Bill O’Brien meets with the Penn State media later this morning for the first time since the end of the 2012 season, and more relevant, the circus of NFL rumors in the last week. Sunday morning brought a report from ESPN’s Chris Mortensen that O’Brien was on many team’s short lists. There was the mid-week talk that he was all but gone. Then, in the span of about 3 hours on O’Brien went from interviewing with the Browns, to staying in Happy Valley. The reactions from around the Penn State nation have been mixed, at best. After having stability unparalleled in major college sports with Joe Paterno, the PSU fan base was thrown right into the middle of the modern coaching carousel in less than a year.
Look, I think we all wish things were different in the coaching profession. The loyalty of guys like Paterno was admirable, but that does simply not exist anymore. When O’Brien took over the Penn State football program a year ago yesterday, it was the start of a new era in more ways than one. I’m not sure anyone expected this type of circus less than a year in, but you are kidding yourself if you didn’t think it would ever happen. Bill O’Brien is an NFL guy, and success at the collegiate level was bound to attract the attention of the league. It happened with Charlie Weis in Notre Dame, it’s happened practically annually with Nick Saban, and it’s happening now with Brian Kelly. Heck, Chip Kelly TOOK the Tampa Bay job last year before changing his mind. A well known coach in these parts had done the same thing when he was one of the hot young names as well. I think you’ll recognize his name too. It was Joe Paterno with the Patriots.
I am not saying that Bill O’Brien is going to be at Penn State for the next 30 years, but I just hope PSU fans are able to keep some perspective here. I’ve seen far too many people saying they have lost all faith in the man, that if he had real integrity, this would not have happened. In 1982, coming off the program’s first national title, Joe Paterno had leverage, he knew it, and he was going to take advantage of it. He used that bully pulpit to transform Penn State University into a world class institution. On a much smaller scale, Bill O’Brien knew he had that type of opening, and he used it to make systemic changes at Penn State, many of which I expect to start trickling out following his press conference. Yes, he did get some more cash out of the deal, and good for him. Guess what though, every coach with leverage does that. PSU was immune to that for years.
Numerous sources have indicated that O’Brien was never planning on leaving, but recognized this window of opportunity, and wanted to take advantage of it. Yes, he interviewed with the Browns and the Eagles. I would be surprised if a lot of other college coaches don’t do the same thing every year, under the radar. To pretend this is going to hurt recruiting seems short sighted at best. Nick Saban is rumored for every job every year. Les Miles parlays coaching rumors into bigger contracts on an annual basis. Chip Kelly TOOK a job last year, and has put together a highly regarded recruiting class, even in the midst of an NCAA investigation, and very open interviews for NFL jobs right now.
I think everyone would prefer a return to the days where loyalty meant something more in the coaching profession, not just a means to extract more money. Penn State has known nothing by that since 1973, when Paterno accepted, but then turned down the Patriots job. In many ways, we have been insulated from the changing world in college football. That’s not to say it’s right what is happening, but it’s not going back to the way it was. If Penn State wants to remain an elite college program, and make no mistake, even in the midst of the last 14 months, PSU is one of those elite programs, it needs to start playing the game, and it did last week.
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