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Sources: O'Brien reaches agreement with Texans

Penn St Wisconsin Football
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) - Bill O'Brien is leaving Penn State less than two years after replacing Joe Paterno and returning to the NFL with the Houston Texans to coach the worst team in the league.

Two people familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press that O'Brien reached an agreement with the Texans on Tuesday night. They spoke on condition of anonymity because an official announcement hasn't been made.

O'Brien bolted Penn State and a slew of players who pledged commitment to a team in its darkest hour for an NFL team that ended the season on a 14-game skid and 2-14 record.

O'Brien, a former offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, took on perhaps college football's toughest job in January 2012, joining a school rattled by the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Despite a lack of scholarships, a bowl ban, an overall sense of doom and player defections from the late Paterno's roster, O'Brien led the Nittany Lions to two winning seasons (8-4, 7-5) while restoring some tempered enthusiasm in Happy Valley.

But the Nittany Lions are back to the drawing board this week after losing O'Brien in circumstances similar to those of last year. After his debut season, O'Brien interviewed with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns, among others, only to stay in State College.

But the Texans' job was too good to pass up some 12 months later. While the Browns and Jaguars were in the midst of overhauls, from the front office to the locker room, Houston is viewed as one of the best jobs in the NFL. There is plenty of talent on the roster - especially on defense - and the AFC South is a division seemingly up for grabs every season.

The NCAA penalties in July triggered a clause in O'Brien's contract that extends his deal the length of any sanctions given to Penn State. That means O'Brien's deal now runs through 2020. O'Brien received a restructured contract last year after he decided to stay. Though the contract was set to run seven more seasons, a buyout clause will kick in to allow his exit.

But in the eyes of Nittany Nation those are all details now. What O'Brien will make elsewhere, and what he's inheriting at the game's highest level, mean little to a fan base and community that wrapped its arms around not only him but his family as well.

O'Brien met the challenge of succeeding Paterno with ferocity and passion. He changed the culture by, among other things, placing names on the backs of the jerseys, playing loud music during practice to fire up players and overhauling the offseason weight training program. All along, he was lauded.

At the same time, though, he always paid homage to Paterno and his legacy. He said and did the right things, and made the most of his 24 games at Penn State.

In the end, that made him even more marketable to the NFL.

Of course, that is little consolation to Penn State. The Nittany Lions need to prepare for an expanded Big Ten next season and now need a coach. While Penn State is still a destination job, the roadblocks are still considerable in the post-Sandusky era:

-Though there is talk that this may be reduced at some point, Penn State's bowl ban has not been lifted yet and runs through the 2015 season.

- While some scholarships have been restored, there is not the full allotment that other Big Ten schools - including new members Rutgers and Maryland - have at their disposal.

-Recruiting season is in full swing right now, a time when high school seniors may cross the Nittany Lions off their list.

- The trials of former Penn State president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president for finance Gary Schultz - all accused of trying to cover up the scandal at the time - are still to be completed.

All of this will cloud a field of candidates likely to include many from college and the NFL. Greg Schiano, for instance, has Penn State ties and may want to return to college after two forgetful seasons with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While at Rutgers, Schiano was viewed as an Eastern recruiting expert, who built the Scarlet Knights into a consistent bowl team by landing players from New Jersey to Miami.

Schiano would likely be received well in State College, but he is not O'Brien.

O'Brien, who helped lead the Patriots to the Super Bowl in 2011-12, arrived in Happy Valley with sterling credentials - apprenticeships coaching at Brown, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke, followed by five years as an NFL assistant on Bill Belichick's staff. He won games, he won over players and he did so with a stern look on his face.

"A few days before we announced the hiring, I was watching a Patriots game, and I see Bill walk down the sideline, stop in front of Tom Brady, and start yelling," Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said. "And I'm thinking, 'He's yelling at Tom Brady! Tom Brady! Who's maybe only the best quarterback ever!' Right about then, I said to myself, 'We got the right guy. He's plenty tough enough.'"

His teams at Penn State took on that identity. After a lackluster start - O'Brien lost to Ohio and Virginia to open his career - Penn State rattled off five straight wins, and finished the year with a rousing 24-21 win over Wisconsin at home.

This season, the Nittany Lions started off better - wins over Syracuse and Eastern Michigan opened the year - but dealt with inconsistency issues along the way. All that said, like his first season, O'Brien closed with a flurry, defeating the Badgers, this time in Wisconsin, 31-24, to close out the campaign.

"We've said the same thing for two years," O'Brien said after the finale. "Our guys, they practice hard, and they love to play."

O'Brien developed bonds with his players, but never let that get in the way of the task at hand. He needed to grow college football players into Penn State players, and in many cases, he was successful. At a time when his team was undercut by the losses of its best running back, top receiver and front-line kicker - more than a dozen players in all - he kept working with what he was given.

When Silas Redd took most of Penn State's running game with him by transferring to Southern California, O'Brien drew on his experience at New England and turned former walk-on quarterback Matt McGloin into an NFL-ready one. After kicker Sam Ficken missed four field goals, including a potential game-winner, O'Brien refused to blame the inexperienced backup and instead had the Nittany Lions try to convert fourth downs in a variety of unlikely situations. His players loved that, and returned every show of loyalty in kind.

"When those things first happened, Coach told us flat out we wouldn't come out on the other side of the experience unscathed," said John Urschel, a fifth-year senior and All-Big Ten guard. "But the other thing he promised us was an experience we'd never forget."

It's safe to say most of the fan base will never forget O'Brien, either. Whether they forgive him for leaving is another story. But, for now, the focus in Happy Valley is on maintaining a sense of calm and preparing for someone new.

In other words, exactly what the school did two years ago.


Join the discussion

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RockDoc January 02 2014 at 12:24 AM

What's the big deal? It's just business. If he had two losing seasons, do you think PSU and its fan base would stay loyal to him? No way.He would be shown the down and run out of Happy Valley in a heartbeat. He doesn't owe PSU anything. He did a great job under difficult circumstances and desrves to move up. He's taking care of himself which is the smart thing to do. I;'m hardly a Texans fan, but I hope he does well.

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Donald L January 01 2014 at 5:30 PM

he should have stayed he could always go to the nfl as a head coach especially if Penn state was a winning team every year ...I use to like obrien now i have a bitter taste because i thought for sure here is a mam with intergerity ...guess i was wrong ...his dream was not to mold these great players in a heavy hearted school it was just to use them to get ahead....................i cant wish him well just cant

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charmar10 January 01 2014 at 5:34 PM

From what I have read, he apparently lied to the new recruits. Hard to respect that. Can't say I wish him success.

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2 replies
tmnx3 charmar10 January 01 2014 at 5:58 PM

None of us were there to know that. Don't believe every little unsubstantiated or second hand rumor you read in the media. And if those recruit pitches were happening before the job op in Houston opened up, then he couldn't be lying, he was just reflecting the reality of that moment. That's life. The man seized an opportunity that looks like it popped up just the last few weeks. Like you or I wouldn't do it? Please. Get over it. He did right by us. Be grateful.

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Scott charmar10 January 01 2014 at 6:37 PM

I agree. I dont care that he decided to take a job for the NFL, but he shouldnt have been telling this town for the last 2 years that he is NOT going anywhere. I think thats the part that is really sickening, telling psu fans that he is "committed" to the psu program only to turn around and try to get his contract buyout renegotiated, then going to interview for other positions. to me, thats the definition of a back-stabber or a two-faced liar!

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tmnx3 January 01 2014 at 5:45 PM

Everyone needs to wake up and smell reality. Longtime PSU fan, but really, you can't blame a guy for reaching for the pinnacle of his profession. That's the bottom line. His contract was written in such a way that always gave him an out and we agreed to it, and rightly so. Let's not forget OB came in when NO ONE wanted to touch this job with a 10 foot pole, and he leaves it MUCH better despite the rotten hand he worked with. In stead of all this naive jabber, I say instead we owe him a TON of thanks, and I hope he does well, and wish him and his family the best. Good job Coach, and thanks for putting your finger in the dam at a time when the tide was high and saviors were scarce---and we NEEDED you real bad.

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2 replies
keystonekid28id tmnx3 January 01 2014 at 6:17 PM

Agree with you 100%

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oruprup tmnx3 January 01 2014 at 6:27 PM

Dude, nobody is blaming him for reaching for his pinnacle, but why couldnt he tell his players that he was looking to go? These coaches want 100% out of the players as far as commitment, yet they JUMP at the first chance to leave for more money........he did a nice job, but lets be frank, he was 7-5 this year, not exactly 11-1....my prediction is with his crazy antics, he will become Greg Schiano the 2nd and be tuned out by NFL big salary players who wont tolerate being ripped for every move they do wrong

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2 replies
ladybaylee oruprup January 01 2014 at 6:43 PM


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brianohorner oruprup January 01 2014 at 7:58 PM

Wht? Because it's not written anywhere that he had to tell anyone ANYTHING. It's his own business, not the players and it sure isn't any of yours

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keystonekid28id January 01 2014 at 6:26 PM

Maybe I should apply for this job. As long as I have a good offensive and defensive coordinator, a good coaching staff and kids that are dedicated to making PS football a powerhouse again what can go wrong. Plus I would probably do it for less money than others.

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fritofred53 January 01 2014 at 9:42 PM

I really enjoy college football way more then the pro game. having said that when it comes to coaching both games have their plusses. In college you have to go on the recruiting trail, make sure that the student athlete attends classes, and doesn't get into trouble with local law enforcement agencies. In the pros you draft your prospects and imposes fines that hit the pocket book. This usually makes the players straighten up and if not the NFL lowers the boom. I wish college coaches not follow the money trail and show more loyalty to their schools. Yes you can make more money in the NFL or the elite schools but you will not go on food stamps while coaching at PSU, OSU, Nebraska etc. And retire comfortably.

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orestimba January 01 2014 at 7:59 PM

One must admire coach O'Brien for taking a risk in coming to PSU. He earned respect from PSU fans and non fans alike.
However, what message is he sending? The message is simple; it is okay the break written contracts, it is okay to preach to young men about trust, loyalty and commitment, but...if the cash is right, none of those words mean a thing. We sit back and wonder why our values are distorted and why athletes constantly break contracts and go for the cash. A strong leader and coach sets the example, and coach O'Brien is no example.


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Dkchartrau January 01 2014 at 9:24 PM

"Honorable'' - I think not. Mrs.O'Brien, please be watchful--it is all about his career. Money is the root of Coach O'Brien's decision--forget about his young team who believed in him. Disappointed when we (all Americans not just Penn State) want to admire a good man & his word.

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1 reply
jtfee Dkchartrau January 01 2014 at 11:56 PM

All that you say may be true, but you come from the perspective of PSU, which had only two head football coaches in a span of 60 years, Rip Engle and Joe Paterno. Coaches jump to other opportunities all the time elsewhere.

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rcapre January 01 2014 at 9:47 PM

Bill O'Brien was the right guy at the right time. When he was losing players because of the sanctions, 450 for players with two days notice from him flew in from all over the Country and talked to the remaining players. They settled down and Bill did the rest. Although these former lettermen were considered Paterno supporters, they now stood behind O'Brien because he was a man of principal and his word. We were happy to have him for such a short time. We know this is about money but that is what drives most people today even though contracts are in place. We will miss Bill O'Brien.

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1 reply
Jim rcapre January 01 2014 at 10:09 PM

I have heard from a number of sources that OBrien was becomign increasingly agitated with the Paternos who had continually criticized him for everything he did. While this is from reliable sources it still has not come from OBrien so take it for what you will . However I will say knowing how Jay Paterno as the so called lead spokesmen for the Paternos it would not suprise me in the least if they were always sending shots over the top about what Obrien was doing that did not meet their approval. It does not matter who PSU brings in as a coach as long as the Paternos have access to private boxes and their comments are taken seriously and Jay is not given a job by the next coach they will always be critical of the coach who is looking to bring some sense of order back to PSU . It had gotten out of hand with Jopa and things were running amuck.

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1 reply
Chris Jim January 01 2014 at 10:20 PM

Not sure who your "sources" are, but I challenge you or any to them to show proof of a Paterno family disapproval of O'Brien. Just judging from Facebook and Twitter posts made by Paterno family members in the past, they have always been supportive of O'Brien. Not everyone agreed with things like names on the jerseys or facial hair, etc., but the whole Penn State community supported O'Brien. I wish him well but it's obvious he always had the NFL in his plans. Now it's time to find a coach who WANTS to be at Penn State and carry the program through the rest of the sanctions and beyond.

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biffcove January 01 2014 at 3:04 PM

Bill did take the job in a very radio -active situation. Good job Bill!

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