An Uncertain Reception

During a decade at Boston College, Tom O'Brien grew familiar with every nook and cranny of cozy Alumni Stadium. Except one: the visitors' locker room.

He'll find out what it's like in there soon enough, at the end of a week he has been dreading seemingly since he was hired by North Carolina State.

O'Brien is bracing for an uncertain reception during his first trip north to face the BC team he deserted in December when he made a rare in-conference switch.

``I had a great experience at BC, and those kids are special kids up there, but come Saturday, my job is to win the football game and do the best I can for these kids at N.C. State, and with every breath and passion I have, that's what I'm going to do,'' O'Brien said Monday.

``Now I know those kids on the other sideline, (their job) is to win the game for BC, and that's what they're going to do. And then, after the game we can all talk after it's over and then we'll never talk about this again. It will be over with.''

O'Brien, who says he only occasionally passed through the guests' locker room, isn't sure what to expect from the Boston College fans.

He knows many of them felt jilted nine months ago when he bolted the Atlantic Coast Conference contending Eagles for an N.C. State team that fell into the Atlantic Division cellar under fired coach Chuck Amato.

``I'm pretty sure they love Coach O'Brien up there,'' linebacker Ernest Jones said. ``So I don't think they're going to be negative toward the coach because he left a pretty good team there. They should have a positive vibe.''

The coach hopes they remember fondly how in 1997 he took over a BC program ravaged by a gambling scandal, built the Eagles into Big East contenders and shepherded them through a messy switch to the ACC.

The appeal of coaching at a state university with deep pockets, expansive facilities and a rabid fan base was enough to convince O'Brien to make just the second in-conference switch in the league's football history.

``You get an occasional shot here or there, but it's probably 50 to 1,'' O'Brien said. ``People recognize what went on in the 10 years at Boston College, from what I inherited to the scandal ... to restoring the integrity of the program and becoming a solid Top 25 program.

``Certainly you want to leave a program better than you inherit it, and there's no question we did that.''

There are times when O'Brien misses the enthusiasm of college hockey, the buzz of a Red Sox crowd at Fenway Park and the camaraderie of friends with the NFL's Patriots.

``I guess maybe that's bad now that I'm here in Panther country,'' he joked, referring to New England's Super Bowl victory over Carolina in 2004.

His new players say their taciturn taskmaster doesn't bore them with tales of Boston.

``We don't get too many stories from Coach O'Brien,'' tight end Marcus Stone deadpanned.
Still, it's clear O'Brien has a soft spot for the former players he'll try to beat. Defensive ends Alex Albright and Nick Larkin graduated from the same Cincinnati high school that O'Brien attended, and he called cornerback DeJuan Tribble ``another of my Cincinnati boys.''

And he praised quarterback Matt Ryan as ``definitely the best quarterback in this conference, and maybe the top quarterback in the country.''

There are plenty of ties connecting the schools' coaching staffs, too.

O'Brien brought six members of his BC staff to Raleigh, including offensive coordinator Dana Bible and longtime recruiting coordinator Jerry Petercuskie.

One of the coaches left behind, defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, led the Eagles to a Meineke Bowl victory after O'Brien's departure. He was retained by new coach Jeff Jagodzinski - whom O'Brien hired a decade ago to coordinate BC's offense.

``Frank and I go a way back, a lot of shared ideas back and forth, and he and Dana have been going against each other for eight years,'' O'Brien said. ``There isn't going to be anything that they don't know about each other.''

by: Anthony White - - Email Us

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