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 PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) -Tom O'Brien became a regular representing Boston College in recent years at the Atlantic Coast Conference's three-day media extravaganza.
He's back again this year, but this time he sat 20 yards away at a different table.
After making a rare intra-conference coaching jump, the former Eagles coach is settling in at division rival North Carolina State and dodging the distractions that accompanied his move.
``Once we get through this year, it'll be old hat,'' O'Brien said Monday.
The winningest coach in BC history left Chestnut Hill after a decade there to take over a Wolfpack program that flaunted a lack of discipline and floundered to a 3-9 finish last season under Chuck Amato.
And in a new-look ACC that features a new high-priced, big-name coach (North Carolina's Butch Davis) and a disciplinarian promoted from within (Miami's Randy Shannon), perhaps the most intriguing hire was made by N.C. State, which wanted a proven winner and suddenly has a coach with a unique perspective on the league.
``Having been able to play in this conference for two years ... you have a pretty good idea of who's running what program and how they're running it,'' O'Brien said.
Except, of course, at the BC program he left to a rookie head coach. The team O'Brien left behind was picked to finish second behind Florida State in the Atlantic Division in the league's preseason media poll.
Meanwhile, his new club was selected to finish last again. O'Brien, who has never coached a cellar-dweller, even as he played walk-ons while rebuilding a Boston College program ravaged by a mid-1990s gambling scandal.
His worst career finish in the Big East was fifth, and in two seasons coaching the Eagles in the Atlantic Division, he never finished lower than tied for second.
``I think we can win a conference title, and if you can do that, you have a chance to win it all,'' O'Brien said. ``That's where we're going to go. We've got to get there.''
Naturally, that goal someday will require him to beat his former program. If O'Brien's old players harbor any lingering feelings of abandonment, they refused to say so.
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New BC coach Jeff Jagodzinski sat a few first downs from the man he replaced and praised the ease with which his players handled the tricky coaching switch.
``It wasn't the least bit messy at all,'' Jagodzinski said. ``It was the right time for me to do this. It was the right time for BC to do it, and it was really a good fit for everybody involved.''
That doesn't mean there won't be any bitterness from jilted BC fans on Sept. 8 when O'Brien's first road game with the Wolfpack comes at Alumni Stadium against the Eagles.
``It's going to be an exciting day up in Boston,'' Ryan said. ``I'm sure there will be some boos up there, but I'm sure he knows that everybody up there has a lot of respect for what he did at BC, the winningest coach in the history of the school and somebody his players have a tremendous amount of respect for.''
O'Brien already completed one turnaround, guiding Boston College from shame to success and then through an awkward transition from the Big East to the ACC, compiling a 76-45 record in 10 seasons.
Now he's focused on doing it again, with an N.C. State team that hasn't won the ACC since 1979. He says the Wolfpack are in a better position to reverse their fortunes, mainly because he brought six assistants and two strength coaches from Boston College.
``Any time you're 3-9, you've got a lot of work to do,'' O'Brien said. ``Those kids were embarrassed that they were 3-9 and they want to be a much better football team. They've worked extremely hard, and now it's up to us to coach them up and get them in the right spots so they can win.''
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