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O'Brien might go to NFL at some point, but it could be devastating to PSU if he leaves after this season

November 14, 2012
By Cory Giger ( , The Altoona Mirror

UNIVERSITY PARK -- As long as he remains at Penn State, it's almost certain that Bill O'Brien's name will pop up occasionally for NFL jobs.

His name surfaced Sunday when reporter Jason La Canfora cited sources saying he wouldn't be surprised if the Jacksonville Jaguars and other NFL teams showed interest in O'Brien after this season.

O'Brien wanted nothing to do with the NFL topic Tuesday and said he hasn't given any thought to how he might handle being wooed after the season.

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"No, I'm focused on Indiana," he said. "We are at 6-4, trying to get to a seventh win and just really want to do a great job coaching this team, this week, for the Indiana game."

Whether O'Brien eventually decides to leave for the NFL at some point remains to be seen, but one thing should be clear: If he leaves after this season, it could be devastating to the Nittany Lion football program.

The NCAA sanctions allow Penn State players to transfer and be eligible to play immediately at another school all the way up until August. There's already been speculation that a few players might transfer after the season, but if O'Brien were to leave in, say, January, the uncertainty surrounding the program could lead to a mass exodus of players.

Many of O'Brien's assistants also likely would depart, and it would be a tough sell to hire another quality head coach and staff given that there are still three years of bowl ineligibility and five years of severe scholarship limitations remaining.

The players on this team already have endured a difficult year because of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and NCAA sanctions, and if O'Brien were to leave, many of them could decide to go elsewhere rather than deal with another major coaching overhaul.

If more than 15 scholarship players were to depart, and given that PSU can only offer 15 scholarships for the next four years, that would leave the Lions with fewer than 60 scholarship players next year. The recruiting implications also could be significant since O'Brien and his staff have been able to maintain good relationships with several top recruits for next year.

Fact Box

Giger's take

For the record, I do not believe O'Brien will be going anywhere after this season. Now, after another year or two, that could be a different story.

No one can say for sure what potential NFL job offers might be out there. And no one knows for sure exactly what's in O'Brien's mind and heart when it comes to a potential next step in his career.

The coach has said and done everything with such class and integrity since arriving at PSU that it seems unthinkable he would bolt after only one season and leave the program high and dry.

I don't think he will.

Still, the NFL offers will come, and O'Brien will have to decide if he would rather take on that challenge than the continual one he will face for a number of years at PSU because of the sanctions.

O'Brien can prevent all that major turmoil simply by staying one more year, through the August transfer deadline. But his decision could depend on which NFL teams come after him, how much money he's offered and what's important to his family.

His original five-year contract was extended to nine years because of the NCAA sanctions, and he makes $2.3 million per year, plus annual raises. If he resigns at some point, he would have to buy out the remaining years on the initial five-year contract (meaning if he leaves after this year, he'd have to buy out four years, or $9.2 million).

O'Brien was asked if he needs to make a definitive statement about his future given that the season is winding down and there are recruiting implications.

"We're 6-4, I'm flattered that you would ask me that question," he said. "I'm worried about Indiana and our Tuesday practice and looking forward to doing the best we can for this team as a coaching staff for this Indiana game."

Some of the Lions' best young players, such as the so-called "Supa Six," already have indicated repeatedly that they will be staying at Penn State. But that's under the impression that O'Brien would be there also, and their plans could change if he were to leave.

The coach said he doesn't worry about things such as players transferring.

"Do you know what I worry about?" he said. "I worry about my son, I worry about my kids, I worry about my family. Those are things to worry about. I don't worry about things that are out of our control."

His potential NFL future doesn't fall into that category since, ultimately, it would be his decision when or if to leave Penn State.

SUBHD: Carter finished

Redshirt freshman tight end Kyle Carter is done for the season, O'Brien confirmed, after suffering a hand injury at Nebraska. The coach did not give any specifics about the injury.

"I'm not going to get into the details of that yet, out of respect for him and his mom, so I don't want to get into that," O'Brien said. "He had an excellent season for us."

Carter did do that, catching 36 passes, which is just five shy of the school's season record of 41 set by Andrew Quarless in 2009. He's second on the team in catches and receiving yards (453) and grabbed two touchdowns.

"Here is a guy, a young player, that came in here trying to learn a position that is a very difficult position to learn," O'Brien said. "This is, offensively, it's the second hardest position to learn behind quarterback. You're involved in the running game, in protections, you're involved in route running, you have to recognize coverage.

"There are so many different things that you have to know, and I thought as a young player he came in here and did a really nice job. He's got excellent hands, he's a tough kid, he's a great kid, just a really good guy to have on the team."

SUBHD: Willis day-to-day

Safety Malcolm Willis is day-to-day, the coach said, after suffering a knee injury Saturday. He will be evaluated throughout the week to determine his status against Indiana.

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