When NCAA president Mark Emmert lowered the boom with harsh sanctions on the Penn State football program Monday, you couldnt help but feel a little sorry for new Nittany Lion coach Bill OBrien.
Wasnt OBriens job of replacing a legend at a program and university tarnished by the Jerry Sandusky scandal tough enough? Now, with the severity of the NCAA sanctions, hell have to do it with one hand tied behind his back.
Many pundits wondered why OBrien would want to stick around. Who would want to deal with reduced scholarships, no bowl games for four years or the sharks circling to pick off current players or incoming recruits?
While all of this was swirling on Monday, I got a call from a friend one who has coached at the college and high school levels. After hearing the radio chatter, my friend had a different perspective on OBriens situation at Penn State and what he said made more sense.
The better question was, Why would OBrien want to leave Penn State?
My friend said OBrien has a circumstance that many coaches relish when taking over a program no public expectations.
While not many coaches will admit it, he said any experienced coach knows its easier to start at a program where youre not expected to win immediately and given the severity of the NCAA sanctions certainly thats the case in Happy Valley.
No expectations give a coach time to establish his system without wins and losses being the lone criteria for success. That time especially in college athletics is critical to implement that system and to find the right pieces to fit into it.
OBrien has an empty canvas with which to paint. He can institute change as the program and university look for a fresh start. Heck, even the iconic uniforms could be on the table.
With those scholarship restrictions, certainly the expectations for Penn State to win consistently over the next several seasons are low.
OBriens contemporaries, like Ohio States Urban Meyer and Nebraskas Bo Pelini, believe he faces a supreme challenge. He does.
But if by some miracle OBrien is able to string together winning seasons out of the box, hell be heralded as a genius.
Anyway you look at it, OBrien is playing with house money until the NCAA penalties are served, and even a few more years after.
The other thing my friend said Monday was that OBrien should immediately ask for Penn State to extend his contract. Little did we know, the coach (and/or his agent) had already taken care of that. Thanks to OBriens revelation on national radio Tuesday, we learned that he had an addendum to his contract which extended it the same number of seasons that Penn State received sanctions. Smart move.
Before he coaches his first game, OBrien has nine years on his contract. Thats both job and financial security.
And with nine years, that certainly defines the direction of the program and who will be leading it.
While winning may be a challenge over the next few seasons and OBrien has given every indication hell embrace that test with vigor hes got a couple of things in his corner that should make any result easier to stomach.
The freedom and job security are great for a new coach.
But, what really may make the transition easier is that a still supportive and rabid fan base has no expectations for several falls. There will be no calls for OBriens head after a rough season.
Given the circumstances, its hard to ask for anything more.