Posted January 01, 2014

Breaking down Bill O’Brien’s decision to leave Penn State for the Houston Texans

Bill O'Brien, Penn State Nittany Lions
Bill O'Brien

Bill O’Brien will leave Penn State to coach the NFL’s Houston Texans. (Centre Daily Times/MCT/Getty Images)

“There’s only one Joe Paterno. What I’m going to try to do is be Bill O’Brien and we’re going to do the best we can to continue the success that he’s had here for many, many years. Again, we’re going to show respect for coach Paterno and what he did here and we’re going to move forward to a new era of Penn State football.” — Bill O’Brien, Jan. 7, 2012

On Tuesday night, shortly before the ball dropped and ushered in 2014, news broke that Bill O’Brien will become the next head coach of the Houston Texans. He’ll depart Penn State after two seasons at the school, where he went 8-4 in ’12 and 7-5 in ’13, respectively.

To fully understand why O’Brien is leaving, go read David Jones’ piece from PennLive.com. In it, Jones provides details of his conversation with O’Brien from Dec. 4, one in which the coach very clearly expressed his frustrations with the position.

We’ll get to that in a second. But first, I want to revisit the above quote from O’Brien’s introductory press conference at Penn State in January 2012.

“There’s only one Joe Paterno. What I’m going to try to do is be Bill O’Brien.”

At the time, that line seemed largely insignificant. It was type of thing you’d expect to hear from a man who was just hired to replace the face of the university for nearly half a century. Now, it reads differently. From the moment he arrived in Happy Valley, O’Brien was extremely cognizant of the type of problems he might encounter.

He walked into an incredibly difficult and unprecedented situation. He found success, offered hope to a reeling fan base and, two years later, he left. O’Brien wanted to coach in the way he was most comfortable. If Jones’ column is any indication, he realized that might not be possible at Penn State.

From the Jones piece:

“You can print this: You can print that I don’t really give a —- what the ‘Paterno people’ think about what I do with this program. I’ve done everything I can to show respect to coach Paterno. Everything in my power. So I could really care less about what the Paterno faction of people, or whatever you call them, think about what I do with the program. I’m tired of it.

“For any ‘Paterno person’ to have any objection to what I’m doing, it makes me wanna put my fist through this windshield right now.”

[ … ]

“I’m trying to field the most competitive football team I can with near-death penalty —-ing sanctions. Every time I say something like that and somebody prints it, it’s skewed as an excuse. And I’m not an excuse-maker. I’m trying to do the best I can for the kids in that program. That’s all I care about is the kids in that program. As long as I’m the head football coach here.”

Players and fans have every right to be upset about O’Brien’s choice. Moves like this are emotional, and reacting strongly is part of being human. Coaches are not the football-operating robots we often depict them to be. Relationships between programs and people are never perfect. O’Brien’s quotes make all of that quite clear.

O’Brien was seemingly fed up. He found an opportunity in which he wouldn’t have to fill a vacuum as a “figurehead” or deal with a “Paterno faction.” So he moved on. Ultimately, Bill O’Brien did what was right for Bill O’Brien.

As fans, we inherently expect players and coaches to feel the same connection to a team that we do. We expect them to embrace the culture, to love the quirks, to live and breathe every aspect of a school from its creamery to Canyon Pizza. In State College — a place with a proud and storied football tradition — that sentiment is especially strong.

But Penn State will be okay. It might be far better than that. Though leadership questions loom as a major unknown — the school has a lame-duck president (Rodney Erickson) and could be set to find a new athletic director — it should have several quality options to replace O’Brien, as the AP’s Ralph Russo pointed out on Wednesday morning. Once a program rocked by an unthinkable scandal and a relentlessly messy aftermath, the clouds have begun to disperse. Behind quarterback Christian Hackenberg and company, the Nittany Lions appear to have a bright future.

Bill O’Brien is not Joe Paterno. He is not a Penn State lifer. He elected to pursue his NFL dream, a move plenty of coaches have made before him and plenty more will make in the future.

The new year is a time for new beginnings. For every party involved, that’s exactly what this is.

113 comments
David46
David46

If he thinks he was an "outsider" at penn state, wait until the texas residents start berating him when the team loses a few games. 


i'll make this post a placeholder to come back for when he's blowing off steam in a couple of years about how his frustration at houston is someone else's fault. He's going to be one of those guys who the reporters are always prodding to get him to say something stupid, and he'll manage to do it.

renee
renee

Hey, Campus Union, how long are you going to hold my post in "Pending" status, huh? Having a meeting about it?

kneesrgone2
kneesrgone2

I wish O'Brien the best and hope he finds what he's looking for in the NFL. From the moment he took the job I think he had his sights on returning to the NFL. That said though, he may have changed his mind had the "Paterno people" as he called them had just kept their mouths shut and let him run his own program. I am a Penn State grad, but I have never worshipped at the altar of Joe Paterno. He should have retired after the 1995 Rose Bowl win. Sure, he built the program into a national power. Then he proceeded to hang on too long and let it decline considerably. Coaching major college football hasn't been a job for 65+ year old man for a long time now. Too bad he began to believe too much of what was written and said about him by those who believed he was more than just a man, and the spineless administration that didn't simply get rid of him. The next coach is going to need a thick skin to put up with this BS, as it will continue into the foreseeable future until the JoeBots die or move on. They are screaming for a Penn State grad to be coach, thinking that will mean following all of Paterno's ways. They are wrong. Whoever it is will have his own ideas, and some of those will be met with immediate skepticism. Hopefully the new guy will be able to let it roll off his back and press on with his own style and way of doing things. O'Brien did a great job and I thank him for it, especially given the circumstances. Apparently he simply had had enough of the Paterno BS. I can understand it. I know too many JoeBots. Hopefully all of the current players stay and commits keep them. Penn State football is back on the rise. O'Brien saw to that.

Listening
Listening

I hope none of the kids that stayed because he begged them too are still with the program.  Those kids stood with him and PSU.  Maybe he should have waited until they all graduated or left on their own to leave IMHO.  Then again...  I know these days it's all about looking out for #1.

genzero
genzero

 I am in Houston and wish O'Brien well but also would recommend he tread softly coming in here. There is a lot of pent up frustration in this market that portrayed itself last season in some ugly ways that go beyond the NFL city norm. I have lived in some other NFL cities in the past and when the team tanked most fans just shifted their attention to basketball season, baseball season, college football etc and waited for the inevitable adjustments (firings, player changes etc) to happen. Here in football crazy land that does not always play out that way. Fans focus on the NFL here year round (listen to local sports radio) and obsess about it and when you do not win fans start showing up on your front yard yelling at your kids and start cheering their own players getting hurt etc. It is a different animal here and it may look like the ideal NFL opportunity from a distance but even more than most NFL jobs here you had better win and soon.

dandogwood
dandogwood

Bill O'Brien is a miserbale SOB unhappy and mad at the world.  Penn State is better off with this miserable frustrated man leaving the program. Np college coach wanted the Penn State job 2 years agoand O'Brien was brought in as a temp coach anyway.

RandyHayes
RandyHayes

I wish he would have went to the Lions.Houston got themselves a good coach.Certainly did the job at PSU.Now we'll see who they go after.

Robert96
Robert96

We in Houston are very pleased that we are getting O'Brien and wishing him much success. If he can win games, he can stay here a long, long time. Head coach of the Texans, unlike Penn State, is an absolutely great job with tons of benefits and none of the State politics of shame.

dandogwood
dandogwood

O'Brien leaving is a blessing for Penn State who can now hire a personable likeable coach who can recruit and is trustworthy.  Billy O is a bottom feeder. nothing more.

kfl1967
kfl1967

Let's wait and let Bill O'Brien say why he left. not a reporter who has a track record of dislike for PSU.


If in the end, Bill does indeed feel that way, I hope he can point to at least one tangible thing any "Paterno supporter" did that stopped him from being able to do his job.  What…..Did they rally to squeeze Bill out and have JoePa coach from the grave?   Was a few complaints about names on Jerseys too much criticism?   Bill O'Brien accepted the job of Head Coach at Penn State, if he is that thin skinned, maybe HC isn't the position for him at any level.


Bill O'Brien followed a coaching legend who had been in State College for over 6 decades.  The fans embraced O'Brien and supported that football team as much as any other in their history.   The idea that fans can't support both the current and past is just plain nonsense. 

x72
x72

Whoa, rumors swirling right now that Aaron Rodgers is about to announce that he's coming out. Wonder what the Duck Dynasty people think about this...safe to say they won't be rooting for the packers.

IM1RU12
IM1RU12

All of you whiners about O'Brien moving on.  The University of Houston lost Art Briles to Baylor and Kevin Sumlin to Texas A&M.  Coaches move up to bigger and better programs.  Wish O'Brien well and Penn State will get another coach. 

RobertSmith
RobertSmith

I hope O'Brien fails miserably in the NFL and realizes that greed and ego are character flaws that drove him to leave a program and kids to whom he had pledged his commitment and integrity.  But $3.2M per year is not enough for the Truly Greedy.

MarcoZ
MarcoZ

As a Pitt grad I think O'Brien's comments about Paterno fans were peevish and immature. It is never easy to follow a long time coach. How many "Paterno supporters" is he really complaining about? Are you really paying attention to the nut balls on the blogs Coach O'Brien?  All Penn State fans I talked to were pleased with the job O'Brien was doing.  I would be concerned if I were the Texans. Is he going to punch a writer from the Houston Chronicle if there is a negative article written about a coaching decision?

DrG1994
DrG1994

Not a Penn State apologist, but look at the facts:

First, David Jones is a known opponent of Penn State football and of Paterno.  Anyone who thinks he is an unbiased journalist must agree that both MSNBC and Fox News are unbiased in their presentation of news.


Second, to argue that the football program should have been eliminated because of the actions of a retired coach whose presence in the building where the alleged incidents occurred (again, Sandusky was never convicted of rape on the Penn State campus) was provided by the fellow who currently is interim university president makes one wonder if they would also urge closing the computer science department because one of the faculty members had child porn on the office computer. 


Third, Bill O'Brien told recruits LAST SATURDAY that he was staying.  Three days later, he's leaving--and, according to Jones, it's because he was fed up with the Paterno supporters criticizing his moves.  The guy won the first year with players recruited by Paterno and Paterno's coaches, and he had no clue about how to select a defensive coordinator who could stop the run and whose defensive backs played off the line of scrimmage.  As a Texans fan, I can't help but think that management overreacted by hiring O'Brien, who strikes me as less qualified to be a head coach than Kubiak was when he was hired.

ElvisHitler
ElvisHitler

Using the Sandusky child rape nightmare as a stepping stone for your career? Not cool Billy Buttchin. I wish you continued failure, which shouldn't be much of a problem since you are a terrible coach. Bad hire.

FredFlintsone
FredFlintsone

Why? Had he known what was going on there he nor anyone else would never have returned any call from Ped State, a school it seems with some "interesting" priorities. Im surprised that organization did not  self-impose a 5 year ban on themselves after what they watched happen for so many years there. That program is a disgrace. Too bad I used to think very highly of Paterno

Whatever_21
Whatever_21

Paterno should have been fired two decades ago.  You are not a head coach if you don't make decisions on game day...ie: he never wore a head set and had no communications with his coordinators.  The guy looked lost on the sidelines and should of been in the stands.   He wasn't involved in game planning and couldn't name half the players on the roster.  Paterno was an idiot, had no integrity and would be sharing a prison cell with Sandusky if was alive today for enabling a pedophile.  I wouldn't blame O'brien for leaving the program because he had to deal with a delusional fan base.

ZackSelzman
ZackSelzman

Penn State really needs to realize how close they are to becomming a has been football program.  Were I a fan, I would spend less time wondering whether your next coach is up to the high standards of Papa Look the other way Joe, and instead figure out what they can do to help that coach be as comfortable and as successful as possible.  You are all in denial. 

ElvisHitler
ElvisHitler

By taking the pedo st job he proved that he condones sandusky & joe pa's actions.

Shooter McGavin 19711
Shooter McGavin 19711

Another O'Brien apologist.  O'Brien spoke with some of his recruits less than five days ago, and assured them he'd be back coaching at Penn State.  Clearly his word means nothing.  At all.  And as another poster said, if you can't take the heat at a college program, good luck coaching an NFL team in Texas.  They'll eat him alive.

dandogwood
dandogwood

Penn State is better off with O'Brien leaving. O'Brien was hired as a stop gap only for a few years after 50 coaches turned down the job. O'Brien is very average.

ianlinross
ianlinross

If O'Brien can't handle the scrutiny from a bunch of idiots at the college level, how is he going to handle being in the spotlight as the main man in Houston? This guy's going to have some interesting press conferences next fall.

neale.trangucci
neale.trangucci

I have come 180 degrees on Bill OB. At 1st, I was sympathitic. Now all this noise about the "Paterno faction" and putting his fist through the windshield has changrd my view.

Every college football coach has a part of the fan base that is against him. For god's sake, Nick Sabin's wife complained about Alabama fans who don't appreciate what her husband has done. Bo Pelini has railed against Nebraska fans. It is all part of the job that pays O'Brien $3.6 million per. His complaining about the Pateno faction is sophmoric and IMHO a red herring. He did great things for the program but his leaving had nothing to do with the Paterno faction. It was all about the money and the NFL opportunity. It is time for him to move on.

ggysny
ggysny

@David46 I think that was precisely what the reported did--------prodded him to say something stupid.

ggysny
ggysny

@genzero pretty hard to get much worse than two reg season wins. Besides, first yr will be his honeymoon yr. He'll go after the offensive playmakers they need. Guaranteed you win more than two games next season.

CarlosAmador
CarlosAmador

@genzero aren't most fans of teams that are losing frustrated? And while there was the whole Matt Schaub thing when he was playing historically bad I don't remember any of the coaches having to worry about fans. Were there any fans stabbed or beaten up after any of the games I don't remember.

pandah462
pandah462

@dandogwood You're delusional.  He won games after their stars left.  He would have continued winning.  Wait...you're a Paterno!

CarlosAmador
CarlosAmador

@RandyHayes I was worried he was going to go to the Lions - most analyst and people agree that they have more pieces in place and are built to win soon. 

pandah462
pandah462

@dandogwood You Paternos sure have quite the ax to grind.  Speaking of a "bottom feeder", "nothing more"...go look in the mirror.

pandah462
pandah462

@x72 He plays for the Packers?  Against Bears?  Oy!

pandah462
pandah462

@RobertSmith You clown.  You just described what almost all coaches would do if they had the opportunity.

CarlosAmador
CarlosAmador

@MarcoZ When O'Brien is talking about the "Paterno supporters" how do you know he is talking about comments on a blog? Could he have been talking about supporters that spoke to him in person? Do you really believe that any one at a head coaching position (at the college level or higher) is really going to be concerned with what is written about them in an article. Don't you think they would realize they are always going to have their detractors regardless of their performance? 

pandah462
pandah462

@MarcoZ Why is your college affiliation of note?  It's not.  O'Brien can say whatever he wants.  He was in the job, not you.

ggysny
ggysny

@DrG1994 I heard OBrien  took DC John Butler to Houston w/ him. Think it was once said, "to the victor, goes the spoils".

CarlosAmador
CarlosAmador

@DrG1994 As a head coach recruiting why would you tell recruits you were thinking about leaving or that you might not stay? Wouldn't that only leak out before the coach had a chance to decide if that was the decision he wanted to make?


Is O'Brien going to be a good NFL head coach? I don't know but if he was REPORTEDLY the coach several teams were going after (according to multiple news and sports outlets) then I think management was correct to move so quickly. 


Only time will tell if they made the right decision.

Shooter McGavin 19711
Shooter McGavin 19711

@ElvisHitler So by taking the job, Obama proved he condoned every action that George W. Bush did during his tenure?  Give your head a shake.  You won't hear anything.  Nothing to rattle around up there.  Nothing at all...

ZackSelzman
ZackSelzman

@Shooter McGavin 19711 Penn State.. Where the guy that Reports the Pedo is the bad Guy... yeah, I'm sure he'll really miss that used to be something program.

Mike26
Mike26

@Shooter McGavin 19711 Huh?  It's apparent that some PSU still haven't caught up to the realization that THIS Is how sports work nowadays with coaches.  Paterno was a huge anomaly that will NEVER EVER EVER be repeated.  You can either continue whining about it or face reality Shooter.  Your choice.

Mike26
Mike26

@ianlinross You're completely clueless about the Texans organization and media.  In fact, you're clueless about the job responsibilities of an NFL HC vs. a college HC.  Perhaps you should inform yourself better prior to posting.   


Oh gawd, I sound just like JoeCabot!

Craig
Craig

@neale.trangucci You're right...and wrong.  Every coach does have a portion of the fan base that don't support his every decision.  Usually, however, it revolves around play-calling or maybe which kids to sit and which to play.  Those are legitimate questions, even though it doesn't mean the questioners know diddly squat about football.  That goes with the territory.


O'Brien walked into a much different situation.  Despite the mess, there were/are still a significant fan base that cannot acknowledge that no one can measure up to Paterno (which is likely true in their eyes) and that Paterno was somehow tainted by something he had nothing to do with.  No amount of logic or intelligent discussion will change their mind.  It's a religion to them.


So...he took a job following "God" and then was saddled with the restrictions that "God's mess" left behind.  Despite their supposed interest in Penn State, those folks wanted him to fail...and still do.  They are unable, and more importantly, unwilling to move on.  Regardless of the scandal, Paterno is deceased, so he's no long an option in any case, and it's time for everybody to move on.  O'Brien did a decent job of keeping things more or less together.  He made it possible for someone else to come in and continue re-building.  To a degree he was a designated "Red Shirt" to be sacrificed in the first heat of battle.  He likely suspected that was his role, but he played it nonetheless.  I can't fault him for that, nor should others.  He came into a no-win situation and did the best he could.  For a long time the Penn State coach is going to hear "you're no JoePa."  Sad...but true.

Mike26
Mike26

@JoeCabot @dandogwood Yes, who were coaches?  HS coaches?  D3 coaches?  Was Saban burning up the phone lines wanting in?

Mike26
Mike26

@Craig @neale.trangucci Well-put Craig.  It's also the reason that it's unlikely that another QUALITY outsider will be applying for the job - especially with the heart of the sanctions about to hit.  There are some folks at/around PSU that will NEVER accept the issues that occurred there - EVER.  It's sad but true.

neale.trangucci
neale.trangucci

That is wishful thinking on your part. You must be from Ohio (or Pittsburgh). Programs like Penn State never die. They cycle. If you think there aren't a host of QUALITY coaches interviewing right now for the PSU HC job then you are naive. Big time college football coaches are mercenaries, not Franciscan Monks. For $5 mm per, a chance to be the guy who returned an iconic program to prominence and with the nucleus (Christian Hackerberg and the bevy of talented young skill players) already in place, PSU will get a quality coach.

And fans will forget Joe. It takes time, but it happens. And it is not an issue unique to PSU. Remember, no one was EVER going to be able to replace Bear Bryant or John Wooden or Dean Smith or Red Aurback or Ara Parsigian or Bo Shembeckler or Fog Allen or Connie Mack... but guess what... they did.