For the last several seasons, anytime a fan has even suggested that O’Brien has a problem with recruiting, they are met with two responses. The first is usually something about the position NC State was in, having lost more games than it won since 2006. The second was usually something dealing with O’Brien’s superior ability to coach-up players and his superior track record with developing well-rounded teams. Who would question either of those? NC State had/has been in a slump and Tom O’Brien had been an incredibly successful coach at Boston College. Such stars as Nate Irving and Russell Wilson were mentioned as examples of “stars” that the coaching staff had developed and maintained. Unfortunately, when you’re talking about a few hundred kids over several years, it might take more than 2 stars to prove a coach can develop players the way their fans want to claim.
TANGENT: AMERSON’S EARLY-SEASON PERFORMANCE
David Amerson has had a “bad” start to the season. I place “bad” in quotations because in reality, his stats are almost just as good as they were last year against what is arguably a better schedule. Last season, NC State started the season with Liberty, @Wake Forest, South Alabama, @Cincy, and Georgia Tech (Keep in mind that Cincy finished the season ranked 25th nationally and Georgia Tech had 8 regular-season victories). This season, we have started with Tennessee (Neutral location), @UConn, South Alabama, Citadel, and @Miami. Amerson earned 4 interceptions at this point last season and has 3 interceptions this season. He opened the season with 6 tackles against Liberty last season and opened with 9 tackles against Tennessee this season. As far as breaking-up the pass, he’s broken up a total of 3 passes between the UConn and Miami games while in 2011 he only managed to break-up 3 passes against FCS opponent Liberty U.
Bottom line, whether Amerson is meeting, exceeding, or failing to meet expectations, he’s far from given up and he certainly hasn’t dropped off from last season. We would be remiss if we didn’t also mention that despite being burned by multiple receivers, he has largely stayed in for almost all of 2012 gameplay.
WHAT DOES DAVID AMERSON TELL US ABOUT O’BRIEN COACHING PLAYERS UP?
So what’s the connection between O’Brien’s ability to coach up players and Amerson’s performance? The answer is found in the fan-reaction to Amerson’s performance. Last Saturday, the outcry of angry fans against Amerson was amazing, and to an extent justified. He was burned by Allen Hurns (3 Star Junior), Philip Dorsett (3 Star Sophomore, and Rashawn Scott (3 Star Sophomore) for touchdowns. As anyone will tell you who had participated in Rivals/Scout combines, the difference between 3 star and 4 star recruits is largely speed. So why is Amerson, who is still intercepting the ball and breaking up passes, getting burned by what some would call ‘lesser’ players?
What O’Brien is credited with is being able to utilize lesser players to develop their skills and use them in a system. So what happened with Amerson, a player who was already a 4-star out of high school? What O’Brien was given was an already decent athlete and was finally able to get him to a point that he could break records and capture the minds of the Wolfpack nation in 2011. So why the drop off in 2012? Amerson’s stats imply that he hasn’t given up and he hasn’t stopped doing his job. If Amerson hasn’t stopped doing his job but still find himself covering the wrong man, running the wrong route, or reading the defense wrong, then you have to point at O’Brien’s legendary (infamous?) player development skills. It would be one thing if Amerson was having problems off the field (like Russell Wilson’s losing his father) or if he stopped producing results altogether, but he hasn’t. He’s still an amazing athlete who is catching shit for making mistakes that, to be completely honest, I’m not so sure are a result of his own doing as much as it’s a result of O’Brien & Co not maintaining his player development in the off-season.
At the end of the day, someone has to finally admit that O’Brien is the reason for NC State’s woes, be it recruiting, player development, or managing the performance of his staff. I’ve seen a few writers mention that we can’t get rid of O’Brien for a myriad of reasons (contracts, public image, availability of replacement coaches, et al). If the Wolfpack Nation is going to continue to make excuses for not getting rid of the source for NC State’s football problems, then that’s their choice. Along with that choice needs to be an acknowledgement that when an athlete that has talent is screwing up a game and O’Brien voluntarily chooses to continue playing him, we shouldn’t be blaming the player. What did you expect Amerson to do? Take himself out of the game?