We need to come to a realization. Bill O’Brien is an NFL guy in the college game.
The success he had this year while leading Penn State through unparalleled sanctions has made him a hot commodity for many head coaching vacancies. While most of the talk right now centers around a possible move to the NFL, we’ve also heard rumors about him and other college positions, specifically Tennessee.
Before I get into it, first let me set the record straight on my opinion regarding O’Brien and other coaching avenues:
Do I think it’s possible he would leave Penn State early and head to a top tier, more attractive NCAA program? Well, sure. But then I’d also expect pigs to fly, hell to freeze over and Lane Kiffin to be used as an example in a coaching ethics textbook.
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Do I think it’s possible he would leave Penn State abruptly and head to the NFL? Yes.
While he’s spent more time in the college game, he’s found more success in the NFL. He was an integral part in leading one of the most successful NFL offenses the past several years while with New England, and has always said he enjoyed his time in the NFL.
With a handful of NFL teams firing their head coaches on Monday, O’Brien’s name has popped up as a possibility to fill some of those positions. His offensive creativity, no-nonsense attitude and the leadership abilities he’s shown while guiding Penn State this past year are a big reason why O’Brien is so desired right now.
There are some Penn State fans that are perturbed by the interest that NFL teams have shown in him. People want O’Brien to stay and help heal the program, and rightfully so. I know I do, regardless of what I’m about to say next.
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Teams like the Philadelphia Eagles are getting flack from some fans who believe the franchise is trying to “poach” their coach, a fan base that contains a large amount of Penn State fans. But the reality in this is harsh – the Eagles or any NFL franchise looking at O’Brien couldn’t care less what your feelings are, nor should they. They don’t care about Penn State’s progression through the sanctions when stacked up against what’s best for their organization. It’s business in a dog-eat-dog world.
So this raises the question: When will it be considered “OK” for Bill O’Brien to leave for the NFL?
In a perfect world, Bill O’Brien would stay at Penn State for 15-20 years, win a couple national titles and retire in his late 50s. At that point the job will be as desirable as any in the country and Penn State would have the pick of the litter in determining their next coach. But we don’t live in a perfect world. In fact, we live in a world where the possibility that Bill O’Brien tenure could last much shorter than the NCAA’s 4-year postseason ban has become very real.
If O’Brien were to leave this offseason, it would be more crippling than the NCAA sanctions and would put the program in very rough shape. The 2013 recruiting class would almost certainly fall apart, starting with Christian Hackenberg, who was said it himself that if O’Brien were to leave, he would probably start looking at other schools. Current players would probably transfer at an alarming rate because they are still able to without penalty until the start of fall practice. And with a postseason ban still looming, the job has become less attractive than it was this time last year.
I’ve been under the impression recently that O’Brien will stay at Penn State two or three years after the postseason ban and eventually jump to the NFL, assuming that he’s still a desired candidate. But the more I think about it, a minimum of three seasons at Penn State for O’Brien could please all parties involved.
If O’Brien were to bolt for the NFL after the 2014 season, he would leave with only one year left on the postseason ban. At this point, players would not be able to transfer without penalty. Assuming that O’Brien had established fairly solid recruiting classes and had on-field success similar to what he had this year, the job might be attractive to a hotshot assistant or a head coach at a lower level school.
There’s also the stigma that is the “Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal”. When O’Brien took the job, that was still a major news story. In 2014, Sandusky will have been in prison for a number of years and the scandal will hopefully be absent from the headlines. The job will probably be close to being as attractive as it was the last few years, when the conversation was focused solely on Joe Paterno’s eventual successor. This of course all relies on how successful O’Brien is this year and next, but if the 2012 season and 2013 recruiting class so far are any indication, he’s off to a very good start.
So if the job is that attractive in 2014, could Penn State draw a candidate with a good résumé? Absolutely, and why not? By this time, the coach would only have to deal with a postseason ban and scholarship reductions for one season. The only transfers he would encounter would be the ones related to a coaching turnover, which is usual. His only worry with the recruiting class he’d inherit would be making them comfortable with the staff and its visions, and hoping they decide to stay with the Nittany Lions. And with the first recruiting class he’d actually get to assemble himself, he wouldn’t have to worry about a postseason ban. It would almost be like a fresh start.
The further Penn State progresses in their sanctions while keeping things together like they have this past year, the easier it will be to return to Big Ten prominence. Right now, Bill O’Brien is the glue that is keeping everything together. As each year passes, Penn State football will come closer to normalcy. The collective hope is that Bill O’Brien will still be here when that happens, but the threat of him leaving for the NFL in the next two years, or even two days, is very real.
If that’s the case, Dave Joyner better hope he still has Tom Bradley’s phone number.
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