The buzz word for players, coaches and recruits about the news was surprise. Interim coach Dana Bible had no idea a move was coming, said Tom O'Brien never hinted that this was a possibility and noted that the team was still focused on the win over Boston College.
"I know I didn't see it coming," the coach said. "As a coach, you're focused on the moment. What was still on my mind was the Boston College game and what came of that game — mistakes that we made and corrections we were going to make.
"This is 14 seasons with Coach O'Brien. It's difficult, there's no question about it."
"Honestly, I was sad," junior cornerback Dontae Johnson said. "Shocked at the same time, especially after winning the game against BC, where he's from and everything. It was honestly just unreal to believe that he had to go out like this. I feel bad about it and I'm pretty sure that's what the feeling was around the whole team, the campus and the University."
"A lot of guys were shocked just like me, especially after winning his last game at Carter-Finley. Honestly, that's a blessing, to send him out on a winning note."
Bible and the players noted that however surprised and upset they were about the news, the focus must move on to preparations for the bowl game, and winning in their final chance.
"The first thing I'm going to tell the players is we're going to prepare ourselves and get ourselves ready to be successful and win the bowl game," the coach said. "We have a blueprint, we know how to do it, they've been trained and they know the way from the last six years. We'll follow that plan, we'll get ourselves ready for that game and do our best to be successful.
"I think we'll be able to do a good job, lead them in the right direction and finish this out the right way. I know that's the way Coach would want it, I know that's the way they're going to approach this, we just need to make sure that we see it through."
Fifth-year senior safety Earl Wolff noted that the team must lean on each other during this tough time, and he thinks they will find strength in numbers.
"We're just trying to keep everyone together, to keep that bond that we still have as a team and try not to let this affect us," he said. "We still have one game left, and we're going to try to win it for Coach O'Brien."
"It was a crazy 24 hours of emotions, coming off a victory on Senior Day, my last game here, and to wake up to something like that, wasn't pleasant," senior center Camden Wentz noted. "It's tough. [We must] finish out what Coach O'Brien started for us. Even though he's not going to be with us on the field, we're his players and he coached us a certain way. That's how we're going to prepare and that's how we're going to play — as if he were on the sidelines with us."
Foundation left behind
There is no denying that O'Brien leaves behind a legacy at NC State after six years and he has left the program with a better foundation than he found it with. The seniors who had spent their entire careers with the coach and his staff were especially fond of him, but there was a feeling of admiration throughout the team.
"I believe Coach O'Brien is an outstanding football coach and he does it the right way — with integrity and keeping his players accountable," Wentz noted. "He preaches the right things to us, and he helped mold us into young men. We came into this place, and we were probably boys; he really molded us into outstanding citizens for the community after we're done here.
"Coach O'Brien is my head coach and will always be my head coach. There are countless things I've learned from Coach O'Brien. He really taught us to be more than just football players, on and off the field — the way to prepare, the way to work hard, the way to give back to our community. It stinks that he doesn't get to finish this journey with us, especially for the senior class."
Bible talked to his longtime mentor after hearing the news, and said he isn't sure what the future holds for O'Brien, but that he is proud of what has been accomplished in their time together.
"He's upbeat, he's feisty," Bible said. "What I can share with you is he's very proud of the programs that we've build, both here and at Boston College. He's very proud of the way he and we have gone about the business of football. He'll let his record stand as it may.
"He's a great coach, outstanding man and close friend."
The future ahead
There are obviously a lot of unknowns about the future at this point, but the players are banding together to get through it. They understand the move and why it was made, even if they don't necessarily agree with it.
"I love Coach O'Brien," Wolff noted. "He's done a lot for this program and I feel like the athletic department is going to go in the right direction with this. Before, I was like, 'why would they fire him before the bowl game?' but I feel like Debbie Yow explained it enough to where you could really understand exactly why she did it now and not after the bowl game.
"Everything will be fine. It's just a little hard right now because it's the day of."
"It's a change and change is always good," Johnson added. "We just have to prepare for the future. What O'Brien did here in his six years was tremendous and great. Right now, we just have to prepare for whoever the new head coach is going to be and go from there."
Although Wentz will not be around for the era of a new coach, as a senior leader, he is trying to impart some wisdom among his younger teammates as they make this difficult transition.
"The guys need to remember what they've learned," he explained. "However long they've been here, they've picked up some things that are going to benefit them in the future. They need to really continue on with their progression, but also to be open-minded to whoever comes in — don't hold a grudge against anybody, they really have no control over the situation that has happened. To really continue to work hard and, whoever is here, give them their best to win some games for the University."
Verbal commits react
The Wolfpacker has done its best to get reaction and updates from all 20 verbal pledges.
Several athletes took to their personal twitter accounts to solidify their status with NC State, which will honor all of the scholarship offers to current commits, according to Yow.
Offensive lineman Cole Blankenship confirmed that he would still enroll at NC State in January, while fellow big man Tylar Reagan also reaffirmed his commitment to the school. We have also talked with 11 other pledges, and updated their status with quotes on our premium message board, including offensive tackle Patrick Roane.
"I didn't go there for the coaches," he said. "Some part of it was for the coaches because of Coach Bridge and what he was doing as an offensive line coach, but I went there because they had my major, the campus is beautiful and the football program as a whole is great. I went there for the school, not for the people. The school is still going to be there with Coach O'Brien leaving — people aren't permanent, the school is.
"NC State can't go anywhere but up and just build on what we already have there. I'm really excited to play there, no matter who is coaching."