Nowadays, Tom O’Brien is the associate head coach for offense at the University of Virginia. But his other title — The Guy Who Ran Russell Wilson Off at N.C. State — seems to never go away.
At 6:25 p.m., tonight, Wilson will quarterback the Seattle Seahawks against the Denver Broncos as they try to capture their first Super Bowl title in team history.
Don’t expect O’Brien to watch with regret.
“I’m not clairvoyant, so I can’t tell the future,” O’Brien said during a recent teleconference with reporters. “So the thing that you do, and you always do, is you make decisions on the facts that you have at that time.
“Certainly, with the facts and the situation the way it was, we parted on great terms. Russell went his way; we had to make a decision on what’s best for N.C. State. We made that decision and went forward.”
O’Brien was the Wolfpack head coach in April 2011 when he sat down with Wilson to discuss his immediate future in Raleigh, N.C. Wilson was coming off a redshirt junior season in which he threw for an ACC-best 3,563 yards and 28 touchdowns, leading N.C. State to a 9-4 record and 23-7 win over West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl.
But the Richmond native, a fourth round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, had spent the previous summer playing second base in the Colorado Rockies’ minor league system and was to miss the upcoming set of spring practices for spring training.
Meanwhile, O’Brien had a former four-star recruit on his roster by the name of Mike Glennon, a rising redshirt junior.
O’Brien opted for Glennon, allowing Wilson, a N.C. State graduate by that time, to transfer and play immediately. To the coach, the move was best for the program as it attempted to answer unsure roster questions.
“Michael would have graduated that year ,” O’Brien said. “He could move on if he wanted to at the end of that year. So that was just all part of the decision-making process. It had to happen. You could have one quarterback, you could have two quarterbacks or you could have no quarterbacks.”
As the narrative goes, Wilson went to Wisconsin, where he tossed 33 touchdowns to four interceptions and guided the Badgers to a Rose Bowl appearance. He was then drafted by Seattle in the third round, went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie and became an MVP candidate for the NFC champs this season.
But O’Brien takes pride in the fact that his April 2011 decision worked out for both parties.
In his two years as a Wolfpack starter, Glennon threw for over 7,000 with 62 touchdowns. N.C. State went 15-11 from 2011-12, appearing in two bowls.
Glennon was a third round selection of the Tampa Buccaneers in the 2013 NFL Draft. On Nov. 3, Wilson’s Seahawks edged Glennon’s Bucs, 27-24, in overtime. Both former O’Brien pupils started the game.
“It was a great opportunity for Russell,” said O’Brien, who was fired from N.C. State after the 2012 season. “It was a great opportunity for Michael. We were lucky to have those kids for the four years, five years we had them playing at State. People ought to be happy about that.”
Wilson doesn’t hold a grudge.
"I obviously wanted to go back there,” Wilson told The Herald (Everett, Wash.) in November. “When I was told I couldn't, it was one of those things that I just had to move on and find a way to make something work. ... It was a blessing in disguise for me. It was one of those things that I was fortunate enough to transfer to the University of Wisconsin and play right away. It was a blessing for me because I didn't want to give up football yet."
O’Brien described his current relationship with Wilson as “fine.”
“I have no problems,” O’Brien said. “It’s always been good. I think some people think it hasn’t, but certainly I think it’s been fine. I texted him and asked him for tickets when he came to the Redskins. I was just kidding, but stuff like that ... we’re good.”
The two will be forever linked by what happened three years ago, but O’Brien would like to think of when the bond began six years ago, when Wilson was coming out of The Collegiate School and when O’Brien was starting at N.C. State.
“You knew you had a special young man,” O’Brien said. “Russell, someday, might be president if he wants to be.”
He’ll start by playing in the Super Bowl.