clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Meet The Coaches: Bill O'Brien

New, 147 comments
Hey, lovely female Penn State student, nice grip strength. Ever think about trying out for quarterback?
Hey, lovely female Penn State student, nice grip strength. Ever think about trying out for quarterback?

Over the next two weeks, we'll be taking a look at the new Penn State coaching staff. With the exception of two familiar faces, Ron Vanderlinden and Larry Johnson Sr., we have much to learn about our new football overlords. We start, naturally, with the Notorious B.O.B.: head coach / offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien.

Experience. O'Brien comes to Penn State from the New England Patriots, last seen here grounding the Denver Broncos into a fine dust. He's been the Pats' offensive coordinator for just the 2011 season. Prior to that, he was their quarterbacks coach in 2009-2010, wide receivers coach in 2008, and a general offensive assistant in 2007. In any business, that's a meteoric rise through the organization.

All of his experience prior to New England has been in the college game. Following his career as a defensive end and linebacker at Brown, O'Brien immediately became a tight ends coach at his alma mater in 1993, then a linebackers coach in 1994. It would be his last time coaching on the defensive side of the football. He latched on with George O'Leary at Georgia Tech in 1995 as a graduate assistant for three seasons before becoming the Yellow Jackets' running backs coach for three more seasons. O'Brien became quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for the 2001-2002 seasons. George O'Leary had left Tech to become Notre Dame's head coach after the 2001 season and O'Brien was set to join him in South Bend, but that...well, didn't happen. O'Brien stayed on with new Tech head coach Chan Gailey for one more year as offensive coordinator, but left Georgia Tech to join his former colleague Ralph Friedgen's staff at Maryland.

At Maryland, O'Brien coached the running backs for two years before becoming Duke's offensive coordinator under Ted Roof for the 2005 and 2006 seasons.

How have his offenses fared? Well...

Safe to say, this year's New England offense has done quite well. They were 2nd in the league in yards while being incredibly (and surprisingly) balanced. New England was 3rd in passing yards and 4th in rushing yards, without a true star running back. Their top three receivers are Wes Welker and two (really good) tight ends. Yes, having Tom Brady kind of helps matters.

As the offensive coordinator at Duke...O'Brien was the offensive coordinator at Duke. If someone named Coach Jabroni failed as the offensive coordinator at Indiana, would you automatically assume he's a terrible coach? Amazingly, Duke statistics for 2005 and 2006 are online (Penn State SID, you can learn something here). These teams went a combined 1-21, but here's your silver lining. From 2005 to 2006, the following offensive categories were improved: first downs (154 to 195), passing yards (1331 to 2222), yards per play (3.8 to 4.4), yards per passing attempt (4.7 to 6.2). This, despite Duke losing its starting quarterback one month before fall practices began.

This sounds like shining a turd. Oh, yes, very much so. It's Duke. They were LOLful. However, O'Brien's offenses at Georgia Tech fared well enough -- and it says something about George O'Leary's faith in O'Brien that he was an offensive coordinator for a major college program in his (very) early 30s. In 2001, they threw for almost 280 ypg without much in the way of support from the running game. The 2001 team started the season #10 in the nation but lost an overtime game to Clemson (47-44), starting a bit of a downward spiral with close losses to Maryland (20-17) and Virginia (39-38). They finished 8-5 (4-4), but rebounded to beat #11 Stanford in the Seattle Bowl. During the 2001 season, new Penn State quarterbacks coach George Godsey set school records for passing yards in a season (3,085) and a game (486 vs. Virginia).

Georgia Tech's 2000 offense? Pretty good. 33.8 points per game, 8.0 yards per passing attempt (roughly in the top 1/4 of this year's FBS stats), 12.9 yards per completion. Godsey threw for 2906 yards (63% comp, 23 TD, 6 INT). Seven receivers had 20 or more receptions.

Okay, Help Me Put This In Historical Context. Great. Done. Did you know that when Bill O'Brien became head coach at Penn State, a gallon of milk cost $3.98? The average price of a house was $242,300! It cost 44 cents to mail a letter! Ah, happier days.

Prognosis, Doctor? Profound growing pains, mostly due to personnel. There's no obvious, sure-fire quarterback on the roster. Tom Brady, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, and Rob Gronkowski ain't walking through that door in 2012. The Penn State players will be learning new plays, new terminology, and have an entirely different set of expectations laid before them. Also worth mentioning, Penn State is losing four of five offensive linemen from a unit that wasn't particularly great (John Urschel and Mike Farrell saw some playing time, but that's about it in terms of reserves). Don't be surprised if this is a bit of a mess in the short term, and expectations should be set accordingly. Given the situation at quarterback and offensive line, not to mention significant depth issues at tight end and running back, O'Brien will need to work a little magic if Penn State is to be an average offense next season.