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Why Russell Wilson's NC State exit is controversial again, 5 years later

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You know how Russell Wilson says he's from "a whole Pack of Badgers" during Sunday Night Football intros, when everybody else just says the name of a college? He has a complicated lineage, and he just made it more complicated.

The most widely accepted story of how the NC State Wolfpack star became a Wisconsin Badgers star has always been that he fell out with State head coach Tom O'Brien while refusing to give up his baseball career.

"It has become apparent that the time has come for the program to move on without me," Wilson said while leaving the Wolfpack. At the time, O'Brien put it this way:

Russell and I have had very open conversations about his responsibilities respective to baseball and football. While I am certainly respectful of Russell's dedication to baseball these last several years, within those discussions I also communicated to him the importance of his time commitment to NC State football.

Five years later, Wilson is one of football's biggest stars and a Super Bowl champion. O'Brien, fired after two more mediocre seasons, retired after a position gig at Virginia.

Wilson has always tried to balance his legacy, returning to Raleigh to run a quarterbacks camp and to be honored at State's 2014 spring game. Tensions remained on alert -- because this is college football, both fanbases are especially passionate, and the battle to claim another star QB has all sorts of brand implications that extend into recruiting -- but everyone had somewhat moved on.

Now, his commencement speech at Wisconsin has opened the wound on the NC State side. It appears Wilson is using his NC State exit as his own "Michael Jordan didn't make varsity" origin story, expanding it into O'Brien harshly benching a three-year starter, who'd been All-ACC as a freshman and who'd just led the Wolfpack's best season in almost a decade, for the unproven Mike Glennon.

A dispute over Wilson's minor league career is now O'Brien allegedly slamming the QB's football prospects:

I called my football coach at NC State and said, ‘Hey coach, I'd like to come back for my senior year.' He told me I wasn't coming back. He said, ‘Listen son, you're never going to play in the National Football League. You're too small. There's no chance. You've got no shot. Give it up.' Of course, I'm on this side of the phone saying, ‘So you're telling me I'm not coming back to NC State? I won't see the field?' He said, ‘No son, you won't see the field.' Now this was everything I had worked for. And now it was completely gone. If I wanted to follow my dream I had to leave NC State.

(The weirdest part of this might be Wilson adopting what he calls a "country accent" for O'Brien while speaking to Wisconsinites. The coach is from Ohio and sounds like it.)

Whether that happened is impossible to prove. Wilson's added details as time's gone on, while O'Brien's never liked to talk publicly much about anything.

The baseball part casts doubt on Wilson's story, because a few things he said at UW about his baseball career at NC State are verifiably false. And now we have a former teammate who says he never liked O'Brien but thinks Wilson's exit was good, so this is collapsing into some real spectacle.

Final words, gentlemen?


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