it was kind of a snapshot of where had been in the previous three years. I think last year, as far as building a program and moving forward, was a huge step.
That fact that we won five conference games, that hadn't been done a lot here. Nine wins is the second-most in school history, and to be ranked in the Top 25 at the end of the year is really important to show where we can go with this program.
CBSSports.com: You mentioned moving forward, obviously one of the big topics of the spring has been moving forward at the quarterback position, with [Mike] Glennon. Fans got to see him last spring, in the spring practice and spring game, what are some things this spring that he's doing particularly well, and where do you think there is still room for growth?
TOB: Well I think he's better than he was a spring ago, and that's just a matter of experience of having played being through another season and going into another spring practice. The only thing I think he needs to do is get in a game and play. He needs game experience. He certainly has enough ability to be an all ACC caliber quarterback. He's just got to get there and get into game situations next year, experience those things. But, he certainly has enough talent to be a really good quarterback for us.
CBSSports.com: The rest of the team embracing him coming in and taking that role?
TOB: Oh certainly, you know he's been around. He's going into his fourth year of school, so he was part of the first real recruiting class we had here. Generally speaking, when you're in that situation those guys have bonded. They came in with a purpose to make the program different, to make the program better. They're all moving up, all those redshirt juniors now, and he's part of that group.
CBSSports.com: What about your philosophy of spring practice? It seems like you have a unique view compared to many other programs, you even said "spring practice is about getting better as individuals." Could you talk about your mentality?
TOB: Well that's what I learned from Coach Welsh, all those years. That was the focus all the time, starting in spring practice and heading into fall camp. As individuals improve, your football team will improve. We spent a lot of time on the basis of "football." Blocking, tackling, fundamentals, getting better as an individual; building and putting it all together.
There is no sense at this time worrying about a lot of X's and O's, I mean you have to do it so you can test what your people can do. We're more worried about getting better individually. As each position player gets better, then we you put it together your football team is better.
CBSSports.com: You'll get to face Coach London and Coach Spaziani this season, do you feel like you are building your own coaching tree?
TOB: You know I've never looked at it that way. I've been very fortunate to have great assistant coaches, and I've been fortunate to keep a lot of great assistant coaches. Certainly their ambitious is to be coordinators, then be head coaches. I'm very happy for them to have that opportunity. Maybe I can Golden in the championship game.
CBSSports.com: Here in Carter-Finley, the fan base has really embraced you in this program. You were 5-1 at home in 2010, with 7 games on the schedule in 2011. How important has this stadium become as a home field advantage?
TOB: No I think it's huge, we have tremendous fans. They love their football, they love their team. They show up as soon as the tailgate lots open, some of them before the tailgate lots open You know we had third largest crowd in history last year and set a single-season attendance record. I think it speaks volumes to their passion for the Wolfpack football team and I think our kids feed off that.
CBSSports.com: If you were to make your sell for Nate as a player in the NFL, what do you think about his game will best translate to the next level?
TOB: Well what I've been telling coaches is that he hasn't had a lot of hits on his body. He's only played one full year of football. On the previous four years he missed one year because of the accident, he missed one year because of injuries, the year before that we didn't know who or what he was as a redshirt freshman and didn't play him till the month of November when we changed the team around, and the year before that he was redshirted. So really his best days are ahead of him. He's really a smart football player, and he's an explosive football player, and somebody is going to get a really good player for many, many years in the NFL.
CBSSports.com: Is there anything from spring practice that has surprised you?
TOB: Not really, we are only into day five - with three in pads. We're trying to emphasize in team meetings this morning "the fundamentals." If you can't tackle you can't play defense, if you can't block you can't play offense. I mean it's pretty simple; let's go back to the fundamentals. The guys that can block and tackle the best are going to put themselves in position to get on the football field, and we're still searching.
That's why we have an Organizational Chart [instead of a depth chart], I don't care if you are playing offense or defense right now. If you're the best player and you stand out, we'll find a place for you - and we're still searching.
Click here to check out N.C. State's Spring Practice Primer