Percolating for weeks, Tom O’Brien’s return to Virginia’s football coaching staff as associate head coach became reality Thursday.
The final hurdle was O’Brien’s contract at North Carolina State, which fired him as head coach in November after six seasons. A non-compete clause prohibited O’Brien from working at another ACC school, even if terminated, through the 2015 season.
But Thursday afternoon, in response to a question from Joe Ovies of Raleigh’s ESPN radio affiliate, N.C. State said it was waiving the clause and has agreed to pay O’Brien $200,000 rather than the $1.2 million buyout he was due.
Polite and prudent move by State athletic director Debbie Yow.
First, the Cavaliers and Wolfpack reside in opposite divisions, and with the ACC growing to 14 next year, and the teams having just completed a two-year series, odds are they won't even meet during O'Brien's tenure. Second, she saves her school $1 million.
O’Brien agreed to a two-year deal at $450,000 per at Virginia. Add a $150,000 signing bonus and $300,000 retention bonus, and he makes $1.35 million, more than making up the $1 million from N.C. State he sacrificed.
Divide the $1.35 million by two and you get $675,000 per. According to USA Today's database of coaching salaries, only Clemson's Chad Morris ($1.3 million annually) and Brent Venables ($800,000) made more in 2012 among ACC assistants.
As Comrade Wood details elsewhere, Virginia officially unveiled O’Brien, defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta (another pricey addition at $500,000 annually for five years), receivers coach Marques Hagans and running backs coach/special teams coordinator Jeff Banks on Thursday night.
O’Brien has been on Virginia executive associate athletic director Jon Oliver’s radar since the Cavaliers announced the dismissal of four assistant coaches Dec. 2. O’Brien was 75-45 in 10 seasons as Boston College’s head coach, 40-35 at N.C. State, but his longest run was as a Virginia assistant.
From 1982-96, O’Brien worked for George Welsh, 15 seasons that saw the program rise from literal ashes to postseason regulars. He recruited Peninsula stars such as Terry Kirby and Chris Slade, coached the offensive line and served as offensive coordinator.
At age 64, O’Brien could have retired to his South Carolina beach home. But he decided he still wants to coach, and at Virginia he’ll be in familiar surroundings culturally and athletically. Cavs head coach Mike London worked under O’Brien at Boston College, and after this season’s 4-8 disappointment, could use O’Brien’s seasoned advice in program and game management.
Some will warn about too many cooks and the prospect of London looking over his shoulder. But O’Brien, who will coach tight ends, has no designs on London’s job. This isn’t a long-term gig, and O’Brien knows his task is to bring his Marine’s sensibilities and discipline — he’s a 1971 Naval Academy graduate — to the operation.
A 33-6 homecoming defeat to a Virginia team riding a six-game losing streak may have been a catalyst in N.C. State’s firing of O’Brien. But O’Brien was 3-1 against Virginia as a head coach, 1-0 at Boston College, 2-1 at N.C. State.
While O’Brien is connected to Hampton Roads, Hagans hails from here, and the promotion of this former Hampton High and Virginia quarterback from graduate assistant feels right. It’s up to Hagans to use his vibrant personality and work ethic to prove London’s confidence in him is well-placed.
In Hagans’ final game at Virginia, he threw for a career-high 358 yards in a 2005 Music City Bowl win over Minnesota. O’Brien’s most recent game on the home sideline at Scott Stadium was in 1996, a 20-17 Virginia upset of sixth-ranked North Carolina.
Can Hagans and O’Brien help the Cavaliers author similar moments?
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
Here's Virginia's official release.
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