The drama between Russell Wilson and former NC State head coach Tom O’Brien is pretty much ancient history at this point, but that did not prevent Wilson from dropping the suggestion he was forced out at NC State.
“You know, he was my head coach, you know, NC State,” Wilson said when asked about his time at NC State for an upcoming episode of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. “Kinda kicked me out of NC State a little bit.”
Wilson has typically taken the high road any time this topic of conversation has come up over the years, which is why it is a bit surprising to hear him explain the situation with these words.
We pretty much know the story at this point with the parting between O’Brien and Wilson. Wilson wanted to continue being able to play minor league baseball in the Colorado Rockies’ farm system, but O’Brien wanted the quarterback to stay committed to football. As we know by now, Wilson moved on to Wisconsin, led the Badgers to a Big Ten championship and later went on to lead the Seattle Seahawks to one Super Bowl victory and return trip coming up just short of a second. Football has worked out well for Wilson, but the desire to continue playing baseball has not evaporated.
The significance of this quote and its relevance can be better explained now by our pals over at Pro Football Talk, as Wilson is reaching a point where he is ready to get a new contract in Seattle. The last thing Seattle probably wants to do is pull the same power play O’Brien did with Wilson in college.
Wilson will be featured in an interview with next week’s airing of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh will be featured as well.
Former North Carolina State head coach Tom O’Brien says if he could do it all over again he may have started quarterback Russell Wilson as a true freshman. Doing so may have made everyone happy in Raleigh.
“We probably would have played him that first year,” O’Brien said during a conference call this week, according to Joe Giglio of The Charlotte Observer. Not starting Wilson, or at least giving serious playing time, in 2007 would have ended up avoiding what would turn out to be a bit of a complicated divorce between Wilson and NC State.
Wilson graduated from NC State in 2011 and wanted to continue pursuing a potential career in baseball. He had been drafted by the Colorado Rockies but O’Brien wanted him to focus on football. That hard stance from the football coach ended up with Wilson moving on from NC State. Eventually Wilson ended up at Wisconsin, having put the baseball plans behind him after a short stint in the Rockies minor league system. Wilson played his final year of football eligibility at Wisconsin after transferring from North Carolina State in 2011. He led the Badgers to a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth, where Wisconsin lost a back-and-forth offensive battle to Oregon.
“I’m not clairvoyant, I can’t tell the future,” said O’Brien. “You make decisions based on the facts at that time. We had to make a decision that was best for N.C. State.”
NC State moved forward with Mike Glennon taking over as the starting quarterback. Glennon went on to have a 3,000-yard season with 31 touchdowns but the comparisons to Wilson continued. Wilson had comparable passing yardage to Glennon, two more touchdowns but eight fewer interceptions and provided the Badgers with more mobility. It was unfair to Glennon to compare and contrast with Wilson, but it was one O’Brien could not duck from despite going 8-5 with a bowl victory. NC State had gone -4 the year before with Wilson.
Daniel Evans was NC State’s starting quarterback in 2007. The junior passed for 2,030 yards with 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Harrison Beck backed Evans up but struggled when on the field as well. Beck ended the season with two touchdowns and nine interceptions. Going back in time and just assuming Wilson would have done better as a true freshman would be unfair, but given Wilson’s track record that would later be established, it may not be an unfair expectation.