Jan 4, 2014

Bill O'Brien and Penn State Were Never A Perfect Match

Now that the dust has settled, more and more details are coming out about why current Houston Texans head football coach Bill O'Brien deciding to leave the Penn State Football program after only two years as head coach. I'm sure many of you read the now infamous article by David Jones at the Patriot-News. If you haven't it is definitely worth the read. The article is a window into the frustration O'Brien felt that seem to intensified the last couple of months of his tenure with the program.

O'Brien refers to "Paterno People" in several provocative and immature statements in an off the record conversation. The article was only a glimpse of what was really going on bigger picture behind the scenes at Penn State. The truth is O'Brien was never really committed to Penn State and the administration at Penn State was never really truly committed to him.

From the very beginning we see this play out. Bill O'Brien was not Penn State's first choice to succeed legendary coach Joe Paterno. At the time the search committee were seeking out several other big name candidates like current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. None of them would touch the program after the details of the Sandusky child abuse scandal came out and the possible threat of NCAA sanctions looming. So that left Penn State with a few third tier candidates remaining in their search. Thus they gave us Bill O'Brien.

Needless to say Penn State's announcement of Bill O'Brien as head coach was a surprise to many Penn State faithful. O'Brien did not have head coaching experience at the college level nor the NFL. He was relatively an unknown offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots whose big moment in the spotlight was when he got into a sideline argument with Tom Brady.Perhaps the most telling thing about the hiring was O'Brien was not a Penn State guy.

Former players and some fans of the program criticized the hire immediately. Many suggested he was not a Penn State guy and didn't understand the Penn State way. This was harsh criticism for a first time head coach at a big time college football program, but in the end it was true.

O'Brien was not a Penn State guy and did not understand the Penn State way.

I actually think the backlash against O'Brien's hiring wasn't stronger because the Sandusky scandal and the media circus surrounding the program left former players, fans and supporters stunned for a while. Eventually the fans and former players moved on with the attitude this is what we got and we are going to support our new coach. But I don't think O'Brien ever really got over it. Keeping highly respected coach Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlindin on staff also helped.

Many O'Brien decisions along the way also proved he wasn't committed to the program either. He decided to put names on the back of Penn State jerseys. Although this was a direct assault on what the program stood for under Joe Paterno and drew some ire from former players who eventually came around and supported the decision. But it still was a sign that this guy didn't really want to understand the Penn State way.

Despite some really poorly coached games over his tenure, O'Brien and his agents kept wanting to renegotiation his contract. ALL THE TIME. First for more money then for a lower buy out option last summer. My sources at Penn State tell me that this truly started to get under the skin of Penn State Athletic Director Dave Joyner and others in the administration. In a way he held the program hostage. Add to this O'Brien willingness to interview for head coaching jobs in the NFL after his first year as coach and you have an equation that wasn't going to end well.

And as we can see it didn't. Many will argue that O'Brien leaving Penn State was a bad thing for the program leaving it again in a state of transition, but I would argue that pretty much sums up O'Brien's tenure as Penn State head coach, a perpetual state of transition.

Now Penn State is in a better position to find a coach that is truly committed to the program and Penn State. Something Bill O'Brien sadly never was.


  1. Caleb1:26 PM

    I understand your negative feelings towards O'Brien, I really do. I don't like the fact that he up and left in the middle of this transition, but on the other side of things, he stepped up and did what no one else wanted to do. Whether you agree with what he did or not is a different story, but he took the reigns and proved to the world that Penn State was not going to shrivel up and fade away. To me, this is more of a testament to the team itself than anything, but O'Brien helped them get their footing back. From the administrative side, I get how he really didn't fit or even belong, but from the PR side, he did great things. Now, being in Houston, I really appreciated the effort he made in preserving the image of the good things that have always been there. In all fairness, yes, I am glad he is here in Houston, I just wish his transition here wasn't so harsh.