Bill O’Brien became the head football coach at Penn State in January 2012.
Prior to this year, that title had only slightly less respect than God in certain circles.
But the Penn State child sex abuse scandal not only tarnished the job, but also hit the Penn State football program with five years of probation, a four-year postseason bowl ban, the elimination of all its wins from 1998 to 2011, and a $60 million fine.
Ten Penn State players transferred from the team, including a Second Team All-Big Ten running back and the Nittany Lions’ most experienced wideout. Penn State started the season with two quick losses, and things looked bleak.
Most coaches would see these conditions as a building year — or at least a recovery year. Not O’Brien, even though he had never been a head coach before.
He never complained about the liabilities or blamed anyone for anything. And it worked. (RELATED VIDEO: PSU coach may or may not have called his team ‘a bunch of f**kers’ on live TV)
Penn State went 8-2 in the rest of their season and ended up ranked 2nd in the Big Ten “Leaders” division. Even without the ten starters the team lost, Penn State averaged ten more points per game in 2012 than in 2011. Wide receiver Allen Robinson broke school record for receptions, and quarterback Matt McGloin broke the passing yardage record and tied the record for touchdowns.
O’Brien himself collected the most wins of any first-year head coach in Penn State history. He took home Big Ten Coach of the Year honors and ESPN’s national coach of the year award. He beat out the Ohio State coach, who ranked above him in Big Ten standings and had a perfect 12-0 season. (That program, too, is under the cloud of a post-season ban.)
And now rumors abound that O’Brien may be the next coach of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.
O’Brien appreciates the awards, but credits the players who stayed and worked through the adversity. “When the sanctions came out and some guys chose to leave but the majority stayed, that was a rewarding couple of weeks there,” he told ESPN. “I knew then we had a bunch of kids who were committed to the 2012 team. It was a fun year to coach.”
Will O’Brien leverage this success to his advantage? His Penn State contract is a five-year deal that runs through 2017 and, according to a university press release, O’Brien’s base salary is $950,000 with a 5-percent annual increase.
Some total compensation rankings have put O’Brien as low as 36th among leading NCAA coaches, making about half what his peers earn at Alabama or Texas. The average annual salary for head coaches in major college programs is $1.64 million — up nearly 12 percent over last season and more than 70 percent since 2006.
O’Brien is certainly mobile. He coached two years at Brown, five at Georgia Tech, two at Maryland, another two at Duke, and then five with the New England Patriots. There is nothing unusual about coaches moving, and there were no strong ties between O’Brien and Penn State before he arrived in State College, Penn.
O’Brien has also indicated interest in an NFL head-coaching job before, when he had the Patriots’ permission to interview for the Jaguars’ head coaching vacancy in 2011. The Eagles top coaching gig pays more than any NCAA head coach — and State College is only 192 miles from Philly.