Bill O’Brien and Penn State had a remarkable season, but won’t be in a bowl for three more years. (Gene J. Puskar / AP)

Might Bill O’Brien be headed back to the NFL?

One of the best college football stories in the fall was the rebuilding of the Penn State program after the devastating Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal. O’Brien came to State College from the New England Patriots, tasked with replacing a tarnished legend in Joe Paterno. O’Brien was the Big Ten Coach of the year after leading the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 record. Because of the Sandusky/Paterno scandal, though, Penn State is ineligible for bowls for four seasons and college coaches are an unusually hot commodity as NFL coaching jobs open up beginning today.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that teams have reached out to gauge O’Brien’s interest and that he would listen to offers. O’Brien could not be reached for comment by ESPN, but sources told Mortensen that he would not leave Penn State for any NFL job. O’Brien’s $9 million buyout could be a big hurdle, but it isn’t known whether he would be allowed to leave for the NFL without that payout.

Christian Hackenberg, a top-rated quarterback prospect and Penn State recruit, told ESPN that he “has his fingers crossed” that O’Brien won’t leave, but would reconsider his decision if O’Brien were to leave before signing day Feb. 6.  “I’d think about it,” Hackenberg said. “He was a big part of it. He’s the guy who’s going to develop me. That’s one of the big things I looked at. I’ll see what happens.”

That’s a scene that may be played out at other universities. Oregon’s Chip Kelly is another hot prospect and at least two teams, the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns, are expected to have coaching openings and to be interested in a college coach.

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O’Brien’s hiring initially upset former players

Penn State one year later