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Penn State Football: Houston Offers Bill O'Brien Stability, Cash... and Maybe a No. 1 NFL Draft Pick

by on December 28, 2013 5:55 PM

If he heads to Houston to coach the Texans, there is a lot waiting for current Penn State head football coach Bill O'Brien:

The Texans are an NFL franchise with deep pockets, stable leadership, a fairly recent record of success and – quite possibly – the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

O’Brien, 44, would inherit a team that is just 2-13 this season. But...

...the Texans made the NFL playoffs in both 2011 and 2012, had eight players in the 2012 Pro Bowl and were considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders entering the 2013 season.

Because of their poor record in 2013, the Texans have the first or second pick in the NFL Draft in May 2014. Washington is 3-12 and if it beats the New York Giants and/or Houston loses against Tennessee on Sunday, the Texans will have the No. 1 selection in the draft.

Cash-wise, a buyout of $6.8 million for O’Brien’s Penn State contract is a drop in a Texas-sized bucket -- if you’re worth $1.4 billion, like Houston owner Robert McNair and O’Brien’s potential new boss.

McNair, 76, sold Cogen Technologies for $1.5 billion in 1999, selling to Enron just before it collapsed. McNair is the ninth-richest owner in the NFL. The Texans’ $300 million stadium naming rights deal with Reliant is the league’s richest, according to Forbes.

McNair has owned the team since Houston was awarded a franchise in 1999 and began play in 2002. If hired by Texas, O’Brien would report to McNair and Texans general manager Rick Smith, who has been with the Texans since 2005. Smith was formerly a player personnel executive and assistant coach with the Denver Broncos. He is in his second year as executive vice president and oversees all football operations. He’s a graduate of Purdue, where he was a player and assistant coach.

O’Brien is in talks to become the next head coach of the Texans, according to ESPN's NFL beat reporters Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter, who reported on Saturday that:

“O’Brien has emerged as the overwhelming favorite to become the next coach of the Houston Texans, and the two sides are working to get a deal in place within the next week, league sources told ESPN. O’Brien met with the Texans this week after Christmas at his home in Cape Cod, resulting in intensified discussions they hope will culminate with a finalized contract, the sources said.”

The Texans have also interviewed former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith about the vacancy.

The Texans play their final game of the 2013 NFL season on Sunday at home against the Tennessee Titans. The Titans are coached by former Penn Stater Mike Munchak, whose job status is question. He is 6-9 this season and 21-26 in three years as the Titans’ head coach. He was a candidate for the Penn State head coach’s job that went to O’Brien two years ago.

The Texans fired head coach, Gary Kubiak, on Dec. 6, after he missed two weeks due to a mini-stroke. Kubiak had a 61-64 record with the Houston over nearly eight seasons. Houston finished 12-4 in 2012 and 10-6 in 2011, making the playoffs both years. In 2012, the Texans had eight Pro Bowl players and featured a defense led by sack-master J.J. Watt.

Texas plays in the AFC South Division, generally regarded as one of the NFL’s weaker divisions, with the Indianapolis Colts (10-5), Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11) and Titans (6-9).

O’Brien guided Penn State to an 8-4 record in 2012 and a 7-5 mark in 2013 after taking over as head coach of the Nittany Lions following the firing of Joe Paterno. He was named the 2012 college football coach of the year by several outlets and organizations.

O’Brien was hired on Jan. 6, 2012, coming to Penn State after a five-year stint (2007-2011) with the New England Patriots, where he was quarterback coach and offensive coordinator before leaving. He also was an assistant in the college ranks with Brown, his alma mater, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke.

O’Brien renegotiated his contract with Penn State in the spring so that a buyout would drop from approximately $19 million to more than $6 million if he were to leave Penn State for the NFL after the 2013 season. He is due a payment of $836,065 from Penn State by Dec. 31 -- $675,000 in bonuses from Nike ($175,000) and Penn State’s TV/radio deal ($500,000) and $161,065 (his monthly salary). O’Brien received a bonus of $935,279 in July.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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Penn State Football: O'Brien, Texans Working On Deal Reports Say
December 28, 2013 4:58 PM
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