Bill O'Brien was not my first choice to become the next head coach of the Penn State football program. (I was always a Chris Petersen guy, to be honest.) But I think a lot of the pitchfork waving and general freakout about his suspected and reported hire has been completely off base. And let's be honest, no matter if they hired Bill O'Brien, Tom Bradley, or Chris Petersen, no one can reasonably judge how good this hire is for another two or three years.
There are, as far as I can tell, at least four solid reasons why this might be a good hire.
#1 In theory, NFL coordinators are the best up-and-coming coaches in football. As I tweeted earlier, "In 2007, a beloved PA football team hired an unknown NFL assistant who'd been a DC for 1 year. Mike Tomlin was a great hire."
Sure, there are lots of examples of NFL coordinators becoming terrible head coaches, including most of Bellicheck's disciples. But Bellicheck himself was a coordinator before he was a head coach. If Penn State wanted an under 50-year old coach who's stock was rising, then an NFL coordinator or a MAC coach was the best play, since it's clear that Al Golden wasn't interested.
#2 O'Brien has legit college football bona fides. Among all of the NFL guys rumored for this job, he had far and away the most college experience. Before he started for the Pats in 2007, he'd been exclusively a college coach.
#3 BO'B's roots are in the right part of the country. O'Brien grew up in Massachusetts and coached throughout the ACC, including a stint with Maryland. While Pennsylvania's important, Penn State's big recruiting advantage in the B1G and in the country is the dominance of the areas directly east, north, and northeast from State College. You're crazy if you think Cam Williams - a key PSU recruit and Pats fan from New England who recently has been flirting with OSU - doesn't stay at Penn State now. (And if O'Brien stays on the Pats staff through the playoffs, that will be great for recruiting, because every high school football player will be watching those games, and the announcers will definitely talk about O'Brien. PSU is going to get a ton of press on this hire.)
#4 He's smart and feisty. Brown graduates are smarty. Dudes that pick fights with Tom Brady on the sidelines are feisty. They also deserve the benefit of the doubt, because Brady's a douche bag.
Sure, there are lots of reasonable knocks on O'Brien. He has no head coaching experience. He has no Penn State ties. Paterno would have been very wary about recommending an Irishman to follow in his footsteps.
Finally, I think it's worth noting that one of O'Brien's biggest problem with the fans is the unrealistic expectations that were established during this coaching search. Mike Munchak was never going to leave a good situation to coach Penn State. Same with Chris Petersen, not to mention Nick Saban and Les Miles. I love State College and Penn State, and it's one of the best football coaching jobs in the country, even at a time like this. But NO coaching job in college gets NFL coaches who are having success to leave their current team. Same with Alabama coaches and Georgia coaches that are successful.
My biggest fear with O'Brien is that he's a reincarnation of Charlie Weis, one of my least favorite people in the world (though I've never met him). But it's worth noting that Charlie Weis had a very similar resume to O'Brien's and was hired at Notre Dame - a job that's just as attractive as Penn State's is now, maybe even more attractive. This is not evidence of Penn State purposively sabotaging the football program. This is a reasonable hire. And with any luck, Bill O'Brien will be nothing like Charlie Weis with the exception of having prolific offenses.
I'm willing to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. There are plenty of solid reasons to think he'll have success. Here's to hoping he does.