Walt Moody | Penn State football: O’Brien’s decision all business

January 1, 2014 

A good business deal is one in which both parties get what they want.

And as 2014 rings in, it’s hard to call Bill O’Brien’s two-year tenure as Penn State’s football coach anything but that — a good business deal.

The Nittany Lions needed someone — especially someone outside the family — to keep the football program alive and bringing in the dollars in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. O’Brien left the program in better shape than when he came onboard, even with massive NCAA sanctions weighing it down.

O’Brien needed a vehicle that could establish him as head coaching material for the NFL. After going 15-9 in two seasons and amassing numerous Coach of the Year honors in his tenure, he’s now headed to Houston to take over the Texans.

Both got what they wanted and needed.

Good business.

Yet, for many in Nittany Nation that phrase rings a little hollow. Despite what has evolved over the years, they didn’t see Penn State football as a business. That was for the football factories down South.

It was different here. It was family, led by Joe Paterno who would stay 50 years and wouldn’t give up the job until they threw him out.

Those days, like the beloved coach, are now long gone.

And Nittany Lion fans better get used to it.

Head football coach at Penn State is no longer a job for life. It’s a stepping stone to something else, something better.

That stings a little.

Let’s face it. The handwriting was on the wall as early as last December.

O’Brien interviewed for NFL jobs in Philadelphia and Cleveland, not long after receiving those national accolades.

Whether head coaching in the NFL was his dream job or not, O’Brien certainly was listening to what teams had to offer.

He proclaimed at the time he was not “a one and done” guy at Penn State. Maybe he should have said “one more and done.”

Penn State certainly aided his departure by retooling his contract. While O’Brien got a substantial raise, the key component was reducing by about two-thirds the buyout an NFL team would have to pay to get him out of the deal.

Obviously, the Texans want him badly enough to pay the $6.5 million buyout and we’ll find out when O’Brien signs his deal Thursday how much they are willing to pay him.

And if you have to lose a coach, getting $6.5 million isn’t a bad way to soothe the pain.

Given the fact that he was looking or at least willing to listen again, it’s a certainty that O’Brien wanted out of Happy Valley.

Message boards are offering a variety of reasons.

Certainly, NCAA president Mark Emmert dropping the bomb on the program wasn’t what O’Brien had signed up for, although he knew sanctions were a possibility because he had language in his contract that extended his tenure by the number of years of the penalties.

The school administration is always going to get some if not all of the blame. Maybe there is some merit, but the school was willing to restructure O’Brien’s deal.

Maybe — heaven forbid — he and his family just didn’t like living here.

Since the news broke Tuesday, O’Brien has been silent. We’ll hear more once the ink is dry on the contract.

The best insight we have is from Harrisburg Patriot-News columnist David Jones, who spoke to O’Brien nearly a month ago.

According to Jones, O’Brien vented about a number of subjects. He was unhappy with having to perform roles outside of that as head coach. Having served as an assistant coach at several colleges, O’Brien should have had a pretty good idea what this entailed, even at a university that was especially needy for an ombudsman.

To his credit, he performed the duties whether he despised them or not. Heck, he allowed himself to be bussed all over creation in his first few months on the job to meet the alumni and check writers on their turf.

But in his conversation with Jones, O’Brien had his harshest words for the faction of Penn State fans that still worship Paterno. Had O’Brien the ability to spit silver dollars, those folks would have insisted on $20 gold pieces.

Whoever followed Paterno was in for a rough ride.

And when Jones brought up the Paterno faction in reference to trying to find out why assistant coach Ron Vanderlinden is no longer with the program, O’Brien let loose with an expletive-laced rant about that group.

In the end, O’Brien concluded, “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.”

Obviously, there’s a raw nerve there that no one in the media will ever truly understand.

Maybe only guys like Ray Perkins (Bear Bryant), Gene Bartow (John Wooden) and Dan Devine (Ara Parseghian) have the kind of insight into replacing a legend.

The truly sad thing is that a coach that preached loyalty when he arrived left behind many of the players that he convinced to come here. And according to several members of the current recruiting class, he said he was staying at Penn State.

Like a politician, he told his constituents what they hoped to hear because they couldn’t handle the truth or the truth would hurt too much.

Sometimes the business of doing business isn’t pretty.

The bottom line now is Penn State is looking for a new coach and the athletic department can’t mess around for two months.

We’ll see several names bandied about, certainly some with Penn State ties (Greg Schiano, Mike Munchak, Al Golden, maybe Larry Johnson).

It will have to happen fast.

And that’s OK. This likely isn’t a decision for life.

That’s the nature of the business.

Walt Moody is sports editor of the Centre Daily Times. He can be reached at 231-4630 or wmoody@centredaily.com. Follow him on Twitter @wmoodycdt.

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