Bill O'Brien is leaving Penn State, guys. What a freaking bummer.
I'm supposed to tell you to be thrilled because O'Brien is a genius of a coach who would have won ten consecutive conference titles once that pesky bowl ban was lifted. Unless your team is Indiana. In that case, the only PSU coach to ever lose to Indiana has just left the conference! Whoops.
Instead, I'm going to try to convince myself that O'Brien would have continued to lose to Indiana every year once he had a full slate of scholarships. That hypothetical situation is highly unlikely, but if you want to feel that way, go ahead. I'm tired of reading columns about how Penn State fans should be grateful because O'Brien left Penn State in better shape than how he found it.
First of all, this is only true if Christian Hackenberg and other underclassmen stay put. If Hackenberg and class of 2014 quarterback prospect Michael O'Connor both bolt, then all O'Brien has given PSU is two wins over Wisconsin. Whoopee.
Second, the real reason why Penn State is on the upswing is because of the scholarship reductions being scaled back by the NCAA. If the sanctions had stayed as they were, PSU would be looking at two more 15-scholarship classes instead of the 20 recruits that may or may not stick around through signing day 2014.
Maybe O'Brien had something to do with the NCAA's decision. If he did, then that's a good job by him. Of course, it could just be the NCAA realizing that a competitive Penn State means more money for the NCAA.
Another reason why fans are supposed to not hate O'Brien for leaving? He was pushed away by a creepy contingent of Paterno-loving fans who couldn't let go of the past! Wait, what?
The Patriots-News story that made the media rounds on New Year's Day seemed to imply that O'Brien left State College because a certain group of fans wasn't satisfied with the job he was doing. This passage in particular was disturbing.
"You can print this: You can print that I don't really give a ---- what the ‘Paterno people' think about what I do with this program. I've done everything I can to show respect to Coach Paterno. Everything in my power. So 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."
That makes it sound like a few Paterno fans called O'Brien up in the middle of the night and badgered him about why he passed the ball so many times or why he didn't run up the middle on 2nd-and-8. That's kind of weird for O'Brien to get upset about, right? Doesn't every coach have detractors that would rather someone else be at the helm, even in times of prosperity?
Reading the actual article, and not just the parts shown on sports news networks, shows that O'Brien might have first heard about such "Paterno people" from reporter David Jones.
Some of his frustrations revolved around what he saw as the lack of leadership at Penn State and his desire simply to fulfill his job description as the football coach, not university figurehead. I wrote about this a few days ago when I thought the time was apt.
O'Brien's ire also was raised that day by my suggestion that a faction of Joe Paterno-era loyalists seemed to me to be miffed by Vanderlinden's departure or dismissal, depending upon their view, and that they might want some sort of explanation. The former linebackers coach had been the second-longest-tenured member of the staff, dating to 2000, one of only two remaining staff members hired by the legendary coach.
It says "my suggestion" there, doesn't it? Jones makes it seem in the story that the notion of "Paterno people" was brought up by himself and not O'Brien. Instead of imagining creepy guys calling up the PSU coach in the middle of the night, I now imagine slightly less creepy guys commenting on Jones's internet columns. Of course, he's bound to hear from a few people who aren't satisfied with the job that O'Brien is doing.
As for O'Brien's complaints about leadership at Penn State, those are a legitimate reason for one wanting to change jobs. On the other hand, if he's really upset about having to be a figurehead and not "just" a football coach, O'Brien probably should never have left the NFL in the first place. Shaking hands with fans and being a community leader are part of the job description of major college football coach nowadays.
Towards the end of the conversation between Jones and O'Brien, the coach said that despite his frustrations, he was planning on staying at Penn State.
Anyway, I was already a bit stunned because the bombshell had come a few seconds earlier when O'Brien said, off-the-record: "That's why, in probably about a month, they're gonna be ----ing looking for a new coach."
I just let him go after that and listened. Near the end of the call, when he'd settled down, I asked, "You're not really leaving, are you?" And he replied, "I'm not leaving."
O'Brien certainly could have been lying to Jones, but given everything else he reportedly said during the conversation, what was the point of holding back? Maybe O'Brien didn't leave because of a perceived lack of respect from fans and leadership. Maybe the right NFL opportunity just came along sooner than he thought.
The Houston Texans have a lot of talent returning on offense and defense as well as the unique opportunity to choose whichever quarterback they desire in this spring's draft. As Jones suggests in his story, it could be that O'Brien isn't leaving because Penn State has become unbearable, but because the Houston situation is impossible to resist.
That's why fans should feel free to be mad about the whole thing. It's not our fault that O'Brien is leaving. Go light your "O'Brien's Lions" shirt on fire if that makes you feel better (I'd prefer if you donated to charity and bought an OTE shirt to take its place). Wonder aloud how O'Brien is going to beat the Indianapolis Colts when he can't even beat the Indiana Hoosiers. We're fans. Our coach is leaving. We're allowed to be mad about it.
We know that most coaches don't stay as long as Paterno stayed, but we also know that most don't leave for greener pastures after losing to Ohio State by 49 points.