With the news that Bill O’Brien is now headed back to the NFL to coach the Houston Texans, there will be plenty of opinions from Penn State fans. While it’s perfectly normal that many will likely be angry at the former head coach for leaving just two years into his five-year deal, O’Brien needs to be appreciated for what he did in his short time at the school.
O’Brien came into a very difficult situation when he took the head coaching job at Penn State. He was replacing a legendary coach and entering a firestorm of controversy that would only heat up after just months on the job. In July, during O’Brien’s first offseason with the team, the NCAA handed down damaging sanctions as a result of the Jerry Sandusky situation.
The Nittany Lions were placed under a four-year bowl ban, forced to pay a huge fine and lost valuable scholarships for future recruiting classes. O’Brien was surprised by the severity of the sanctions he and his team were forced to face, but still worked hard and did an admirable job.
After watching several key starters, including running back Silas Redd and wide receiver Justin Brown transfer to other schools, O’Brien had to quickly find new replacements just weeks before the start of the regular season. The 2012 season didn’t start well, with the Nittany Lions losing the first two games. However, the team banded together under O’Brien and finished with eight wins.
O’Brien followed that successful season with success on the recruiting trail. He brought in top quarterback recruit Christian Hackenberg and top tight end recruit Adam Breneman, as well as other solid recrutis who would add much-needed depth to the roster.
The 2013 season wasn’t as good as the one before, but despite inconsistent play, the Nittany Lions still managed seven wins. And, like the previous season, O’Brien had again begun to gather a solid recruiting class. Up until his decision to leave, the 2014 class was ranked as a top-20 class.
It still remains to be seen if some of the top recruits will stay at the school or choose to go elsewhere.
Sure, O’Brien preached commitment to his players and the fans and then backed out of his. However, the bottom line is that he did far more for the school and football program than anyone could have really expected or hoped for.
While it’s ok to be upset and disappointed, just remember that Penn State is in a much better position now than it was two years ago, and that’s due in large part to the work that O’Brien did during his tenure at the school.
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