Rudel: PSU’s O’Brien does the right thing
The irony is amazing.
Most of the Penn State football community spent the last 10-plus years eager for Joe Paterno, beloved as he was, to retire.
And that same Nittany Nation spent the past season – especially the last week – petrified that Paterno’s successor, Bill O’Brien, would bolt to the NFL after just one year in State College.
O’Brien milked the NFL’s interest into a significant raise for himself (a reported $1.3 million bump to around $3.5 million per year) and his staff along with some other yet-to-be-specified “structural/personnel” issues.
There’s no question the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns, the two teams that interviewed O’Brien, were wowed – just as O’Brien has won over every group he’s encountered.
That includes current players, former players, media, alumni, fans and neutral observers.
His ability to lead Penn State through the post-Sandusky carnage and NCAA sanctions has been as impressive as the creative offense he’s brought to the field.
Because he didn’t know the sanctions would be so severe, including allowing players to leave through this August without penalty, O’Brien deserves the raise he’s getting.
Whether he was actually offered by the Eagles or Browns isn’t important because he likely would have been, and there are reasons bolting would have made sense to anyone not wearing blue-and-white glasses. Consider:
n Even if he had not taken the Penn State job (he was introduced a year ago today at the Nittany Lion Inn), O’Brien would still be at the top of the hot-assistants list in position to become an NFL head coach. He didn’t need PSU to make him a hot coaching commodity (conversely, Tom Brady has done just fine without him.)
n He has no PSU ties.
n You’re only a leading candidate occasionally – this dance can’t take place every year – and with potential 6-6 and 7-5s looming because of drastic scholarship reductions and no bowls for three more years, now was that time.
n O’Brien has no idea who he will be reporting to in another year as Penn State must hire a new president and decide whether its acting athletic director, Dave Joyner, will continue or be thanked for his interim work.
n While the Big Ten is still trying to explain some of its officiating practices to O’Brien and excited almost no one with the additions of Maryland and Rutgers, the NFL is the big leagues in every way.
At the same time, O’Brien values loyalty, and Penn State put him on the national stage and its adversity, though unwanted and excessive, gave him a chance to showcase his incredible leadership skills.
He’s doing the right thing by staying and continuing to guide Penn State through its darkest period.
O’Brien told the Harrisburg Patriot-News that he’s “not a one-and-done guy,” and referenced the commitment he’s made to the current players, including recruits.
That’s the sticky part – and always will be for O’Brien and any college coach open to moving before season No. 2 becomes season No. 46.
Unlike the NFL, players and their families trust coaches during the recruiting process. At some point, if O’Brien goes to the NFL, which he ultimately seems destined to do, he’ll be breaking promises.
Better later than sooner because Penn State is currently so fragile, and based on what it’s been through, it would have been almost inhumane to do it now. Since the players can still leave, O’Brien’s departure could have gutted the program, and he would have undone all the good will he built in 12 months and 12 games.
Uncomfortable with the topic because he knew offers would come, O’Brien spent the last couple of months mildly assuring that he “planned” to be coaching the Lions in 2013 and cautioned recruits “not to worry” about his name coming up with NFL jobs.
To his credit, O’Brien was true to his word and will at least see it through another year and hopefully longer.
How all this affects recruiting is another question.
On one hand, Penn State is led by a coach who could not have a higher profile – the reigning Big Ten and national coach of the year whose status has burned up Twitter and the ESPN crawl for a week.
On the other hand, how soon until recruits, even ones who have verbally committed to join the program this year, turn a wary eye that he could wind up coaching half their careers?
Though it’s undeniable that the Paterno regime left enough good players, especially on defense, for 2012 to be successful, the NCAA’s transfer rule and the Lions’ 0-2 start outlined a potential train wreck that O’Brien somehow quickly jerked back on track en route to an 8-2 finish.
His stock may never be much higher.
It’s pretty clear O’Brien will not be coaching the Nittany Lions in 2058 – he may not be coaching them in or much beyond 2014 – and if the whirlwind events of the last week have taught us anything, it’s that we now have adequate warning.