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Report: O’Brien's leave 'imminent'

ESPN insider says deal could be made within 24 hours

December 31, 2013
By Cory Giger ( , The Altoona Mirror

College football coaches leave schools all the time for other jobs, but virtually never at Penn State, which hasn't dealt with that scenario for generations.

That could change today with reports that Bill O'Brien is ready to leave the Nittany Lions to become head coach of the NFL's Houston Texans.

O'Brien has been linked to the Texans job for more than a week. Monday afternoon, ESPN NFL insider Chris Mortensen called a deal between O'Brien and the Texans "imminent" and said it could be finalized within 24 hours.

O'Brien has been Penn State's coach for two seasons, taking over in the immediate aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and having to deal with harsh sanctions levied by the NCAA. Many who know him best believe he has always wanted to become an NFL head coach, and now it appears he's ready to achieve that goal.

O'Brien, his agent, Penn State officials and Texans officials haven't confirmed any information regarding the widespread speculation. All of the news about his future has come from various NFL reporters citing anonymous sources, and no one close to him has addressed the matter.

"I don't know what he's going to do," O'Brien's college coach at Brown, Mickey Kwiatkowski, told the Mirror on Monday evening.

Kwiatkowski is certain of one thing.

"The thing that I know for a fact is how much he loves Penn State," he said. "He realizes what a great place Penn State is."

That component, Kwiatkowski added, makes O'Brien's decision very difficult.

"I know if he goes it would be just really, really tough for him," Kwiatkowski said.

This is the second straight year O'Brien's name has surfaced for potential NFL jobs.

He decided to return to Penn State for a second season, but now he has a much more favorable buyout of about $6.7 million if a pro team wants to free him from the remaining 3 years on his PSU contract. The buyout was more than $19 million last year.

If O'Brien leaves, Penn State would have to undergo a coaching search for the second time in two years. Prior to that, there had not been a search for a football coach since 1950, when Rip Engle took over and later handed the job over to assistant Joe Paterno in 1966.

Paterno was fired in the early stages of the Sandusky scandal in November 2011.

"There were a lot of people who weren't going to touch that job," Kwiatkowski said of the PSU situation when O'Brien was hired.

Things are much different now, however, in large part because O'Brien helped the program weather a tough storm the past two seasons.

"I know when he got that job, a lot of people said, 'My god, who is Billy O'Brien?'" Kwiatkowski said. "I vowed that after a year, people were going to say, 'My god, we were lucky to get a guy like Billy O'Brien."

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