He both had to interview, and had to stay.
That’s the way to interpret Bill O’Brien choosing to remain at Penn State after one season that wildly exceeded expectations, despite the first-year Head Coach interviewing with the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday.
Yes, you can point to the substantial raise that O’Brien will receive a hefty raise, to $3.6 million this season and the inability for teams to swallow the poison pill of an $18.6 million buyout to get O’Brien out of his contract at Penn State as reasons he stayed. But truthfully, the money is a factor here and that cannot be discounted. However, money wasn’t the factor that kept O’Brien in Happy (again) Valley.
There likely isn’t a better prospect for the seven NFL coaching openings this season than O’Brien. His leadership cannot be questioned after pledging himself to PSU in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky case and subsequent NCAA sanctions against the Nittany Lions, and getting his players to do the same. Not to mention, O’Brien’s NFL pedigree as New England Patriots QB coach, mentoring Tom Brady under the watch of legendary Head Coach Bill Belichick.
However, O’Brien pledged to return to Penn State at the end of the regular season, and stuck by that promise by not bolting after one season on Thursday.
“I’m not a one-and-done guy,” O’Brien told David Jones of the Patriot News late Thursday night. “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.”
Earlier in the day, Jones told 97.5 FM The Fanatic that if Lurie made O’Brien an offer, he would be ‘gone’.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter,Penn State was so concerned that O’Brien would walk away from his deal with the school, that the athletic department had already reached out to potential coaching candidates following the season.
The 43-year old O’Brien signed an extension keeping him at Penn State through 2020, and it remains to be seen if he in fact honors that deal as sanctions limiting scholarships continue to tighten and restrict the program he’s trying to build become more stringent over the next three years.
One thing is for sure though, leaving now would have certainly tarnished his reputation because of past coaches such as Bobby Petrino and Nick Saban jumping ship multiple times from various schools and likely would limit O’Brien’s ability to return to the college game later in his career if he leaped to the NFL now.
However, by interviewing, O’Brien kept his options open and likely eased any doubts he may have later in his career by at least exploring the options behind door number two. One thing to remember, is even Joe Paterno accepted the New England Patriots job in 1973 and then returned to Penn State the next morning.
Additionally, O’Brien gained unspecified control over the football program at PSU after his Thursday interviews.
The timing to make the leap the NFL couldn’t have been worse for O’Brien, and he couldn’t have made a better decision both for the short term and his long term viability as a candidate for his next job, by staying at PSU now.