O'Brien to the NFL? Reports differ

Bill O'Brien
Bill O'Brien
Posted: December 31, 2013

Now that the NFL regular season has ended and the league's coaching carousel starts to spin in earnest, the question is whether Bill O'Brien stays as Penn State's coach or takes the job with the Houston Texans.

Sunday's NFL shows reported that O'Brien, 44, remained the "overwhelming favorite" (ESPN) to become the Texans' new head coach, and that he was "expected to get that job" (Fox Sports) after two successful years coaching the Nittany Lions.

But there are some indications that O'Brien's move back to the NFL isn't as certain as the reports would make one believe.

The father of Christian Hackenberg, Penn State's star quarterback, told the Harrisburg Patriot-News on Saturday night that his son and O'Brien had talked, and he indicated there was no need to panic.

"They had their own conversation," Erick Hackenberg said. "He asked Christian for it to stay between the two of them, so that's what's going to happen. He's talked to Bill, and we're comfortable with where it stands."

Christian Hackenberg was the first player to commit after O'Brien took over as head coach in January 2012, and kept his promise even after the imposition of harsh sanctions by the NCAA.

"Coach has never given Christian or any other people any reason to believe he's not a guy of his word," Erick Hackenberg said.

CBS reported that the search firm working for the Texans and examining O'Brien "has caused some pause" for the team. It mentioned the lack of success as head coaches of former assistants who worked for New England coach Bill Belichick, including Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, and Eric Mangini.

The report said the firm also cited "power grabs" by unnamed former Patriots assistants, plus O'Brien's "issues" in dealing with athletic director Dave Joyner, and the departure last month of linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher.

Still, the consensus is that the Texans, led by chairman Bob McNair, really liked what they heard from O'Brien during talks last Thursday at O'Brien's vacation home on Cape Cod. However, reports said the Texans still are interested in talking with San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, a former head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

If the Texans hired O'Brien, they would be expected to pay the $6.7 million buyout that it would take to get O'Brien out of his contract, which has 31/2 years remaining.

The NFL Network said Joyner is prepared to fly to Florida to speak with Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano, a former Penn State assistant, about returning to Happy Valley if O'Brien takes the Houston job. He said Joyner planned "to make a strong push" for Schiano, who was head coach at Rutgers.

NFL Network also said O'Brien spoke with his staff about being ready to join him in the pros.

Joyner could not be reached for comment.

Even with all the swirling rumors about O'Brien, the Nittany Lions received their 19th commitment to the Class of 2014, 6-foot-7, 300-pound offensive tackle Chasz Wright of Woodbridge, Va., according to several recruiting websites. Wright, who spent this past season at Milford Academy, had made an oral commitment to Temple but switched to Penn State. He is expected to enroll in January.


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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