Bill O'Brien is apparently the new head football coach at Penn State. Of course, Penn State has done nothing to confirm this as of mid-Friday morning, but Penn State probably couldn't gather up the collective cojones to definitively confirm that the sun rose in the east this morning.
Tempting as it may be to do the ESPN thing and be That Contrarian Guy, it's practically impossible to get on board with this seemingly impending hire. That's not particularly fair to Bill O'Brien, who may turn out to be a fantastic college football coach and assemble a killer coaching staff. Time will reveal these things to us, but this is Internet, and Internet demands instant reaction.
The outrage -- and that's not even remotely an exaggeration -- of the Penn State fanbase seems to be based on a number of factors. Some are still angry at how the administration handled Joe Paterno's firing. Others wanted Tom Bradley to remain as head coach. These are reasonable things that we've been collectively arguing ad nauseam for weeks. However, I'm fairly sure we can agree on this:
Dave Joyner (and Ira Lubert, behind the scenes) arrogantly conducted this search with what appeared to be no help or input from anyone else, strung along Tom Bradley and the rest of the remaining coaching staff, acted coy in the media, assured everyone that Penn State knew exactly what it was doing, let the process drag out until the very last weeks of the recruiting period, and came back to us with Bill O'Brien. They proudly strode up to a five-alarm fire, waited six weeks, and threw a Dixie Cup of water on it. Tim Curley's hire of Patrick Chambers -- a mid-major coach tapped to take over a rarely-successful and marginally profitable men's basketball program -- was infinitely more clever and inspired than this.
Assuming that the mass freakout of fans, alumni, and former players doesn't spook Joyner and Lubert to nix the O'Brien deal at the last moment (if that's even possible), the new coach deserves a chance to succeed or fail on his own. LaVar Arrington has gone total HAM on Twitter this morning, to the point of renouncing any affiliation with Penn State. Brandon Short is threatening a lawsuit on behalf of himself and other players to bar PSU from using their likeness in marketing campaigns. This is not helping.
Yes, O'Brien deserves a chance. However, his apparent decision to remain on the Patriots' staff through the playoffs is an enormous red flag, especially with an already-crumbling recruiting class and the incredible likelihood that the Patriots' postseason will last through National Signing Day. Give O'Brien credit for walking into a firestorm -- good luck finding many people willing to lead a scandal-plagued program with a temporary Athletic Director and an unstable administration -- but he needs to get to work. With the fanbase so united in its distaste for this hire, O'Brien can't afford to stay in New England any longer. Not to completely minimize O'Brien's role with the Patriots, but Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will find a way to manage. He needs to be reaching out to current and former players, recruits, the Pennsylvania media, and others closely associated with the University.
A large segment of Penn State fans were going to be against any new head coach who wasn't bumped up from the previous staff. That was inevitable, even if Joe Paterno retired under the most benign of circumstances. An outsider with no Penn State ties that nobody really wanted, who complicates matters by not getting to work right away? It's a recipe for complete disaster before the train can even get out of the station, especially if the new coach continues to chase a Super Bowl ring instead of packing his belongings for Happy Valley and getting to work. As Bill O'Brien is apparently about to find out, just because Bill Belichick isn't grimacing over your shoulder, coaching major college football isn't a part-time job.
Join us below the jump for the reactions of the Black Shoe Diaries staff:
Kevin Powers (@thefolkist): I’ll start with what I like: He’s young. He’s an offensive mind and has a shallow but diversified background. We may someday audible. But there are too many things than make me shift uncomfortably in my chair. He openly said he prefers the NFL to college. He has no ties to the program or the state. His ability to hire a staff is a complete unknown, which is especially important since he’s a flight risk starting the day his hire is announced. All in all, this feels a lot like a dejected search committee doing their best to stick to some kind of no-ties-allowed mandate that came from somewhere. He may in fact succeed -- I hope he does, obviously -- but this hire plays to none of Penn State’s strengths and doesn’t solve for the long term stability of the program.
Mike Pettigano (@mikepettigano): I'd be lying if I said this sounds like a great hire. But what should I have expected from all of this? The entire debacle has been one big scramble, from the night Paterno was fired, right up until O'Brien was hired. O'Brien might turn out to be a good hire for Penn State. There are enough good players on the roster to win 8 games, as long as the new staff doesn't actively mess things up. However, what's there to go off of? I'm not a big fan of Bill Belichick, but I'm not sure how much he's rubbed off on O'Brien in the few years he's been with the Pats. As for the football production, yes, he's done a good job with the Patriots' offense. He also has Tom Brady throwing the ball. I'm sure if you took every positive aspect from all three Penn State quarterbacks, mashed them together, then eliminated every negative aspect, you still wouldn't have Tom Brady.
They say the NFL is rough for college coaches; but not enough can be said about making the opposite transition. Penn State is no kiddie pool. Happy Valley is the ocean at high tide. It can sweep your feet from under you and pull you down. I'm not sure O'Brien knows what he's getting into. Then again, I'm not sure anyone in the Penn State administration knows what they're doing, either. I hope O'Brien is a successful head coach. Even if he leaves in four or five years (if he even lasts that long) with a few 9-win seasons and a bowl victory over another BCS-AQ school, that should be considered a successful hire.
Peter Gray (@runthedive): After cooling down from last night, I need to see what kind of staff O'Brien puts together, especially if he's going to try to pull double duty for the next month. I don't think I'm wrong in thinking Bill Belichick does not give a damn about our recruiting, so he probably won't be overly generous in allowing O'Brien time away from Patriots business. But the most pressing question for me is what the hell took so long? If Joyner knew early on that this was the only type of hire that was available, why drag it out for so long? And maybe a better question, why act like a smug know it all whenever someone asked about it? He gave himself zero margin for error, and it looks like he exceeded it.
Tim Aydin (@happyhourvalley): I got into a heated argument last night on Twitter with a couple old friends about the hire. They feel the offense should look a lot stronger, which is true, but that isn't saying much, considering what a giant clusterfuck the offense has been in recent times. Not to mention, there's no Tom Brady on PSU's roster (and few offensive playmakers, for that matter). And be honest with yourself: If Brady Hoke, Urban Meyer, and Bill O'Brien walk into the same recruit's living room, what are the odds that said recruit chooses the very latter?
The only redeeming factor in this hire would be if a few of the defensive coaches are kept on, particularly LJ and Vanderlinden, which should help keep the wheels on the current recruiting class. I really hope O'Brien proves me dead wrong, but this hire reeks of Bill Callahan at Nebraska or Charlie Weis at Notre Dame. The good news? He should only be at PSU for 3-4 years, tops.
Jeff Junstrom (@EpicTripod): As a lawyer, I want to look at this logically and in the light most favorable to Penn State. As difficult as that may be, this could end up being a good hire in the long run. Bill O'Brien's biggest downfall appears to be that no one know who the hell he is, a trait the search committee likely found admirable given the scandal they are trying to separate themselves from. Given his comments about the NFL, I can't see him staying at Penn State for more than 5 years, so if this is truly a bridge hire, I suppose we could have done a lot worse.
Galen: I'll try and not do two things A) repeat what everyone else is saying and B) string together a paragraph consisting of 200 curse words in a nonsensical order. Here goes... It'a apparent that the 'search committee' set forth to find a coach that breaks ties with Penn State. I would definitely say they succeeded if that was their main goal. This hire though begs more questions than it answers. Does the committee know something about O'Brien that the rest of the world doesn't? Because it seems like this is not a 'flashy' hire. In that light, did the more 'sexy' coaches say no and Penn State was left with the offensive coordinator of the Patriots?
The fact that the Patriots will be in the playoffs when recruiting comes to a head means the committee must have thrown in the towel on this recruiting class. I'm an optimistic guy when it comes to Penn State football so I'll let the guy at least show up on campus and hire a staff before I pass judgement but one thing's for sure: O'Brien has a very tough job ahead of him. I hope he's up to it. He'll be under a very intense microscope.
Adam Collyer (@AdamCollyer): Well, I can't say this isn't an overwhelming disappointment. O'Brien was dead last on my list of interesting NFL assistants, which puts him dead last on my list of acceptable hires. I don't know if this affirms everything ESPN has discussed about Penn State as a "toxic" place right now, but I'm extremely concerned about hiring an NFL coordinator (who apparently doesn't have much to do with the gameplanning of his own team and would prefer to be an NFL head coach) and a career college position coach/coordinator with no head coaching experience. This is a failure on every level for Dave Joyner and Ira Lubert. Still, I'll attempt to give Bill O'Brien the benefit of the doubt. He's our coach and deserves our support. But there's no good will here right now like there was for Paterno. Start regularly going 8-4 or worse and you can show yourself out.