Bill O'Brien Remaining at Penn State, But at What Cost?
Updated at 2:09 a.m. Friday
A potential nightmare scenario for the Penn State football program ended Thursday night when Bill O’Brien announced his return to the university despite entertaining overtures from at least two NFL franchises.
The university and O’Brien’s agent both confirmed the second-year coach will return to Penn State next season. The news was first reported by a slew of NFL reporters on Twitter before O’Brien broke his silence to the Harrisburg Patriot-News.
"I'm not a one-and-done guy," O'Brien told the paper. "I made a commitment to these players at Penn State and that's what I am going to do. I'm not gonna cut and run after one year, that's for sure."
O’Brien, under contract through 2020, reportedly received a $1.3 million bump via a private gift from big donor Terry Pegula to push his total compensation to $3.6 million. A source confirmed Pegula’s role in the matter. He is the owner of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres who sold his oil and gas company for $4.7 billion in May 2010 and donated $102 million to his alma mater Penn State to finance a state-of-the-art hockey arena for the school’s new Division I program.
O’Brien would become the third-highest paid coach in the Big Ten behind only Ohio State’s Urban Meyer ($4.3 million) and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz ($3.8 million). In fact, O’Brien’s $3.6 million salary would rank seventh nationally, according to data compiled by USA Today in November.
The Patriot-News report also indicates that by gauging the interest of NFL clubs with head coaching vacancies, it granted leverage for O’Brien to “accomplish structural and personnel changes in the Penn State athletic department that may be forthcoming.” There’s been no official word yet on any specific changes.
A Philadelphia Eagles spokesman said O’Brien met with the club on Thursday, though he was not aware of the location of the meeting. O’Brien also met with the Cleveland Browns earlier this week, according to a report by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Penn State Acting Athletic Director Dave Joyner did not return a message seeking comment.
That O’Brien was retained for 2013 meant those with a rooting interest in Penn State were able to breathe a sigh of relief. Facing three more years with no postseason, four years of reduced scholarships and the realization that any current player is free to transfer to another school until preseason practice in August without having to sit out a year, Penn State would have found itself in a less than desirable position one month before National Signing Day, the first day incoming freshman recruits can officially sign on to join the program.
O’Brien, hired Jan. 6, 2012 as the permanent replacement for former coach Joe Paterno after serving as offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, has been a godsend to the university community in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. He led the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 record in 2012 and was named Big Ten Coach of the Year for his efforts.
From his first day on the job he preached loyalty, asking aloud at his introductory news conference how he could instill that trait in his team if he decided to abandon the Patriots during last year’s Super Bowl run.
But, O’Brien has also shown a habit for wanting his fingerprints all over his program. He almost immediately changed the strength training program upon taking the job and chose not to retain former marketing whiz Guido D’Elia, a staunch confidant to Paterno for many years. He made an early season change at director of operations and, most visibly, opted to add names to the backs of the uniforms for the first time in school history so that those who stuck with the program after the NCAA handed down harsh sanctions would be remembered.
Now, O’Brien reportedly is eyeing more changes within Penn State and apparently used the NFL coaching carousal as a bargaining chip, leaving a fan base at peace knowing its football coach is not leaving this year, even if, as the horrors of the Sandusky scandal have shown, there has been great debate over the amount of control a coach should possess.