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Penn State Football: The Pros of MetLife Stadium and Bill O’Brien

by on August 25, 2013 8:00 PM

When Penn State plays Syracuse in New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium on Saturday, it will be Bill O’Brien’s third trip to the behemoth, built for a mere $1.6 billion and opened in 2010.

Who knows, he could be there a lot more often in the future.

First, O'Brien's MetLife past:

While an assistant with New England in the NFL, O’Brien’s Patriots lost to the New York Jets, 28-14, there on Sept. 19, 2010. Then, on a return trip on Nov. 13, 2011, the Pats beat the Jets, 37-16.

O’Brien returned on May 8 of this year, when Penn State’s Coaches Caravan bus made a quick stop at 1 MetLife Stadium Drive, East Rutherford, N.J., 07073, on its way from Manhattan to Scranton. O’Brien and his entourage walked the field and briefly looked ahead to when they would return, 113 days hence.

Click here to hear what O’Brien had to say that day in an on-field interview with in-house reporter Tony Mancuso of

Even though a Penn State return to East Rutherford is currently not on any future PSU schedule, you have to figure this won’t be O’Brien’s last trip as a head coach to MetLife – perhaps sooner rather than later. The stadium’s two tenants, the Jets and the New York Giants, are at opposite ends of the ridiculous-to-the-sublime spectrum. But both have to be interested in O’Brien as their next head coach. One, maybe both, will be putting out the “Help Wanted” sign after the 2013 NFL season.

In perhaps some weird prescient pairing in advance of Penn State's appearance, the two NFL teams met in MetLife on Saturday, and while the Jets won 24-21 in overtime, time seems to be just about up for Jets coach Rex Ryan. He is on the hot seat more than usual these days, on the heels of quarterback Mark Sanchez’s shoulder injury suffered while playing with the scrubs in the fourth quarter of a meaningless exhibition game.


Ryan, in his fifth season as head coach, has just about reached his expiration date. He’s 14-18 over the past two seasons; is headed to a “5-11 record, at best,” according to ESPN’s Darren Woodson; and has not been in the play-offs since 2010. The Jets have been largely lifeless at MetLife as well, going 3-6 in their last nine regular-season games there.

Meanwhile, the Giants’ head coach, Tom Coughlin, is as steady as Ryan is rocky. (Don't give this short shrift: There’s a lot of TC in OB.) The Giants have won two Super Bowls over the past six seasons and Coughlin enters his 10th season with the Giants with a 91-64 overall record. He has the third-longest tenure with a single team of any current NFL head coach, behind New England’s Bill Belichick (14) and Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis (11).


Coughlin turns 67 on Saturday, the day that – appropriately enough – Syracuse is in town. A double SU alum (undergrad and grad), Coughlin played wingback for the Orangemen in the same backfield as Floyd Little and Larry Csonka. In 1967, he set the school’s single-season receiving record at the time (26 for 257 yards, 2 TDs). And get this – Orange hoops coach Jim Boeheim was Coughlin’s RA in Sadler Hall during Coughlin’s senior year (1967-68) at Syracuse.

The point remains. At 67, Coughlin is the oldest head coach in the NFL. By a wide margin.

Coughlin has been a coach since 1969, as a grad assistant at Syracuse, and the 2013 season is his 18th season as an NFL head coach (Jacksonville, 1995-2002; N.Y. Giants, 2004-2013). Second-oldest is Pete Carroll, who turns 62 next month, followed by O’Brien’s mentor, Belichick (61), and Washington’s Mike Shanahan, who turned 61 a day ago.

This isn’t advocating that O’Brien leave for the NFL. He’s been great for Penn State in every area – on the field, in the locker room, on the banquet and media circuits, and behind-the-scenes. All of which is no secret to you, me or the ownership of the Jets and Giants.

O'Brien fits the profile of a new age NFL head coach. Of the eight NFL head coaches hired in the offseason, seven were offensive-minded (as is O’Brien). Recent hires from the college ranks have been generally good ones: San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh (Stanford) and Tampa Bay’s Greg Schiano (Rutgers), with two of O’Brien’s friends, Philadelphia’s Chip Kelly (Oregon) and Buffalo’s Doug Marrone (Syracuse) getting gigs in the offseason. And 14 of the NFL’s head coaching hires over the past three seasons had coordinator experience; OB was O-coordinator in New England.

O’Brien, 43, knows all of this, certainly better than anyone.

Remember, after all, that it was O’Brien himself who said in January that the pinnacle of his profession is being a head coach in the NFL. No doubt, that’s why a hallmark of his renegotiated contract announced in June is a potentially eight-figure reduction in dollars owed to Penn State if he leaves after the 2013 season.

As it is, according to the new contract, it would cost O’Brien – or his future employer – about $5.7 million if he left at season’s end to become a head coach in the NFL. NFL chump change, really. Woody Johnson, whose great-granddad founded medical giant Johnson & Johnson, paid $635 million for the Jets in 2000. He knows he needs more than a Band-Aid at this point, and O’Brien has proven his mettle at stopping the bleeding. In 2012, Forbes estimated the value of the old-school Giants to be $1.3 billion, making them the ninth most valuable professional sports franchise in the world.

Coughlin likely has a job as long as he wants, despite biannual calls for his dismissal. But it seems unlikely he’ll stay past age 70. Elsewhere in MetLife, Johnson may be poised for change on the short-term – as in Dec. 30, the day after the Jets’ 2013 season ends in Miami against the Dolphins. Last offseason, the Jets’ owner brought in John Idzik as the team’s new general manager. An Ivy Leaguer like O’Brien, Dartmouth grad Idzik, in short order, traded superstar cornerback Darrelle Revis to Tampa Bay, cut Tim Tebow and drafted quarterback Geno Smith out of West Virginia.

Axing Rex shouldn’t be a problem. Eating the final year of Ryan’s contract, which goes through 2014, may be just desserts.


In O’Brien, Idzik would have the anti-Rex. For example:

1. O’Brien knows quarterbacks. Ryan doesn’t. We're talking New York here; they crave Broadway Joe, not a league-leading 52 turnovers in two years by Sanchez Schmoe. You can make a case that undrafted Matt McGloin (who threw another TD over the weekend) has fared better with the Oakland Raiders than Smith (who was picked three times against the Giants) has with the Jets.

2. O’Brien gives stirring pep talks during team meetings in training camp. Ryan does not.

3. O’Brien isn’t afraid of facing Belichick, his former boss, twice a season as an AFC East rival. Ryan said of the New England coach: “I think my greatest coaching nemesis is Bill Belichick.” Ryan may be right – Ryan is 3-6 against Belichick, with losses in the past four match-ups.

4. O’Brien is losing weight eating grilled chicken and drinking shakes. Ryan had stomach-shrinking surgery at NYU Medical Center in March 2010. In marketing parlance, it's Billieve branding vs. Rex banding. Digest that.

5. O’Brien coached the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady. Ryan had a cameo appearance in Adam Sandler’s 2012 movie, “That’s My Boy,” in which he played a Patriots’ fan who worshipped Tom Brady.

6. O’Brien is beyond Belichickian at avoiding negative headlines. Ryan is a back cover boy for The Daily News and The Post. The twain did meet over the past seven days, though, as both have tired of being asked who will be their respective starting quarterbacks:

O’Brien, when pressed last week to reveal the name of his starter, said: “I don’t have to do anything you guys want me to do.”

Ryan, when pressed on Saturday to reveal the name of his starter, said as he turned side to side: “I can say anything I want. That's the beauty of this country. I'll stand backwards and answer the question. I'm going sideways … ”

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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