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Penn State Football: Bill O'Brien's Raise

by on June 16, 2013 12:22 PM

Based on his extraordinary on-the-job performance since last July 23, a case certainly can be made that Nittany Lions head football coach Bill O’Brien is long overdue for a raise.

In two weeks, he will get one. Finally. And that’s only because his contract says he will.

Even at that, it was a long time coming.

As was laid out in his initial five-year contract with Penn State signed on Jan. 6, 2012, O’Brien received an initial annual compensation package of $2.3 million. Of that amount, $950,000 was base salary. He also makes $1 million for broadcast and public appearances, plus another $350,000 from Penn State’s Nike contract.

Here’s where the raise comes in: Every July 1st – the beginning of Penn State’s fiscal year -- that base goes up by 5 percent. And, apparently, despite all that O’Brien has done for PSU over the past 11 months, not a minute sooner.

At least as far as we know. Who knows, a new deal could already be a done deal.

So far, come both hell and high water, there has been no additional raise, bonus or contract renegotiation for the national coach of the year. Given the circumstances, it has been a bit of a surprise that Penn State, no matter how cash-strapped it is, hasn't stepped in and rewarded O’Brien early for his yeoman-like, exemplary duty.

Of course, it can be said with little disagreement that the more than $44,000 O’Brien makes per week is enough compensation for any college football coach anywhere. And although no one could guess the ultimate severity of the NCAA sanctions, O’Brien and Penn State signed a separate letter of agreement that addressed how the levying of any penalties would impact O’Brien’s contract. Finally, when he was hired O’Brien knew many of the circumstances of his new job, including replacing a legend whose role in a national scandal was unclear.

So sure, a deal’s a deal. But the first year-and-a-half of O’Brien’s tenure has been more arduous than anyone could have expected, with no one foreseeing the longest and broadest set of NCAA sanctions in college football history. A salary bump, a contract negotiation, a financial reward of some sort – they all might have been in order.

For his part, O’Brien was no doubt thinking of more than the agreed-upon 5 percent when he made the following comment on Jan. 7, 2013. It came during a press conference during which O’Brien insisted that, among other things, he didn’t ask for a raise and that he wasn’t going to the NFL.

“I have never asked anyone for a raise, and no one has ever even brought up the fact that you get a raise,” O’Brien said on the first Monday of January, a year and a day after he was named Penn State’s 15th head football coach. "Hey, look, six months down the road, if I get a raise, would you like a raise? Everybody would like a raise every once in a while. Yeah, of course I'd like a raise. I'm just like everybody else. But I have never asked anybody for a raise.”

It is now six months down the road. And who can honestly say that O’Brien doesn’t deserve a bigger paycheck?

He still could get one, with perhaps some changes in his overall pact as well. Such a deal could be in the works right now or even be completed, just waiting for a July 1 release date.

If so, you have to figure that Joe Linta is behind it. Linta is O’Brien’s Yale-educated agent originally from Freedom, Pa., who caught lightning in a bottle twice the past year. One Linta client was a multiple coach-of-the-year winner in the most challenging of circumstances in college history. And the other Linta client rolled the NFL dice, opting not to sign a contract extension last August, betting he’d be worth more at season’s end.

We know O’Brien’s story. Linta’s other client is Joe Flacco, the Baltimore Ravens quarterback who opted not to sign a new deal with the Ravens prior to the 2012 season, then led them to the Super Bowl. His reward, thanks in part to Linta? A six-year, $120.6 million contract that made Flacco the NFL’s highest-paid player the day he signed it.

In January, O’Brien made it very clear that he has never asked for a raise in his career, including at Penn State. And that may very well mean that he hasn’t directed Linta to do the asking, either. But the answering? Well, that’s a different story.

Maybe Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner has already called Linta. Maybe he hasn’t. However, there was a red flag a few weeks ago. Joyner, who makes $396,000 a year, said very plainly in early June that he hopes O’Brien remains the Nittany Lions’ head coach for years to come. Remember, when Joyner was interim athletic director in November 2011, he was a key member of the search committee that hired O’Brien.

Two weeks ago, Joyner told The Associated Press that he and O'Brien speak several times a week and when they do they talk it is “in terms of years and years. We make plans for years and years … I think we're going to have this guy for a long time.”

Often, such statements are prescient – indicators of a deal just completed or soon to be announced. (If and when O’Brien’s contract would be renegotiated or if he were to get a raise beyond his current contractual terms, Penn State’s openness policy would indicate that it be put online, just as his initial deal was.)

If a raise or new deal does come down the pike, O’Brien has earned it. Right now, he’s excelled at crisis management, image rebuilding, leadership, marketing and coaching football. Penn State can respond and reward in two distinct areas:

1. Compensation: O’Brien’s base salary as it stands now is slated to increase by 5 percent annually, on July 1 in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. A one-time bonus and/or a change in that percentage increase may already be under consideration. What should also be reviewed is the portion of his contract that provides for up to $200,000 annual bonuses for team performance at the division, Big Ten championship, bowl and BCS levels – none are achievable for the next several years.

2. Contract length. The original deal signed by O’Brien and Penn State was for five years. That was agreed to on Jan. 6, 2012. Also on that date, O’Brien and Joyner signed the aforementioned “Letter of Agreement,” which was witnessed by former university attorney Cynthia Baldwin; the other witness’s signature is illegible.

The letter states: “Any action by the NCAA of a) loss of scholarships or b) bowl eligibility due the actions of the previous staff or lack of institutional control prior to 2012 will immediately result in an automatic extension of coach’s contract at 2016 total compensation and bonus package in years equal to the number of years of the sanctions. “

The letter means: The sanctions added four more years to his contract, giving O’Brien a total of eight years remaining on his deal with Penn State. For O’Brien to get out of his contract, he would have to pay Penn State to the tune of $2.3 million (and more, each succeeding year) times the years left on his contract.

The dollar amount is astronomical.

That’s why maybe one of the best ways for Joyner to reward O’Brien for his extraordinary and unprecedented 526 days on the job is to loosen, if not remove, those golden, blue and white handcuffs.


Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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