When Russell Wilson recently termed the turmoil that defined the end of his college career as “a whole Pack of Badgers,” the Seahawks’ quarterback was referring to three years for the N.C. State Wolfpack and a year with the Badgers of Wisconsin.
While he was outstanding in all four campaigns, only his senior season at Wisconsin garnered national acclaim–as the Badgers had a great run, and Wilson was mentioned prominently in the Heisman race at times. With his quick rise as a rookie in the NFL, his years with the Pack are almost now an afterthought. N.C. State and their coach at the time, Tom O’Brien, are usually only mentioned in derision where Wilson is concerned. After all, O’Brien issued an ultimatum, and when Wilson refused, he was not invited back to the NCSU team for his senior season.
O’Brien, the unreasonable bad guy in popular lore, was fired two seasons later. He is now an assistant of a failing Virginia team, and he will likely never again be the head man at a major college. Wilson, on the other hand, is set to start in the Super Bowl, perhaps one of many, and is the toast of trendy Seattle. Talk about irony.
So what was that unreasonable ultimatum? Simply that Wilson commit 100% to football in lieu of baseball. He refused, played 61 games in the minors, and O’Brien was true to his word. To put this in perspective, the Pack also carried a young quarterback named Mike Glennon, and the coach figured keeping the highly touted Glennon on the bench for a part time football player might be problematic.
As it turns out, Glennon played a couple good years for O’Brien–albeit not as good as Wilson’s one year with Wisconsin–and is now a promising young prospect for the Tampa Bay Bucs. Oh, and after Wilson refused to buckle to O’Brien’s ultimatum, he went ahead and took that advice anyway; he never played baseball while at Wisconsin, and it’s a safe bet that his diamond days are now long past.
“We were lucky to have those kids (Wilson and Glennon) for five years,” O’Brien recently stated, defending a decision that history has also validated. “I’m not clairvoyant. We had to make a decision that was best for N.C. State.” The paradox is that what was done in the best interest of N.C. State has indeed turned out best for Wilson, as well. The older dude who was proven correct was fired, while the youngster who rebelled–before capitulating to the wisdom of age–is now coming up all aces.
This is what can happen in a world driven by social media and 24/7 coverage. Wilson is young, charismatic, and in the perfect situation for his temperament and talents. O’Brien is not young, charismatically challenged, and is at the lowest point of his career in decades. Life is not fair, but O’Brien is not fazed, insisting that “everything worked out for Wilson, Glennon and N.C. State” and that his relationship with Wilson has “always been good.” He even texted his former QB after their NFC Title Game win.
Wilson hasn’t publicly agreed or disagreed with O’Brien’s assessment of their relationship, but perhaps he should, as it turns out the old dude was right all along.