Multiple sources are reporting that after months of searching, Penn State has finally come to a decision on its next football coach, reaching an agreement with Bill O’Brien, Offensive Coordinator for the New England Patriots.
As reported by Chris Mortensen of ESPN, an official announcement is expected on Saturday.
The hiring certainly doesn’t answer every last question surrounding Penn State football, but it is yet another step towards a clearer picture of the program’s future.
While the Board of Trustees has apparently reached its decision, the fanbase is sure to have its share of opinions regarding the hire. With every decision, there is good and bad. Take the following points likely to be raised regarding O’Brien, first starting with the negative criticism:
1) It’s not a sexy hire.
Bill O’Brien has a significant amount of experience in both college and the pros, but he’s likely not a name that anyone had heard of until a few weeks ago. It’s also likely that most fans would not have been satisfied unless a marquee name like Nick Saban or Chris Petersen came onboard to save the Nittany Lions.
2) Belichick assistants have struggled away from New England.
“Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” While it’s not fair to mesh one individual in with a group of others, it’s hard to ignore the facts. A number of coaches have struggled upon leaving Belichick’s nest, including Charlie Weis, Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel.
3) His personality will not fit Penn State.
How did most people first find out about Bill O’Brien? It’s simple, when he hit the news headlines while having a verbal brawl with Tom Brady on the sidelines during a Patriots game this season. In that moment, O’Brien came off as a hothead and not someone that many people would want to have roaming the sidelines at Penn State. It is, however, important to note that in an ESPN video interview, Chris Mortensen squashed the idea, saying that O’Brien is a “smart, even-keeled guy”.
4) How will he handle recruiting?
A close friend’s first criticism was that O’Brien has “no proven track record, especially with recruiting”. It’s possible that he may be right, but we can’t be so sure of that, at least, not without doing a lot of research. O’Brien does have experience in the college ranks, which will be addressed in the next section. Still, it’s a legitimate concern.
5) How will the current players react, and will anyone leave?
Many fans are on board with a fresh start, stating that the removal of the entire current staff seemed like the best move for the university. However, upon adding O’Brien to the mix, how will the players react? Will any key contributors decide to transfer? In addition, will any of the current recruits decide to sign elsewhere when National Signing Day arrives? How about alums since he’s not a part of the Penn State family?
1) He’s young, provides a fresh face and a fresh start.
O’Brien is just 42 years of age, and provides a much needed fresh start to a program that clearly needed a change. He’s more than half the age of previous head coach Joe Paterno.
2) His experience is plentiful.
Bill O’Brien doesn’t lack in experience, even though none of it is as a head coach. Dating back to 1993, O’Brien has been a coach at Brown, Georgia Tech, Duke, Maryland and with the NFL’s New England Patriots. On top of the experience, he’s said to have a high level of integrity, which is exactly what Penn State was seeking.
3) He’s coached Tom Brady, a future NFL Hall of Famer.
Never undestimate the exposure and experience that a coach has had, especially when you’re working and recruiting high school kids. So many of these young kids grew up watching Tom Brady dominate the NFL. You don’t think that as a head coach, Bill O’Brien couldn’t use that to his advantage, especially with offensive players, and specifically with quarterbacks? Penn State hasn’t had a successful pure pocket passer since 1994, when Kerry Collins graduated.
4) He can add an NFL spin to a “vanilla” offense
Aside from the “Spread HD” concept and some recent wrinkles with the Wildcat, the Penn State offense has mostly been “vanilla” for decades. The lack of creativity had led to nothing but predictability for opposing teams. It also results in many recruits choosing other destinations, especially ones that run pro-style offenses. With O’Brien on board, Penn State could dabble in that department, too.
5) Keeping recruits such as Skyler Mornhinweg
With O’Brien’s NFL experience with quarterbacks, it’s possible that he could keep recruits, specifically a kid like Skyler Mornhinweg, whose father is NFL assistant coach Marty Mornhinweg. The possibility of keeping a highly talented recruit such as Mornhinweg may just rise, but that also remains to be seen. Still, with the struggles of Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin in 2011, the quarterback position is a definite need for Penn State
The points highlighted in RED are the ones that strike closest with me regarding the O’Brien decision. The lack of a sexy hire – while inevitable – presents itself as a disappointment, albeit not at all surprising, especially considering Penn State’s current condition. Also, the lack of success among Belichick assistants is an even bigger concern.
On the positive side, O’Brien has a track record that branches across numerous college programs, as well as with easily the most successful NFL franchise over the last decade. New England’s offensive success is no secret in the NFL today, and O’Brien has had a hand in that, while also working with a Hall of Fame NFL quarterback in Tom Brady. That kind of innovative style and experience could be just what Penn State needs for its offense. More importantly, having a coach that has worked closely with Tom Brady could help in landing highly rated recruits, such as a kid like Skyler Mornhinweg, who has already given a verbal commitment to Penn State. Keeping him around would be a big accomplishment for a team that desperately needs stability at the quarterback position.
Penn State football has a long way to go, and many questions remain, such as how the entire coaching staff will look by the time the season starts.
But here’s an opportunity for new beginnings, a fresh face and more healing.
For Bill O’Brien, it’s a huge challenge and an even bigger opportunity.