UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said multiple times Tuesday that his team has "moved on" from last weekend's loss at Nebraska.
When the questions involved whether he personally wants to move on, his statements were less concrete.
O’Brien fielded two questions in his weekly news conference about his own NFL possibilities. Neither answer eliminated uncertainty regarding his long-term future at Penn State.
“I’m focused on Indiana,” said O’Brien, whose team meets the Hoosiers on Saturday at Beaver Stadium. “We are 6-4, trying to get that seventh win and just really want to do a great job coaching this team this week for the Indiana game.”
O’Brien was later asked whether he felt a need to make a definitive statement about his future at Penn State.
“We’re 6-4,” he said. “I’m flattered that you would ask me that question. I’m worried about Indiana and our Tuesday practice and looking forward to doing the best we can as a team and a coaching staff for this Indiana game.”
His ability to keep a Penn State team handling major NCAA sanctions together and a professional background could make O’Brien a candidate for multiple NFL jobs.
Penn State’s 6-4 record appears pedestrian on the surface. But O’Brien is coaching a team that lost its leading rusher, receiver and kicker/punter in the immediate aftermath of the NCAA sanctions levied against the schools. The Nittany Lions have been either leading or tied in the second half of every game.
Penn State hired O’Brien as Joe Paterno’s permanent successor last January. O’Brien spent a month juggling his responsibilities at Penn State with his duties as the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator. He moved to State College last February.
In his final year as New England’s offensive coordinator, the Patriots averaged 428 yards and 32.1 points per game and reached the Super Bowl. The 43-year-old O’Brien spent five years working with Patriots’ offense, ascending to a coordinator position in 2011. New England’s Bill Belichick is one of his coaching mentors.
NFL coaching jobs are difficult to obtain. But multiple openings are expected to surface during or after this season. Cleveland, Dallas, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Oakland, Kansas City, San Diego, Carolina and the New York Jets are teams that could be searching for coaches.
The success of recent college coaches Greg Schiano (Rutgers, Tampa Bay), Jim Harbaugh (Stanford, San Francisco) and Pete Carroll (Southern California, Seattle) might convince some NFL owners and general managers to scour Division I programs for coaching vacancies.
Hiring O’Brien would be an expensive endeavor. According to the version of his contract Penn State posted online, O’Brien’s current base salary is $950,000 per year. He also receives $1 million annually for media and public appearances and $350,000 from an apparel deal with Nike. The media and apparel deals bring O’Brien’s annual salary to $2.3 million per year.
O’Brien agreed to a five-year deal last January. The deal was amended last July, with O’Brien receiving four additional years on his contract because of the NCAA sanctions.
The initial version of O’Brien’s contract posted by Penn State states that he would owe the university the value of the remaining years on the deal upon termination. The buyout includes the full $2.3 million he’s scheduled to receive annually.
As for his team moving on, O’Brien had little to say about last week’s 32-23 loss, which included Matt Lehman’s controversial goal-line fumble midway through the fourth quarter. Asked what he would tell fans who view the call as another example of a slight against Penn State, O’Brien said, “I would tell our fans that nobody is against Penn State.”
His quarterback, Matt McGloin, had a different opinion after the game, telling reporters: “We’re not going to get that call here. We’re not going to get the call ever actually against any team. It doesn’t matter who the refs are.”
The usually accessible and candid McGloin is not available to reporters this week, a decision made by O’Brien.
“I choose what players talk to the media every week,” O’Brien said. “I chose for him to not be on that list.”
O’Brien didn’t provide a reason for his decision, leaving teammates to speak for McGloin.
“The thing about Matt is that this team has great respect for his passion, fire and leadership,” right tackle Mike Farrell said. “The fact that he wanted to go out and make a comment, that’s just his prerogative. To me, I saw the passion was there and maybe that’s what’s behind a comment like that. That’s fine. We’re still behind him. This team is really sticking together, so that’s how I process that reaction in my mind.”
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.