BOB Does Work: I Shut Up The Haters In Under Three Months Edition
“Some are just unimpressed. Others are angry. … [There has been] outrage and disappointment for those in the Football Lettermen’s Club.” – SportingNews
“An inexperienced filler hire, made in a panic, to a candidate with the pedigree matching a long list of former Pat-turned-failures before him.” – Kevin Powers, Black Shoe Diaries
“Penn State … looked unprepared to replace its 85-year-old coach.” – Adam Rittenberg, ESPN
If you haven’t figured it out yet, the above quotes were from various news reports about three months ago referring to the Penn State football program’s hiring of Bill O’Brien. Alumni, students, and fans alike seemed to collectively form a negative opinion on O’Brien based on a laundry list of preconceived notions about former New England Patriots’ coaches before giving the guy a chance. Those so-called haters are eating their words right now.
O’Brien hasn’t yet coached a game, but as the result of an impressive first recruiting class, a general likability and classiness portrayed in interviews and press conferences, his obvious desire to immerse himself in Happy Valley culture, and an immediate implementation of authority that resulted in the dismissal of Shawn Oakman, the Penn State community has taken a liking to the former Patriots offensive coordinator.
I had said from the beginning of the coaching search that fans shouldn’t expect a big-name hire. The scandal was still fresh in the air, and the vast majority of already established coaches were not going to take the risk that came with associating their name with Penn State at that time. Coaches like Tony Dungy, who was at one point rumored to be a candidate, simply were not going to insert themselves into the publicity nightmare that was still in the process of blowing over as the university looked for the next leader of their storied football program.
Unlike the majority of fans, I was a strong proponent of the decision when it was first announced. With the Patriots in place to make a playoff run, O’Brien had the potential to be recruiting with a big, bright, shiny ring on his finger. As we know now, that didn’t work out as well as planned, but a trip to the Super Bowl had to impress the high school students he met with in the weeks after his tenure in New England concluded.
And it did. From Adam Breneman, the top tight end recruit in the nation and Pennsylvania native, to Christian Hackenberg, the four-star quarterback recruit out of Virginia. From Garrett Sickels, the versatile New Jersey pass-rusher who garnered interest from Ohio State, Alabama, Notre Dame, Florida, and Mississipi among others, to Ross Douglas, the four-star Ohio cornerback who has “tremendous upside”, O’Brien has proven that he has the skill set and personality to be a competent recruiter in the competitive environment that is Division I NCAA football.
With that 2013 recruiting class, the biggest question mark hanging over O’Brien’s head has already been erased. Nobody had any doubts about his coaching ability. Bill Belichick wouldn’t have promoted him to offensive play-caller after one season with the team and offensive coordinator after four seasons with the team if he wasn’t an adept coach and a formidable leader. His success with the Patriots speaks for itself.
Sure, he had Tom Brady at quarterback, and that does help, but he was also one of the driving forces behind the success of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, two of the best tight ends in professional football. Gronk just completed what was one of the greatest seasons ever at the tight end position in the National Football League.
On top of all that, Bill O’Brien wanted to be here. He had a chance to interview for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ head coaching vacancy, but he declined to even entertain the option of an NFL head coaching job, opting instead to interview with just one team, the Penn State Nittany Lions. I think the argument that O’Brien is simply using this job as a jumping point for a future position is entirely baseless. What better coaching job could there possibly be than this one, standing on the sideline as Joe Paterno’s replacement in the greatest environment in all of college sports, Beaver Stadium?
I am reluctant to use this word, but it truly seems that the first few months of the Bill O’Brien era have gone as “perfect” as they possibly could have. Nobody expected this strong of a recruiting class. Nobody expected him to plunge into Penn State life as eagerly and ungrudgingly as he has. Nobody expected their minds to be changed about what they originally believed to be a disappointing hire. But in just two months and 23 days, Bill O’Brien has made a strong mark on the Penn State community and the Penn State football program, and we should all be thankful that he’s here to stay.