Bill O'Brien: The Hero of Happy Valley

By Phil Clark
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The past eighteen months haven’t been the happiest in the history of Happy Valley, Pennsylvania. The Jerry Sandusky scandal cast a horrific cloud over the Penn St. Nittany Lions football team and the university they play for. The school had become one of the bad seeds of higher learning and college football in an instant. But then came a hero.

Bill O’Brien took on the unenviable task of coaching a Nittany Lions football team after the death of former coach Joe Paterno, after the Sandusky trial, and after the penalties the NCAA laid on the team and the university. Needless to say, this wasn’t a job where success was seen as an option. Apparently O’Brien and the football team’s seniors that stayed didn’t think that way.

I do not believe that the Nittany Lions could have completed the surprisingly good 8-4 season they had in 2012 with only a good coach or only a dedicated group of seniors. It took both of these things coming together and creating a leadership group for the team to help them toward the season they ended up having. However, since O’Brien is the head coach, he does deserve the majority of the credit.

This leadership was also valuable in a couple of specific instances. These instances were following losses in their first two games of the season, going into their home game against the Ohio St. Buckeyes, and when they faced an 11-point deficit at home after three quarters against the Northwestern Wildcats.

The Nittany Lions’ 2012 season began with losses to the Ohio Bobcats and Virginia Cavaliers. Against the Bobcats, the Nittany Lions simply let this game get away from them in the final quarter and a half of play. Against the Cavaliers, it was four missed field-goals from kicker Sam Ficken, including one on the game’s final play, that cost the Nittany Lions in a one-point defeat.

The game against the Buckeyes showed how tough and resilient the Nittany Lions could be when playing as a team. For two and a half quarters, the game was as close a game as the Buckeyes had played up to that point in the season. What happened then was Braxton Miller breaking through for the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions not having enough left in the proverbial tank when it happened.

The Nittany Lions’ win against the Wildcats also showed the team’s toughness and resiliency, but in victory. The fourth quarter of this game ended up being the quarter that killed any dream the Wildcats had of making it to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl. The Wildcats’ first loss of the 2012 season came thanks to a three-touchdown quarter that erased a double-digit deficit for the Nittany Lions and gave them a double-digit big win at home.

For a school and a team that needed a reason to feel good about themselves and even being at the university, O’Brien should be looked at as a hero. He took an impossible task and showed the students, alumni, and sports fans of Penn St. what was possible. He coached a team that had lost many good players, with no hopes for postseason play, and helped guide them to a season that exceeded all expectations.

Personally, I didn’t think the Nittany Lions had a chance to break .500 in 2012. The fact that they went 8-4 and would’ve been in the Big Ten title game had they been eligible showed how good a job O’Brien did in coaching this team and helping to make them believe in what they could do together.

If O’Brien were to exit for a pro job after this season, it won’t matter because he’s already done his job. His main job in 2012 was to ease the pain that the team and university was going through. He did that in a fashion that should have created O’Brien’s place in Nittany Lions football history.

Phil Clark is a writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Or check out his blog.

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