Penn State Football

Penn State football: Texans trying to pry O’Brien from Nittany Lions

The Houston Texans may have found a new coach, and it may come at the expense of Penn State.

ESPN is reporting the NFL’s call may be too great for Nittany Lion head coach Bill O’Brien to pass up, saying he is the overwhelming leading candidate to fill the team’s vacant head coaching position. The network’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen are both citing league sources that the sides are trying to get a deal in place within the week.

The report said Texans officials met with O’Brien at his home on Cape Cod, Mass., after Christmas to bring him back to the NFL.

O’Brien was an assistant coach from 2007-12 with the New England Patriots, finishing his stint there as offensive coordinator and helping the team to the Super Bowl. He has been a hot property for a number of coaching openings both in the NFL and at other college programs since he guided the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 season in 2012 despite being under heavy NCAA sanctions. Along the way O’Brien picked up a number of national coach of the year honors after last season.

Reports had him interviewing with both the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns last winter.

A jump to the NFL became a more realistic possibility after it was learned O’Brien had his contract amended earlier this year to reduce the necessary contract buyout if he were to leave before the end of his deal with the university. A leap to the NFL would require a buyout of just more than $6.6 million this year, down from the previous amount of more than $19 million. A move to another college program would require a buyout of over $9 million this year. Both buyout numbers, according to the contract, are even smaller after next season.

In his second season, with an offense led by true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, the Nittany Lions posted a 7-5 record, capped by a 31-24 upset win at Wisconsin.

Attempts by the CDT to reach Penn State Athletics Director Dave Joyner were unsuccessful Saturday.

ESPN also reported that Penn State recruit Thomas Holley said O’Brien told him Saturday that he was staying with the Nittany Lions.

The Texans have had a dismal season. The team was expected to be a playoff contender, but instead has a 2-13 record heading into Sunday’s season finale, and will have either the first or second overall choice in next spring’s draft. The team also fired coach Gary Kubiak on Dec. 6 after he guided the team to a pair of AFC South titles the previous two seasons.

ESPN also said sources have the team with a list of backup candidates should O’Brien decide not to go to the NFL. Previous stories had former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith interviewing for the position. Interim Texans coach Wade Phillips is also said to have interviewed for the job., citing Ian Rapoport, reported the Texans expect to finish their search by Tuesday. Rapoport said the team plans to interview an additional candidate Monday before making its choice.

The Houston Chronicle reported that Texans owner Bob McNair would not discuss specific coaching candidates Saturday night.

“The process has been underway, and it continues,” he said. “The process isn’t over. We have other candidates to interview next week.”