O’Brien’s status remains up in air

Bill O’Brien remains Penn State’s football coach, for now at least, as there were no changes in his status throughout the day on New Year’s Eve.

The Nittany Nation played the waiting game all day Tuesday because of reports by ESPN that it was “imminent” O’Brien would become the Houston Texans’ new head coach. The Texans reportedly wanted to finalize their decision Tuesday, but that had not happened, as of the Mirror’s early press time Tuesday evening for New Year’s Eve.

O’Brien has been the frontrunner for the Texans job for more than a week and still could be named to the position soon. The only update throughout the day Tuesday came from CBS Sports NFL insider Jason La Canfora, who tweeted the following:

“Still every expectation Bill O’Brien is next HOU coach, but if it somehow went sideways, Lions (DET, not Nittany) would be ready to pounce.”

That tweet confirmed what also has been widely speculated, that the Detroit Lions could be a contender with the Texans for O’Brien’s services.

The Texans fired their former coach, Gary Kubiak, on Dec. 6, giving them a jump on other NFL teams in the interview process with potential head coaches. The Lions fired Jim Schwartz on Monday after the team finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs.

The Lions job is considered by many to be a good fit for O’Brien because that team has several key pieces in place, including quarterback Matthew Stafford, star receiver Calvin Johnson and defensive standouts Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

Under the right coach, the Lions could be a legitimate contender in the NFC next season. The Texans, meanwhile, went 2-14 this season, but that job is appealing because the team does have a number of quality players on its roster and will have the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

O’Brien has 3 1/2 years remaining on his Penn State contract, and if he leaves his buyout would be about $6.7 million. He would be expected to command a salary of $5 or more in the NFL.

O’Brien has gone 15-9 in his two seasons at Penn State. His success under difficult circumstances and his experience as former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots have made him the hottest commodity among college coaches for some NFL vacancies.