The Bill O’Brien Hire: Keeping Things In Perspective

Last night I was half asleep in bed, when breaking news about Penn State’s head football coach search flashed across my television screen. I was instantly awake and I honestly got goose bumps. But only partly because I was excited to hear who it was. Mostly, it was because I believed it was the first step back to normalcy for the university. Now before you tell me that a new coach in Happy Valley is not at all normal – considering this hasn’t happened in about half a century – remember what has been normal lately in the Penn State community: one of, if not the biggest scandal to ever occur in major collegiate sports. As Penn State fans, our normal became people cracking jokes when we wore PSU clothing. Normal was seeing the bottom line on ESPN scroll news about a new victim speaking up about alleged abuse from Sandusky, nearly every day. Normal was also our fairly average starting quarterback knocking himself unconscious during a fight and suffering a seizure a few weeks before the Ticket City Bowl. Then normal became our terrible back-up quarterback help the rest of the team sink into bowl mediocrity at a half-empty stadium in Texas on January 2. Suddenly the latest “normal” for Penn State doesn’t seem so bad to me. Now we have the prospect of having a winning future. And because it’s awhile until the next Penn State regular season football game, we won’t know if O’Brien will be successful for some time. But we can at least have hope. That’s pretty good considering how hopeless it has seemed for Penn State in the recent past.

I’m also aware that some folks refuse to have hope for Bill O’Brien. His hiring is getting blasted by the media and Penn State alumni alike ever since the news dropped. Many former Nittany Lion football players, such as LaVar Arrington, Matt Millen and Todd Blackledge have all questioned the decision. And it is all because O’Brien is not a “Penn State guy.” It’s as if this “outsider” can’t do the job because he’s not “one of us.” Give me a break, that sounds like some sort of cult. I couldn’t care less if Bill O’Brien isn’t a Penn State guy. Is that really such a big deal? There have been plenty of other college football coaches who have found success at schools that they had no previous ties to. Pete Carrol wasn’t a USC guy, Chip Kelly wasn’t an Oregon guy, Les Miles wasn’t an LSU guy and Nick Saban wasn’t an Alabama guy. I’m not saying O’Brien will live up to any of these standards, but it just shows that success in college football can come from the outside.

Former Lion quarterback Kerry Collins came out and stood up for O’Brien today. He called all alumni football players to support the new guy, even if they didn’t want him in the first place. Collins urged former players to spend less time criticizing O’Brien for not being a Penn State guy and spend more time showing him what makes Penn Staters great and treat him with respect and show him support. Collins called for a united front to stand by our leader whoever it is, because Penn State needs leadership now more than ever. At this point, I think we should all follow Collins’ lead. The football team doesn’t need a Penn State guy, it needs a winner. And last time I checked, O’Brien has a much better chance of winning football games at Penn State now than he does going back in time and having some kind of affiliation with Penn State.

The naysayers will drive home the point that he has no head coaching experience. And that’s a valid point. A head coaching job isn’t as much about the Xs and Os as it is managing people, kids in fact. There’s a big difference between working with the best and richest athletes in America and trying to improve a 19-year-old that is rough around the edges in both football and academics. True, there are many different facets to the college job compared to the pro job. But remember, it all comes down the same thing: football. O’Brien is a highly talented football mind. He has potential and it’s not like he was a former bowling coach. He was a football guy. He’s had experience with the New England Patriots, Duke, Maryland, Brown and Georgia Tech. He’s been a running backs coach, a tight ends coach, an inside linebackers coach, a quarterbacks coach, a wide receivers coach and an offensive coordinator. The total record of the teams O’Brien was coaching for is 151-92. He was a part of 10 winning seasons and only two losing ones. All of that has to count for something right? I know it might not mean much considering coordinators and position coaches don’t get credited with wins, but I’d rather be optimistic, given the fact that a big name didn’t accept the job and Bill O’Brien did. We don’t have a choice right now, so why not try and think positively?

I’m not going to promise that O’Brien will carry on the winning tradition at Penn State. Right now, there’s no way to tell. Let’s just wait and see before we decide whether Bill O’Brien can be a Penn State guy or not because right now, he is Penn State’s guy, whether we like it or not.

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About Pete Dombrosky
Pete is a graduate of Penn State University and a life-long Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates fan. He covered men's hockey, golf, tennis, swimming and the enterprise beat as a reporter at the Daily Collegian, Penn State's award-winning, independent student-operated paper. He currently serves as the Assistant Managing Editor for Thrillist Media Group (www.thrillist.com).

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