Tom O'Brien (American football)

Tom O'Brien
Sport(s) Football
Biographical details
Born (1948-10-05) October 5, 1948
Cincinnati, Ohio
Playing career
1968–1970 Navy
Position(s) Defensive end
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1975–1981 Navy (OT/TE)
1982–1996 Virginia (OL/OC)
1997–2006 Boston College
2007–2012 NC State
2013–2014 Virginia (AHC-O/TE)
Head coaching record
Overall 115–80
Bowls 8–2
Accomplishments and honors
1 Big East (2004)
1 ACC Atlantic Division (2005)

Thomas P. "Tom" O'Brien (born October 5, 1948) is a former American football coach and player. He served as the head football coach at Boston College from 1996 to 2006 and North Carolina State University from 2007 to 2012, compiling a career record of 115 wins and 80 losses.

Early career

O'Brien earned an appointment to the United States Naval Academy, where he was a three-year starter at defensive end for the Midshipmen from 1968 to 1970. After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1971 with a bachelor of science degree in management,[1] O'Brien served nine years in the Marines. During this time he began coaching as an assistant for Navy's plebe (freshman) team, then served at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia, as well as tours of duty in California and Japan. O'Brien reached the rank of major in the Marine Corps Reserve.

In 1975, O'Brien returned to Navy and joined the staff of George Welsh, coaching tackles and tight ends. When Welsh became head coach at the University of Virginia in 1982, O'Brien joined his staff, where he remained for 15 years. During this period Virginia had 10 consecutive winning seasons and a share of two conference championships. O’Brien served as offensive coordinator in his final six seasons and consistently ran one of the top offenses in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Head coaching

Boston College

O'Brien became Boston College's 32nd head football coach on December 13, 1996. He took over a program coming off two straight losing seasons and reeling from a massive gambling scandal. O'Brien's first two Eagles teams responded with 4–7 records that included wins over Georgia Tech and West Virginia. He coached Mike Cloud to the BC all-time rushing record and first-team All-America honors. Cloud was a second-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs while center Damien Woody was selected in the first round by the New England Patriots and offensive guard Doug Brzezinski was picked in the third round by the Philadelphia Eagles.[2]

In 1999, three years of hard work paid off for O'Brien, his staff and players as they engineered the third-best turnaround in Division I college football. Led by Minnesota Vikings' first-round draft pick and All-American Chris Hovan, the Eagles registered three consecutive wins over Syracuse, West Virginia and Notre Dame to finish the regular season with an 8–3 record, a top 25 national ranking and a trip to the Bowl - Boston College's first bowl appearance since 1994.[2]

The 2000 Eagles posted a record of 7–5, including an impressive 31–17 win over Arizona State in the Aloha Bowl. Seven players earned All-Big East honors and offensive guard Paul Zukauskas earned first-team All-America honors. He was later chosen in the seventh round of the NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns.[2]

The 2001 season was a satisfying one for O'Brien as the Eagles finished 8–4 and ranked in the top 25 in both major polls, capped by a 20–16 win over SEC powerhouse Georgia in the Music City Bowl. A 21–17 victory over Notre Dame gave the Eagles two wins in three years against their archrivals. Boston College gave eventual national champion Miami by far its biggest scare of the entire season at Alumni Stadium as the Hurricanes were able to pull out a victory only in the final seconds. Running back William Green rushed for 1,559 yards and was the second-leading rusher in the country and a consensus first-team All-America pick. Green (16th, Cleveland Browns) and offensive tackle Marc Colombo (29th, Chicago Bears) were selected in the first round of the NFL draft, the first time two BC players were picked in the first round.[2]

Over the next few years, the team posted respectable won-lost records and continued to win bowl games. In 2002, BC went 9–4 and won the Motor City Bowl, in 2003 they were 8–5 with a victory in the San Francisco Bowl and finished 9–3 in 2004 with a win in the Continental Tire Bowl. The year 2004 would be the Eagles final campaign in the Big East. They finished the season in a four-way tie atop the league and closed the season ranked #21 in both major polls.[2]

BC won eight straight postseason bowl games, the first six under O'Brien, between 2000 and 2008. BC ranked sixth nationally in Student-Athlete GPA for 2004–05.[2]

NC State

When O’Brien was named head coach in December 2006, he inherited a team that had gone 3–9 and lost its last seven games. In his first year, after opening the season 1–5, his team won four straight games, including a win over 18th-ranked Virginia and road wins at East Carolina and Miami. Despite the slow start, his first Wolfpack squad went into the season finale with a bowl bid on the line.[3][4]

In 2008, O'Brien's team became the first in Atlantic Coast Conference history to start the season 0–4 in league play and finish 4–0. The bid to the Bowl marked the ninth bowl invitation in the past 10 years for O'Brien. His freshman quarterback, Russell Wilson, became the first rookie in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference to be named first-team all-conference at his position and it marked the sixth time in his 19 years in the league that a quarterback under O'Brien's tutelage was named the All-ACC signal caller.[3][4]

In 2009, his team posted wins over Pittsburgh of the Big East and a third straight win over North Carolina, but was decimated by injuries and finished the season 5–7.[3][4]

After being picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic Division in the preseason in 2010, the Wolfpack finished tied for second, was one game away from playing for an ACC title and was the third league team picked in the bowl selections. O'Brien's squad was the first Wolfpack team to garner nine wins since 2003 posted State’s first winning season in five years. With the Champs Sports Bowl victory over West Virginia, the 2010 squad tied the second highest win total in school history while finishing 9–4.[4]

In 2011, led by future Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting quarterback Mike Glennon, the Wolfpack had an 8–5 record.

On November 25, 2012, O'Brien received notice from NC State that he had been dismissed effective immediately despite navigating the team to a 7–5 regular-season record. Athletic director Debbie Yow cited several reasons. She was concerned over lagging season-ticket sales, as well as his approach to recruiting. O'Brien's recruiting classes were frequently in the bottom half of the nation, and Yow wanted a coach who could bring top 25-type talent to Raleigh. NCSU was obligated to pay $1.2 million of non-state funds to O'Brien, as his contract ran through the 2015 season.[5] However, NCSU ended up only having to pay O'Brien $200,000 after the buyout was renegotiated so he could become an assistant at Virginia. O'Brien announced he was retiring from coaching on January 6, 2015.[6]


O'Brien was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He played football at St. Xavier High School, from which he graduated in 1966.[7]

O'Brien is active in community outreach programs and serves on the board of directors for the Marine Corps' "Toys for Tots." He was a major in the Marine Corps reserves.[8]

O'Brien also owns a vacation home in South Carolina, where he plans to spend his retirement after coaching. He is married to the former Jennifer Byrd of San Diego, who is on the national board of Rostro de Cristo. They are the parents of three children: Colleen Frances, a 2002 Boston College graduate who is a producer at ESPN; Daniel Patrick, a 2005 Boston College graduate; and Bridget Jean, also a 2005 Boston College graduate who served a year-long mission with the Rostro de Cristo program in Ecuador.

Head coaching record

Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs Coaches# AP°
Boston College Eagles (Big East Conference) (1997–2003)
1997 Boston College 4–7 3–4 T–5th
1998 Boston College 4–7 3–4 5th
1999 Boston College 8–4 4–3 3rd L
2000 Boston College 7–5 3–4 T–5th W Aloha
2001 Boston College 8–4 4–3 T–3rd W Music City 23 21
2002 Boston College 9–4 3–4 T–4th W Motor City
2003 Boston College 8–5 3–4 5th W Emerald
2004 Boston College 9–3 4–2 T–1st W Continental Tire 21 21
Boston College Eagles (Atlantic Coast Conference) (2004–2005)
2005 Boston College 9–3 5–3 T–1st (Atlantic) W MPC Computers 17 18
2006 Boston College 9–3[n 1] 5–3 T–2nd (Atlantic) Meineke Car Care[n 1] 20 20
Boston College: 75–45 37–34
NC State Wolfpack (Atlantic Coast Conference) (2007–2012)
2007 NC State 5–7 3–5 T–5th (Atlantic)
2008 NC State 6–7 4–4 T–3rd (Atlantic) L
2009 NC State 5–7 2–6 5th (Atlantic)
2010 NC State 9–4 5–3 T–2nd (Atlantic) W Champs Sports 25 25
2011 NC State 8–5 4–4 4th (Atlantic) W Belk
2012 NC State 7–5 4–4 3rd (Atlantic) Music City*
NC State: 40–35 22–26 * Did not coach bowl game
Total: 115–80
      National championship         Conference title         Conference division title
Indicates Bowl Coalition, Bowl Alliance, BCS, or CFP / New Years' Six bowl.
#Rankings from final Coaches Poll.
°Rankings from final AP Poll.


  1. 1 2 O'Brien coached the first 12 games of the season before resigning to become head coach at NC State. Frank Spaziani coached Boston College in Meineke Car Care.


  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Tom O'Brien Bio". Boston College. Retrieved 2011-01-04.
  3. 1 2 3 "Tom O'Brien Bio". NC State. Retrieved 2011-01-04.
  4. 1 2 3 4 "2010 Champs Sports Bowl Media Guide" (PDF). NC State. Retrieved 2011-01-04.
  6. Vannini, Chris. "Breaking: Tom O'Brien returning to Virginia as assistant coach". Retrieved January 3, 2013.
  7. "Welcome to the St. Xavier Athletic Hall of Fame". St. Xavier High School. Archived from the original on October 28, 2007. Retrieved 2007-02-08.
  8. "O'Brien brings new style to Wolfpack". Sporting News. June 15, 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-15.

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