Monday, September 22, 2008

O'Brien knows big game when he sees it

Here's an example of how football coach Tom O'Brien understands his environment at N.C. State where former basketball coach Herb Sendek never did.

It's been said occasionally that O'Brien and Sendek have similar personalities, and that's true. Both are disciplined coaches with absolute belief in their systems who don't feel the urge to clown in front of the TV cameras.

But when O'Brien was asked about defeating East Carolina on Saturday he said that game was extra important because the Pirates are a rival.

"There’s 12 games you play, but certainly the hype around certain games is larger than others," O'Brien said. "So it is a bigger game than it was against Clemson or William & Mary. . . .It certainly is a big, big deal for our football team and our school that we win this game."

Sendek didn't see it that way. After N.C. State's disastrous, 95-71 loss at home to North Carolina on Feb. 22, 2006, I asked Sendek if it hurt to lose six in a row to the rival Tar Heels.

"Sure," he said. "It would frustrate us to lose six in a row to anybody."

That was the wrong answer for fans at N.C. State, and Sendek was off to Arizona State a couple of months later. N.C. State fans needed to be sure that losing to a rival hurt Sendek as much as it hurt them. Losing six in a row to North Carolina annoys Wolfpackers far more than six straight losses to Georgia Tech or Maryland.

O'Brien seems to understand that. Even if he doesn't post as high an ACC winning percentage as Sendek, O'Brien connects with N.C. State fans on this important point, and that will serve him well.

– Ken Tysiac