Although most of the major college job vacancies have been filled already (unless Mack Brown is or isn’t fired/quit/retired/secretly-abducted-and-replaced-by-a-smiling-Weekend-at-Bernies’-version-of-himself), the NFL’s coaching carousel’s spin has just begun. And what that means for Penn State fans is get ready for another coaching-search silly season with our own Bill O’Brien.
PSU fans seem to come in three varieties when it comes to coaching rumors (like last week’s one of OB to the Texans).
1. Fans who are so enamored with Paterno’s way of doing things (i.e. stay at one school for half a century) that any coach who might consider a job anywhere but State College is automatically the devil incarnate. His heart must pump red blood instead of Nittany blue if he can even fathom the thought of coaching elsewhere.
2. Fans who want O’Brien to stay so badly that they think they only way Penn State football can ever win another game is if last year’s national coach of the year remains on Beaver Stadium’s sideline. No one could have gone 15-9 at PSU in the last two years in the known universe except Bill.
3. And finally, fans who think that O’Brien’s stellar reputation helps PSU whether he stays or goes.
I’m in the latter camp, and I want you to pitch tent here with me.
I know why this is such a touchy subject for Penn Staters, more than it is for others—stability. We prize it like our Lion Shrine, like our grilled stickies, like our 110,000 during a primetime white-out. Stability is what we’ve cherished for a half century of great football. Hundreds of head coaches came and went, thousands of assistant coaches came and went, and yet Penn State had one icon pacing the sidelines for over fifty years.
In the last two years, we’ve seen that legendary coach go, a new coach come, unprecedented shame and punishment loom, and assistant coaches shuffle through. Stability—our most revered quality—has been in short supply of late.
So, the mere prospect of a second replacement to Paterno in less than three years causes heads to spin around Nittany Nation. I get it, my fellow fans.
But here’s why you need not fear: having a coveted coach is good for Penn State.
Every time O’Brien’s name is mentioned as being on the short list for a coaching search, every time O’Brien interviews for an NFL job, that tells the world that Penn State has one of the best coaches in college football.
Go through the ranks of the college coaches who have jumped into the pros, and you’ll find almost every one of them was wildly successful in college. Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh, Chip Kelly. Greg Schiano might be the exception, but even then, they considered his solid win-loss record at sub-par Rutgers as testimony to his ability.
When Bill O’Brien sits down in a recruit’s living room, one of the best college coaches—one of the most coveted coaches by the NFL—is seeking out the pledge of that young recruit. That has sway. That’s going to help O’Brien finish out the 2014 class better than most of you expect him to do (don’t be surprised if we end up in the top 20 with a top-10 average star ranking). The 2015 class might rank in the top 5 in the country.
Sure, but what if he leaves? ask some of you. It’s a fair question.
The instability would be unsettling, for sure. A few underclassmen might transfer, a few commits might go elsewhere. We might tumble a bit farther. It happens.
But we are Penn State. And we are Penn State with a glimpse of post-sanctions football. We’re a top-10 job in the nation, and in the same way that O’Brien came in and reconstructed our team to unexpected success, why should we doubt that the next guy can’t do the same…and more without the Sandusky scandal looming overhead?
My gut feeling is that he’ll stay. I think he wants to build PSU back into a championship contender. His career to this point has spoken of patience and development, and I believe that jumping into a risky NFL job now wouldn’t fit the pattern. This—his first head coaching gig—needs to be universally regarded as a success. Even with the accolades he’s gotten last year and this year, O’Brien’s accomplishments are marked by an asterisk. He’s done great, they say, considering the sanctions.
I think O’Brien wants to be great. Period. I think he needs to stay to get there.
But I won’t jump off the newly renovated scoreboard if he leaves.
Ryan J. Murphy is the author of Ring The Bell: The Twenty-two Greatest Penn State Football Victories of Our Lives, availalbe in ebook and paperback.