BOSTON (AP) – Boston College is looking for its seventh bowl victory in seven years while starting a nationwide search for a coach to build on the success of the departed Tom O’Brien.

O’Brien was named Friday as head coach of North Carolina State, one of BC’s Atlantic Coast Conference rivals. Defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani will serve as interim head coach the Meineke Bowl against Navy on Dec. 30 in Charlotte, N.C.

“I want to thank Tom for 10 really, really great years at Boston College,” BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo said Friday night, about an hour after North Carolina State announced O’Brien’s appointment.

“He left this program in a lot better shape than the program he found.”

BC was a combined 9-15 in the two seasons before O’Brien took over and went 4-7 in each of his first two years. A stretch of eight consecutive bowl games began in his third season. This year’s bowl game follows a 9-3 season.

DeFilippo said he and O’Brien reached a “mutual” decision for O’Brien to skip the Meineke Bowl “in the best interests of everybody.”

He said he expects all the assistants to coach in that game.

Spaziani, who has been on O’Brien’s staff since 1999, said, “We’ve had a system that’s been in place for quite a while” that will still be there against Navy.

Junior quarterback Matt Ryan was surprised at first by O’Brien’s departure and said O’Brien and the players had an “emotional meeting” Friday.

“I have a lot of respect for Tom O’Brien. He’s a great man and a great coach,” Ryan said. “That’s the nature of college football and the nature of the business – change is a constant.”

Freshman linebacker Mark Herzlich said, “There’s not a guy on the team that is happy that coach O’Brien is leaving,” but players are happy for him in moving to a job he prefers.

DeFilippo said it wasn’t “a sad day. We’re happy for coach O’Brien. He found something that was better for himself and his family. We’re thankful for Tom and what he did for us, but we’re excited to take it to the next level.”

He said O’Brien’s total compensation was $1 million a year. N.C. State said he’ll get $1.1 million annually as the replacement for Chuck Amato, fired Nov. 26 after a 3-9 season.

If DeFilippo seeks a coach with New England connections, he could interview Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple, the former head coach at Massachusetts and Brown, or Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall, an assistant at BC from 1991 to 1993.

The Eagles lost 17-15 this year to North Carolina State on a touchdown with 8.5 seconds left. They had a chance to go to the ACC championship game against Georgia Tech if they beat Miami on Nov. 23 and Wake Forest lost to Maryland two days later. But Miami won 17-14. Wake Forest also won, then beat Georgia Tech in the title game.

At BC, O’Brien was 75-45 but didn’t go to any major bowls. He spent the previous 15 years as an assistant at Virginia, the last six as offensive coordinator.

DeFilippo was willing to let him leave for a school BC must play every season.

Asked if he tried to retain O’Brien after North Carolina State showed interest, DeFilippo said, “I learned of it last weekend. Tom and I talked at length, but those talks will remain between him and I.”

He also defended North Carolina State athletic director Lee Fowler.

Fowler “has been criticized for having somebody from the same league,” DeFilippo said. “North Carolina State handled everything in the right manner.”

The only other time an ACC coach left for another team in the same conference was in 1956 when Jim Tatum went from Maryland to North Carolina.

“It’s flattering to the players when coaches are being offered jobs at other schools,” Ryan said. “We’re going to get through this. We’re going to be just fine. We’ve got to get ready for Navy.”

AP-ES-12-08-06 2125EST

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