The world of college football will move on with more games, more hirings, more firings, more plans for expansion, more coaching changes.
But this morning it will move ahead without Frank Spaziani and Tom O’Brien as part of the ensemble. Both men are long time friends and worked together for 26 years before O’Brien moved from Boston College to North Carolina State 6 years ago as the head coach. Spaziani became the head coach at BC two years later.
On Saturday, before NC State’s 27-10 win over Boston College, O’Brien and Spaziani stood at midfield at NC State’s Carter-Finley Stadium and talked.
They talked about the past. They talked about the present. They talked about the future. At the time, Spaziani’s future seemed more in doubt than O”Brien’s.
On Sunday both men were fired for a simple reason: they didn’t win enough games. Say what you want about the jobs they did or didn’t do, but make no mistake about the dedication each had to doing things the right way.
Spaziani was fired after four years at Boston College, the last two seasons in which the Eagles were a woeful 2-10 and 4-8. “” We want someone who oozes with integrity, someone who genuinely cares about the students and we want someone who is going to win,” said new BC AD Brad Bates.””Spaz clearly is a man of integrity. He genuinely cared about his students. The performance, obviously, in the last couple of years, suffered.”
O’Brien’s departure at North Carolina was a little more surprising. The Wolfpack finished the regular season with a 7-5 record, which included a victory over ACC Atlantic Division champion Florida State. The Wolfpack will play in a post season game this season, just as they did a year ago when they finished with an 8-5 record and a win over Louisville in the Belk Bowl as well as a 37-13 pounding of perennial ACC power Clemson.
“Who would have thought that I would have been fired before Spaz,” said O’Brien on Sunday night with a laugh.
North Carolina State athletic director Debbie Yow didn’t hire O’Brien and arrived in Raleigh from Maryland 3 years ago. O’Brien wasn’t her coach. O’Brien builds programs through a steady process. sometimes there are steps backward, but always there is progress. Seldom is there a problem with discipline or probation or graduation rates.
It was not Yow’s style. She wanted more flash and dash, more of “Alabama” type recruiting and results. She clearly wanted NC State to be a player on the national, not just the ACC level and O’Brien wasn’t doing it quickly enough.
When she called O’Brien to her office for a noon meeting on Sunday, she talked about an erosion of fan support in season ticket holders which would cost the school nearly $2 million in lost revenue. She said that was a concern. She talked about how O’Brien was really a wonderful person. She was crying.
And then she fired him.
The cost to NC State: 3 years remaining on O’Brien’s salary at more than $1.2 million a year, a year’s salary for three assistant coaches, the potential buyout of any coach she might hire, plus the salary of the new coach. Reportedly she has Cincinnati’s Butch Jones and Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes high on her wish list. Vanderbilt’s James Franklin was also on the list, but the buyout is reportedly exorbitant.
Yow must be dealing with the “new math” in her financial analysis. Either that or she is hoping the Big Ten or the SEC want to target NC State as the next school to enter the conference realignment derby with more cash to help pay the added costs of settlements and buyouts
At BC, Spaziani was done in by the numbers game. BC was getting worse instead of better on the football field, despite the optimistic hopes that Spaziani had about building a foundation that he wanted.
In firing Spaziani, Bates, who has been on the job only slightly more than a month, praised Spaziani the man and talked about his loyalty to BC. “The man spent a quarter of his life at BC,” said Bates. “His dedication and loyalty to this school is unquestioned. But this is a very performance based business. Ultimately, winning and losing make a great deal of difference.”
And the difference this morning means that Frank Spaziani and Tom O”Brien, two good men, who worked hard, cared about their school and doing things the old-fashioned way with hard work and following the over used phrase that players are also student-athletes, will not be working on recruiting lists and other off-season details this morning.
O’Brien said he wants to work again at a place where he can do what he did at BC and NC State–leave it better when he left than when he arrived. He is 64, knows how to build a program, how to run a clean program graduate his football players. What a strange concept in this day when ADs now may give a coach only 1 or 2 years to win games and they must do it with flash which creates fan excitement as well.
Spaziani is 65 and it is uncertain about what his next move may be. Both men will be taken care of financially–each has three years remaining on his contract.
This is not a tragic story. But it is a sad story simply because two good men had to deal with bad news.
They will both recover and move on.
After the game on Saturday, O’Brien came to midfield to offer the customary post game hand shake.
It was quick. “He just said that he hoped that Jenny (O’Brien’s wife) and I would have a nice Christmas,” said O’Brien.
Right now that looks like it will be a Christmas without football for both men and that is too bad.
© 2012, Mark. All rights reserved.