The NFL regular season ended Sunday, and another wave of chatter involving Penn State coach Bill O’Brien’s future has already started.
Multiple NFL head coaches are expected to lose their jobs this week. Some might be looking for employment as early as Monday.
Such is life in a results-driven business.
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Sunday that O’Brien could be on more “short lists” for NFL head coaching vacancies than Oregon’s Chip Kelly, whose flamboyant Ducks play Kansas State in this week’s Fiesta Bowl. The report mentions the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles as teams that might be interested in O’Brien.
The Browns went 5-11 this season under second-year coach Pat Shurmur. The Browns are led by new owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner, a duo looking to make a splashy hire to revive an ailing franchise with a young roster.
The Eagles went 4-12 under 14-year coach Andy Reid and were blasted by the New York Giants 42-7 on Sunday. Reid has one year remaining on his contract, but the Eagles have missed the playoffs two straight seasons and have never won a Super Bowl under Reid.
The New York Jets, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Kansas City, Carolina and San Diego are among the other teams that might be considering coaching changes.
O’Brien is familiar with the NFL’s demanding ways. He worked for the New England Patriots from 2007-11, rising to offensive coordinator before being tabbed as Joe Paterno’s permanent successor last January.
Experience as Bill Belichick’s offensive coordinator in New England often leads to desirable head coaching jobs. Charlie Weis hopped to Notre Dame. Josh McDaniels ended his first stint as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator by becoming the Denver Broncos’ head coach, lasting 28 games. McDaniels, coincidentally, replaced O’Brien as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator earlier this year.
O’Brien enhanced his marketability by guiding Penn State to an 8-4 record despite major roster upheaval caused by punishing NCAA sanctions. The Nittany Lions lost their first two games, yet recovered to win eight of their last 10. The Nittany Lions went 6-2 in Big Ten play.
Stabilizing the roster and recovering from a slow start netted O’Brien consensus Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. He also was named Maxwell Club Coach of the Year earlier this month.
The combination of NFL experience and a successful debut season amid unprecedented circumstances could spark dialogue between O’Brien’s agent Joe Linta and NFL general managers and owners.
Hiring the 43-year-old O’Brien would be expensive. His base salary is $950,00, according to the version of his contract Penn State posted online. 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.
O’Brien’s future became a topic when he was asked twice about his commitment to Penn State during a weekly news conference last month. Given a chance to make a definitive statement about his future at Penn State, O’Brien deflected the question, saying his sole focus was on the upcoming game against Indiana.
After a season-ending victory against Wisconsin, O’Brien discussed his immediate plans, which included player meetings and recruiting. O’Brien hasn’t held a postseason news conference and Penn State hasn’t made the coach available to area media since the Wisconsin game.
O’Brien told an Atlanta radio station last month that he will continue working as Penn State’s coach.
“I plan on being the head football coach at Penn State,” he said on the Mayhem show on WQXI-AM, 790 The Zone. “That’s my plan and that’s what I intend to do.”
Speculation regarding O’Brien’s future hasn’t slowed Penn State’s recruiting efforts. Penn State received commitments from high school linebackers Zayd Issah and Jonathan Walton and wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, prep school defensive back Anthony Smith and junior college quarterback Tyler Ferguson earlier this month.
Jan. 6 marks the one-year anniversary of O’Brien’s hiring.