Penn State Football: If O'Brien Stands Pat for Playoff Run, What's Next for Penn State's Recruits?
If Penn State’s high school recruits want to see the Nittany Lions’ new head coach when they’re on the University Park campus next Saturday night, they’ll probably need to turn on their television sets.
That’s because Patriots offensive coordinator and future PSU head coach Bill O’Brien will be coaching Tom Brady and Co. in an AFC divisional playoff game in Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
That game on Jan. 14 will be televised at 8 p.m. by CBS and will feature host New England against the winner of this weekend’s playoff game between Cincinnati and Houston.
The viewing dates may well continue. O’Brien plans on coaching the Patriots through the playoffs – all the way to the Super Bowl on Feb. 5, if necessary, according to ESPN’s Adam Shefter and the Boston Herald’s Ian Rapoport.
So, O’Brien’s time with the Patriots could go past the Feb. 1 national signing date, when football-playing high school seniors put in writing their college decision. It is an agreement that binds them to their selection. Right now, 14 high school seniors have verbally committed to attending Penn State; an additional three have dropped their commitment since Joe Paterno was fired on Nov. 9.
Meanwhile, as of 1 a.m. Friday, interim head coach Tom Bradley had not heard from Penn State or anyone on the school's six-person search committee -- including acting athletic director Dave Joyner, according to a source close to the coach. Bradley is in Pittsburgh on a recruiting trip.
Penn State issued a statement through a spokesperson Thursday night, indicating that it “will comment when we name the new coach.”
It is possible O’Brien could attend a weekend announcement in University Park; the Patriots are the top seed in the AFC and have a bye this weekend for the first round of the NFL playoffs.
O’Brien, 42, played linebacker and defensive end at Brown from 1990-92. He spent 14 years coaching at the college level at Brown, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke. Upon arriving in New England in 2007, O’Brien was an offensive assistant and then coached the Patriots’ wide receivers in 2008. He coached the quarterbacks in 2009-10 and this season he was promoted to offensive coordinator, while continuing as quarterback coach.
If O’Brien stayed with the Patriots through the conclusion of the team’s participation in the 2012 postseason, it could create a number of challenges involving Penn State’s recruits, the current Nittany Lions coaching staff and O’Brien’s new staff.
College coaches are permitted to visit recruits on Friday and Saturday, but no recruiting is permitted again until Jan. 13-28. So the next big recruiting bump is Jan. 13-14, a Friday-Saturday weekend that is traditionally very important to the recruiting process. Several recruits are slated to visit Penn State that weekend.
Retaining assistant coaches such as Larry Johnson (defensive line) and Ron Vanderlinden (linebackers) could keep most of Penn State’s recruiting class intact, said Ryan Snyder, recruiting reporter for Blue White Illustrated. On Thursday night after news of the hire broke, Snyder said he spoke with several Penn State recruits who have made verbal commitments.
“If they keep Johnson and Vanderlinden, and O’Brien brings in a solid coaching staff with some national college level experience,” Snyder said, “this class can be salvaged. It’s early, but it’s very possible.”
Snyder said that among the recruits he spoke with who intend to play on offense for Penn State, the response to O’Brien’s hire was enthusiastic.
“In talking with the recruits on offense, they were definitely open to the idea of coming in and playing for an offensive coordinator who’s coached Tom Brady,” he said. “At the same time, Vandy and LJ are really important with a number of players – as is Bill Kenney.”
Kenney, a New England native who handles much of Penn State’s recruiting there, has been at Penn State for 24 years and coaches offensive tackles and tight ends.