Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien would have been crazy to come to the Eagles

Posted: January 04, 2013

PENN STATE'S Bill O'Brien is the best professional head-coaching prospect out there. He has successful pro experience with the franchise every other NFL franchise wants to be like and was stunningly successful amid the worst of circumstances in his first season as Penn State's head football coach. That he did this amid national, if not worldwide, media scrutiny answers that question as well.

I think the Eagles would have been crazy not to hire him.

And I think he would have been crazy to come here.

Apparently, he felt the same. After listening to several NFL teams and receiving unspecified personnel and structural changes at the school, O'Brien told David Jones, of the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, late Thursday that he was staying in Happy Valley for the 2013 season.

"I'm not a one-and-done guy," he said. "I made a commitment to these players at Penn State and that's what I am going to do. I'm not gonna cut and run after one year, that's for sure."

Was it that sure? Then what took so long for this? O'Brien confirmed reports of contact with several NFL teams through his agent, Joe Linta, since the great coaching purge after the regular season. The Eagles were thought to be one of those teams, and earlier in the day Jones speculated on radio that if an offer from Jeffrey Lurie came, "He's gone."

For sure, not for sure - apparently O'Brien concluded, as I do, that coming here in the current environment would be a mistake. Think about it: The Eagles are neither a young nor particularly talented team. They will begin next season with an inexperienced quarterback, questions about their offensive and defensive lines, and their mess of a secondary.

One reason Patriots assistants have been unsuccessful as head coaches is that they have walked into situations similar to the one here now: an owner who expects a quick turnaround, a dynamic that inhibits or downright prevents that.

The support system now in place for the Eagles includes an owner who, over the last 12 months, let go of Joe Banner, his longtime friend and team president, fired Andy Reid, his longtime head coach, divorced his wife, and now admittedly leans heavily on the advice of a 37-year-old general manager he promoted to help with drafts - but whom he now acquits of responsibility for all but the latest one.

Lurie is on his own now. No Banner to hide behind. No Reid to distract from what might have been an institutional failing all along. Now, there is no respected NFL sage behind the scenes to advise or protect him. When Don Smolenski was promoted to replace Banner as team president during what is now seen as a contentious upheaval last June, the new president made it clear he would stay clear of the football side of things.

More likely is Jones' other theory, that O'Brien and his agent are trying to get an offer so he can shed the $9.2 million buyout - or is it $18.4 million? - he agreed to when the school offered him a contract last January that automatically added 4 years when NCAA sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal were announced in the summer.

As for those sanctions - how curious the timing of Gov. Tom Corbett's lawsuit against the NCAA. I'll bet the governor would drop the whole thing if the good people in Indianapolis reduced Penn State's bowl ineligibility by a couple of years.

Given that he once supported that penalty, Corbett's announcement seems primarily an attempt to get re-elected. But if it also influenced O'Brien to stay around? That's about as close to buying votes as any politician can do legally.

O'Brien, 43, is signed to coach the Nittany Lions through 2020 at $2.3 million per season. Few expect him to be there that long, although he clearly has been quickly embraced in Happy Valley not just for the season his decimated squad put together, but for the dignity with which he conducted himself.

He's in a no-lose situation, at least for the next bunch of years. Yes, he risks losing some shine should the Nittany Lions slip in those years, but the Eagles job apparently wasn't ideal, either.

At one time, nobody thought much of Pete Carroll's and Bill Belichick's coaching ability. For every successful assistant-turned-head coach, at least 10 fail to make the jump. Bill Parcells once said a coach should not stay in the same place in excess of 5 years. He was talking about professionals. You do it right in college, you can stay there forever.

Not that O'Brien should do that. But jumping 1 year after his wizardry in Happy Valley would have been fraught with unnecessary risks for both employee and employer.

For the Eagles, it would have been a costly buy. For O'Brien, it would have been a costly mistake, a potential career killer even, at a time in which he literally can do no wrong where he is.


On Twitter: @samdonnellon



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