Super Bowl Ring Eludes Bill O’Brien

“The worst thing that can happen is [Bill] O’Brien making it to the Super Bowl, missing National Signing Day, and not getting a ring after it all.”

That is what I said to people on Saturday, January 14th a few hours before the New England Patriots took on the Denver Broncos in a divisional playoff game. Heading into that game, the sentiment from Penn State fans whose teams were no longer vying for a Super Bowl seemed to be:

Lose tonight and get to State College now or go all the way and show off the ring.

When making this statement, the inherent risk was assumed. What if — after a deep playoff run — they lose? All this time splitting jobs and Penn State, and we could get nothing out of it?

After storming past the Broncos and getting by the Ravens, the worst nightmare scenario became reality on Sunday night. Bill O’Brien lost his final game as part of the Patriots staff. The hope in Happy Valley is that it will not indirectly result in actual losses for Penn State in the future.

During his January 7th introductory press conference, O’Brien confidently said that he could not talk about commitment, dedication, and trust to players and recruits only to turn around and leave the organization he had been with for five years during a playoff run.

While I believe O’Brien could have done more good for Penn State had he been here on a full-time basis, I cannot disagree with his statement. It spoke to his values and what he will preach to players during his tenure. Ultimately, it was the right thing to do, but while he was gone the past month, a once great recruiting class that the former coaching staff had put together was dismantled. Urban Meyer and Ohio State became the main beneficiary as top recruits like Noah Spence, Tommy Schutt, Joey O’Connor, Cam Williams, and Armani Reeves. These players, who were once expected to be Nittany Lions, all ended up as Buckeyes. The final two were Penn State verbal commits who made the decision to flip a week before Signing Day.

When National Signing Day came around, O’Brien talked about emphasizing development over recruiting rankings, a belief that is no doubt important, but his next few recruiting classes will be equally important in making sure that he has some upperclassmen who he can depend on in a few years. Eventually winning with his own players will be absolutely key if he hopes to restore Penn State as one of the Big Ten’s elite programs.

Taking a look at some of the top tier Big Ten programs, he will have his work cut out for him in terms of recruiting:

  • Urban Meyer boasts two National Championships from his days at Florida, and his top five recruiting class this year speaks to his ability.
  • Bret Bielema has back to back Big Ten Championships in his back pocket at Wisconsin.
  • Bo Pelini’s program at Nebraska appears to be on the cusp of taking off.
  • Mark Dantonio at Michigan State has registered back to back ten win seasons.
  • Brady Hoke got off to a flying start at Michigan last year.
  • Kirk Ferentz, has been at Iowa for thirteen seasons and can preach stability.

At one point, all of these coaches were just starting out. All are now well established, forcing O’Brien to play catch up. For a while it looked as if O’Brien was going to be the only one with a Super Bowl ring until that idea came crashing down. Now, without a ring or any head coaching experience, O’Brien will have to create his own sales pitch. He will talk about “Success With Honor” and the values of Penn State, but will that be enough to bring in top talent and satisfy a passionate fan base that wants to believe but has a right to be skeptical? Actions not words.

A similar parallel that could be a rebuttal to the Super Bowl ring argument is “But Charlie Weis won a Super Bowl before taking the Notre Dame job, and it didn’t help him.”

Yeah, that is true, and I don’t have much in regards to a response, but after three absolutely miserable months for Penn State Football fans, optimism slowly lifted its head out of the ground as January turned to February. Thoughts of the new guy rolling into Happy Valley with a shiny silver ring danced in our heads, only to be revealed as a mirage and wasted opportunity.

It was not Bill O’Brien’s fault that the Patriots lost on Sunday. It likely was not his fault that many recruits elected to sign elsewhere; however, the big business of college football is rarely fair, and (false) perception can often become reality.

If O’Brien’s program goes sour and many of these recruits who got away go on to be studs at other schools, this past month — fairly or unfairly — will be remembered.

Only time will tell how this plays out, but we will never be able to measure the tangible impact of what a Super Bowl ring could have meant.

It would have been cool to know.

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About the Author

Drew Balis

Drew is a senior marketing major. This fall, he will be covering Penn State Football for Onward State. He is a huge Philadelphia sports fan and loves THON and Domonic Brown.

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