Why Bill O’Brien left Penn State for the Houston Texans


(Gene J. Puskar / AP)

Bill O’Brien, as expected, is leaving Penn State after two seasons to become head coach of the Houston Texans.

Despite performing well in leading the Nittany Lions out of the Jerry Sandusky mess, O’Brien, it has been reported all fall, has been itching to return to the NFL and now we have a better idea of just why he’d leave State College, where he was 15-9. David Jones, in a column on Pennlive.com, writes of O’Brien’s frustrations at succeeding Joe Paterno, dealing with NCAA sanctions stemming from the Sandusky scandal and what he felt was a lack of leadership at the school. Jones spoke with O’Brien after assistant coach Ron Vanderlinden left the program, but did not publish the conversation until today. It’s a revealing look at the pressures of the job for an “outsider” in State College and how it felt to succeed a legendary coach.

“You can print this: You can print that I don’t really give a [expletive] what the ‘Paterno people’ think about what I do with this program,” he told Jones. “I’ve done everything I can to show respect to Coach Paterno. Everything in my power. So I could really care less about what the Paterno faction of people, or whatever you call them, think about what I do with the program. I’m tired of it.

“For any ‘Paterno person’ to have any objection to what I’m doing, it makes me wanna put my fist through this windshield [he was in a car at the time] right now.”

He was just getting started:

“I’m trying to field the most competitive football team I can with near-death penalty [expletive] sanctions. Every time I say something like that and somebody prints it, it’s skewed as an excuse. And I’m not an excuse-maker. I’m trying to do the best I can for the kids in that program. That’s all I care about is the kids in that program. As long as I’m the head football coach here.”

The conclusion, from Jones, is that O’Brien was the ideal person to lead Penn State after the scandal, but he clearly wasn’t a lifer in college sports. O’Brien would rather to be the next Bill Belichick, for whom he worked in New England, than the next Joe Paterno. And, besides, “the guy to follow Joe was never going to be there long enough to get a statue,” as CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd put it. This is the best move for him and the school he leaves. “Now,” Jones concludes, “it might be time for more stability and maybe an inch or two back toward [Penn State’s] roots.”

After spending most of her career in traditional print sports journalism, Cindy began blogging and tweeting, first as NFL/Redskins editor, and, since August 2010, at The Early Lead. She also is the social media editor for Sports.

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Cindy Boren · January 1, 2014

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