After a wonderful win against Iowa, it got me reflecting and trying to measure exactly what we have with O'Brien. While it's still too early to really gauge O'Brien's tenure, the signs are pointing in the right direction.
The first of those signs is that he doesn't have "his" system. He has a system, and it's based on the talent he has available. What this means is he can win now with the current roster and win in the future with an entirely different one. Unlike a lot of coaching busts in college, their success doesn't depend on getting "their" players. Based on the trend of coaches shilling their systems, it's a refreshing break and one likely to lead to consistent success.
Another positive sign about O'Brien is that his system is not overly-complicated and it relies on athleticism. One of my biggest fears when we signed O'Brien was that he would try to outsmart his opponents due to the reputation of Bellicheck. Thankfully that doesn't seem to be the case. Instead, he seems to be doing exactly what wins football games: focusing on what we're good at and minimizing the liability of our weaknesses. This brings me to my next sign of success.
We're not gimmicky. We're not relying on tricking teams in order to win games (a bag that would inevitably run out). The aggressiveness of 4th down is a bit unconventional, but it's not a gimmick. It, like the rest of the offense, is creating opportunities for players to do what they're good at. It gets receivers into one-on-one coverage mismatches. It allows for our running backs to hit the hole and make a man miss or to run him over with a full head of steam. It allows our players to do what they do naturally, and it recognizing that the priority is on first downs, not touchdowns.
Focusing on first downs accomplishes two things: consistency and time of possession. We have long, sustained drives, chipping away with 4 yard gains. It keeps the opposing offense off the field and forces them to be one dimensional. It gives our defense time to rest and exhausts theirs. It allows for us to have more success being physical as the game goes on. In short, it keeps us in control.
And lastly, O'Brien has the right attitude. He's relentless. He never gets comfortable. He never accepts "good enough". He is striving for perfection despite knowing that it's unattainable (while trying my best to avoid Paterno comparisons, this was the mindset that led to his success as well). He's not idealistic, he doesn't make excuses, and he believes he can be successful no matter what he's given. He's a fighter, but one that fights as much with his mind as with his fists. He measures opponents, he measures his own team, and then he finds the balance between power and finesse that we need to win. He can call a play to out-muscle the opposition or create a mismatch on any play and you never know which is coming.
For all these reasons, it truly looks like O'Brien is the real deal. It's still too early to tell. He's said all the right things and has the right priorities. So far what he has shown on the field instills confidence in the team and the fans. The players seem to love him and it's undeniable that he's able to get the most out of them. So here's to Bill O'Brien. He's earned it.