Penn State fans aren't used to football coaches leaving. Joe Paterno stayed on even while his son Jay showed the frustrating inability to become a quarterbacks coach who worked well with quarterbacks. You may have heard that the elder Paterno was eventually forced out of his job by a horrifying sexual abuse scandal, but new head coach Bill O'Brien has seemed eager to leave State College under much less strenuous circumstances.
A year ago, O'Brien's name was mentioned in tandem with the open NFL head coach jobs in Philadelphia and Cleveland, and now he is a major target once again. ESPN NFL Insiders Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reported on Saturday that O'Brien is the "overwhelming favorite" to become the next head coach of the Houston Texans. Sources told ESPN that O'Brien and Houston were working to agree on a deal by the end of next week.
That's obviously troublesome news to Penn State fans, who have watched O'Brien transform from "that guy who screamed at Tom Brady once" into one of the most sought-after football coaches in the country. The legend started with an 8-4 campaign in 2012 that saw former walk-on Matt McGloin successfully run a pro-style offense. It continued this year when true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg led the sanction-weakened Lions to a 7-5 record that included an incredible comebacks versus Michigan and a stunningly efficient four-touchdown performance in an upset at Wisconsin.
It is becoming more and more apparent that O'Brien works well with quarterbacks, and that position has more than a little to do with the success and failure of NFL teams.
Fortunately for Penn State fans, O'Brien-to-Houston appears to be less of a sure thing than the ESPN report made it seem like. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle has a quote from Texans owner Bob McNair that says that Houston's search for a head coach isn't quite over yet. Recruiting analyst Tom VanHaaren spoke with 2014 Penn State defensive tackle recruit Thomas Holley. Holley reportedly spoke to O'Brien on Saturday and was told by the coach that the ESPN report is not true.
My first reaction to hearing about Holley talking to O'Brien was that the coach would have to be a pretty big jerk to say something like that if the reports about him and Houston were true. On the other hand, it's not as though we haven't seen coaches act like jerks before.
Regardless of whether or not O'Brien is a good guy, he has Penn State football in a much better place than he found it two years ago. There is a young foundation in place on offense with Hackenberg and freshman tight end Adam Breneman, and in 2015 Penn State will be able to hand out a full 25 football scholarships thanks to the NCAA reducing the school's sanctions last September.
It would undoubtedly be better for the program if O'Brien decided to stick with it for at least another season or two, but if he doesn't, Penn State will still be on right track towards competing for a conference title in 2016.