The college football coaching carousel is finally drawing to close.
Only now, the NFL coaching carousel is just beginning, which always tends to shake up the collegiate landscape as well.
This year is no different with a few very talented college coaches getting looked at for similar jobs in the big, bad NFL. Oregon’s Chip Kelly, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Penn State’s Bill O’Brien are the three college coaches getting the most attention.
O’Brien is a little surprising to see on this list at first glance, at least compared to the other two coaches. After all, Saban is on the verge of his 3rd National Championship in four seasons and Kelly is in his fourth BCS Bowl in four seasons. Meanwhile, O’Brien was 8-4 in one season at Penn State.
But O’Brien has had to deal with a heck of a lot more obstacles than Saban or Kelly ever has. O’Brien has had adversity shoved down his throat since he was hired, and he’s truly displayed remarkable resilience. What he did in one season in State College, with the challenges he’s faced, is nothing short of brilliance. NFL teams have noticed.
O’Brien, before coming to Penn State, had spent the previous five years coaching for the New England Patriots (ever heard of them?). There he worked closely with not only Tom ‘Terrific’ Brady, but zen coaching guru Bill Belichick. And anyone who has coordinated under Belichick always seems to get a shot leading an NFL team- especially someone who now has head coaching experience like O’Brien.
So now that we understand why he’s getting looked at by the NFL, would he actually leave State College?
No one really knows. I wouldn’t be surprised either way. I could see him turning it down- preaching loyalty to the school, dedication to getting the program out of it’s current dark ages, etc. But I could also see him taking it.
When he was hired, he was under the assumption that there would be criminal charges to Jerry Sandusky and the program wouldn’t be touched. Well, we all know it didn’t quite work out that way, with Penn State getting a punishment some call even worse than the death penalty.
So could you really blame him for wanting to get out of Dodge? Do you blame the players that left the program as well? O’Brien and the players had absolutely nothing to do with Sandusky, yet they’re still getting punished for it.
Another thing to keep in mind is timing. O’Brien’s stock as a head coach may never be this high again. Penn State is going to get worse in the next few years (not a fault by O’Brien, but sheer logistics of their roster), and O’Brien probably won’t be getting looked at in the same light he is now. So does he strike while the iron is hot?
The one thing thats working in Penn State’s favor is his buyout clause. In his deal, if he were to leave before the contract expires, he would owe the school anywhere from 9 to 18 million dollars. No one is going to pay that amount of money for a coach (unless you’re Alabama). But also, when that contract was signed, it was under a stipulation that NCAA ramifications would be nil. So I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this. There will be some kind of shakeup in the buyout clause.
Let’s be serious though. If O’Brien leaves Penn State, the program would crumble to the lowest of possible lows. Penn State would never be able to find someone willing and able to do what O’Brien did this past year, both on the field and off it. O’Brien has done a fantastic job with recruiting thus far, and if he leaves, the class would literally fall apart.
So is O’Brien going to leave Penn State for an NFL job? I don’t know.
What I do know is this: Penn State needs O’Brien more than O’Brien needs Penn State.