Alabama’s Nick Saban and Oregon’s Chip Kelly are two of the hottest college coaches in the NFL coaching rumor mill. Specifically, Saban has been connected to the Cleveland Browns and Kelly to Philadelphia Eagles.
According to a report from ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, one or more of those teams could also be eyeing Penn State coach Bill O’Brien. Mort states that “O’Brien may be on more short lists” than Kelly.
O’Brien came to Penn State in January after five successful years with the New England Patriots, including a Super Bowl appearance as an offensive coordinator for the 2011-12 season. O’Brien has over a decade of coaching experience in the college ranks, but there’s no overlooking his rise and success in New England.
Mort’s report is a quick read, but here’s the part that stuck out:
“However, sources say teams that have gauged his interest have been informed by a third party representative that when O’Brien accepted the task of being the late Joe Paterno’s successor, he was told by school officials that the Jerry Sandusky scandal was a criminal matter, not an NCAA concern. That proved to be bad information as Penn State was dealt a four-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions as part of its penalties.”
O’Brien knew what he was getting into when he accepted the Penn State job — to a degree. He understood the program was in the middle of the worst scandal imaginable, the effects of which going forward were unknown, and that he would be succeeding an icon in Paterno. While the possibility of NCAA action was in the back of his (and Penn State’s) mind, the sanctions levied against the program in July by NCAA president Mark Emmert were astonishing both in the magnitude and the process by which they were handed down.
The point is that O’Brien did not sign up for what he received. Sure, he might have known the possibility was there, but it wasn’t part of the initial agreement. For that, it wouldn’t be surprising if O’Brien left Penn State. He’d reportedly have to pay the university a handsome sum if he did, but sometimes money can’t even keep someone around if the situation is bad enough.
It’d be hard to blame O’Brien for leaving, just like you can’t blame any Penn State players who left after the sanctions were announced. They had no part in the Sandusky scandal, so why should they pay the price for other people’s blatant, albeit alleged, disregard for the safety and well-being of others?
Conversely, I commend those who chose to stay. That would include O’Brien if he does. One of the qualities that’s made O’Brien my coach of the year in 2012 is his leadership and ability to keep Penn State steady during tough times. The program’s going to need plenty of that going forward and O’Brien’s the guy to do it.
But the draw of the NFL can be enough even without the distractions of Sandusky and the NCAA. The chance to win at the highest level is enticing. If O’Brien leaves, it could very well be because the offer was right. If there’s an offer, that is. There’s no report yet that there’s anything other than interest from NFL teams.
It makes sense, though. O’Brien’s a tremendous coach. Penn State should enjoy his presence, whether it’s for one more year or 10.