Penn State Football: Get Used To 'O'Brien To NFL' Talk
With the college football season essentially over and the NFL landscape rounding into form, the coaching carousel has slowly begun to turn again.
Programs on both the college and NFL levels will use this time to try and better their respective programs and hire a coach that can help them achieve that goal.
So it was no particular surprise that on Sunday morning CBS reported that Penn State's Bill O'Brien has been approached by the Texans and Vikings. A hot name in the coaching industry, O'Brien is an obvious call to make if you're looking for an up and coming coach to hire.
But what are the chances that O'Brien would leave?
Realistically only O'Brien knows. While he has never come out and said that he wants to be an NFL head coach some day, O'Brien has said just about everything but those exact words. So from that standpoint it seems reasonable to assume that O'Brien ends his career in the NFL, or in the very least not at Penn State. Nothing is certain, but it's not an outrageous wager to make.
As far as this particular coaching cycle? It seems unlikely that O'Brien goes.
It doesn't take a lot of connecting of dots to figure out that the departures of assistants Charlie Fisher and Ron Vanderlinden probably had far more to do with fit than their on field results. A coaching change like that is a lot more indicative of the direction of the program and has less to do with how "good" any particular coach is at his job.
So with that in mind, it's not hard to imagine that if O'Brien is making moves inside the program that he doesn't have any immediate plans to depart. He has plans, and they involve Penn State.
On the field O'Brien will always feel connected to his players, but the bond that he and freshman Christian Hackenberg have could keep O'Brien in town for the foreseeable future. Hackenberg came to Penn State to work with O'Brien and in turn help O'Brien and the program survive the years under NCAA sanctions. Hackenberg could have gone anywhere, but he stuck to his word and stuck with O'Brien and came to Penn State.
O'Brien may not technically owe Hackenberg anything, but he may be less inclined to walk away from his program-saving quarterback before both of them are NFL ready. Hackenberg made good on his word, O'Brien will likely do the same for him.
So why doesn't O'Brien just squash the talk now?
Because Bill O'Brien is not a man interested in backing himself into a corner. Even during the season he rarely speaks in absolutes. Using an almost backwards honesty, O'Brien avoids the smoke and mirrors that have become common in the coaching ranks. The door to the NFL will always be open to him, fans know it, writers know it, the NFL knows it, and O'Brien knows it. And O'Brien isn't going to tell anyone that isn't the case. In some respects he doesn't need to.
And there is behind the scenes. Since his first day on campus, O'Brien has worked endlessly to retool the program on every level. That also means for each move that is made in public, there are likely several more that never make the headlines. O'Brien is a smart and calculating man who is always working short and long term angles. In his own words: "Nothing surprises me."
O'Brien may leave in three years -- he could leave in 15. Teams will always want a good coach.
So Penn State fans can just be glad they have one.