Bill O'Brien left the NFL in 2011 and took the head coaching job at Penn State in 2012. The once-prestigious job had become a plague following the revelation that Jerry Sandusky had been molesting young kids and at least one incident occurred in the showers of the campus' athletic facilities. Because of Sandusky's chummy relationship with iconic coach Joe Paterno, Sandusky was able to use the university's youth summer camp as a candy store for his perverted desires for decades.
O'Brien stepped into a messy situation, became an instant leader and guided a Nittany Lions program that had been smeared and staggered by NCAA infractions to a 15-9 record in two seasons. Most pundits predicted that he'd barely win nine games.
For taking that leap of faith, when so many coaches jetted from the challenge, O'Brien's reward is a new job in the NFL as a HC. There are now five HC vacancies available in the NFL and the Cleveland Browns reportedly have their eyes on current Pats OC Josh McDaniels, a former HC with the Denver Broncos.
In keeping with the recent trend of teams hiring offensive coaches to HC positions, O'Brien, a former offensive coordinator with Bill Belichick's New England Patriots, was named HC of the Houston Texans, who fired Gary Kubiak following a dismal 2-14 season. The hiring will become official on Thursday.
NFL Network analysts say "O'Brien was the hottest prospect on market.. and he didn't want to wait for any other possibilities."
Despite finishing 31st in the NFL in points per game (17.2), the Texans have talent and obviously need a chemist to master-mix them into a cohesive unit. O'Brien replaced Paterno at Penn State following the sex scandal and earned Big Ten coach of the year in 2012 after leading Penn State to an 8-4 record in his first year on the job.
The most important factor in O'Brien's hiring is his association with the NFL's Yoda (Belichick). And the fact that NFL teams had two years to watch him run the Penn State program under dire circumstances. They evaluated him in every area of team management. The bottom line is, they liked everything they saw.
Houston was also peeping Lovie Smith and interviewed the former Bears coach early in the process, but apparently O'Brien blew them away as an organizer and motivator. When the Texans' hiring process began, owner Bob McNair said they were looking for an experienced coach , and despite his stint at Penn State O'Brien does have five seasons of NFL coaching experience as an assistant under Belichick in New England from 2007-11. The 44-year-old was the Patriots offensive coordinator in 2011, when New England made it to Super Bowl XLVI and finished third in points and second in the NFL in total yards and passing yards.
Smith, is now considered to be a front-runner for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opening created by Monday's firing of Greg Schiano, according to multiple reports. It's also been reported that Smith will interview for the Lions job.
As usual, The Fritz Pollard Alliance--the NFL's watchdog on racial diversity in the hiring practices and procedures concerning coaching and front office positions–said they are monitoring the situation. FPA Chairman John Wooten told The Shadow League on Tuesday that "we are working strongly with the NFL to make sure that all teams comply with the (Rooney) rule as it pertains to the interview process. We feel that there are a great number of minority head coach prospects and general managers."
Smith is a qualified winner, has been to a Super Bowl and deserves a gig, but the FPA doesn't have much of a beef with this hiring. The Texans want a HC who is more fiery than the former Kubiak and is a butt-kicker type of general. The Texans were picked by some to be a Super Bowl squad, but they played uninspired football and eventually fell off a cliff with starting QB Matt Schaub.
With all due respect to Lovie's football acumen, sometimes he's too chill and that's not the personality McNair is seeking. O'Brien is younger and he earned the respect of the football world when he got into a heated verbal exchange with Tom Brady on the sidelines during an NFL game in December of 2011. Anybody who will publicly challenge the impeccable Tom Terrific and then bounce to Penn State in the aftermath of one of the most horrific serial child-molestation scandals in American history and stabilize that program–probably has the ability to turn an NFL franchise around.
"Most important… he knows what a great QB is," NFL Network analysts continued," because he coached one in Brady and they (Texans) will have the No. 1 pick in the (2014) draft so that will be their top priority."
With the tenacious O'Brien in the fold and the possibility of snagging Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Football, Houston believes that they can be like Indianapolis and Kansas City the last two seasons. Bringing in a new QB and a new HC lifted the Colts in 2012 and Chiefs (2013) from worst to first in one season.