It’s little change from year to year. As the college football regular season winds down in late November, the coaching carousel starts to kick into high gear. Guys get fired, guys get hired. Some move up in status or conference level, some move out.
A month later, the pros get into the act. The NFL closes out its annual Week 17 and heads start to roll. It becomes all about play-for-pay X-and-O retreads being rolled out as the answer to some ailing organization’s woes, how that Sunday experience is so vital, so necessary.
Save for some against-the-grain shots by owners who are told “better,” it is pretty rare to see much crossover between the college and pro games despite each have an overlap at the same stage – the give-up, start-over one by so many of its participants.
In the waning hours of 2012, though, it is quite clear that is not the case this time around.
Oregon’s Chip Kelly has been rumored to be the hot coaching commodity among NFL execs in search of that next franchise savior just about all season. He’d been in the running for the Tampa Bay gig just about the same time a year ago before the Bucs settled on Rutgers’ Greg Schiano.
Stanford’s David Shaw just agreed to a new deal to remain at his alma mater, and, yet, some general managers continue to keep their fingers crossed that he’d possibly, hopefully, consider coming to their town to turn their operation around. You know, like his former boss with the Cardinal has done at San Francisco.
Thing is, while Schiano and especially Jim Harbaugh are examples of how college coaches made the leap to the NFL and made a difference, they weren’t exactly being talked about as serious candidates, if candidates at all, for the posts they landed. Both were, in short, surprise hires.
Kelly would not be. Neither would Bill O’Brien of Penn State.
Yeah, it’s a business. The job of coaching pro or college football players is. A man needs to think about his well being, what he wants out of his career, and to take the steps he can to make those things come to their healthiest fruition.
O’Brien, though … well, his situation was a little different. The undertaking he took on at Penn State, it wasn’t just a job. It was a vocation, a commitment, a crusade if you will, to salvage, stabilize and rebuild a once-mighty program, and, frankly, the university, alumni and community that supports it after it had been burned to the ashes in stunning, shocking fashion.
Apparently, if reports are true, the former New England offensive coordinator is a bit miffed that he was told by Penn State officials that the Sandusky scandal would be strictly a criminal matter and not an NCAA one. If so, two questions beg to be asked:
Why would anyone at Penn State be so naïve again?
Why would O’Brien believe school officials had the correct pulse on what was going on with the governing body of collegiate sports?
With all the turmoil going on at the time, no one had any idea what would pan out, and if anyone thought they had that was being quite presumptuous.
O’Brien, simply, has been a revelation in State College since arriving 11 months ago – equal parts inspiration and reality. He has done everything Nittany Lions fans could have possibly hoped for, giving them hope and the football program renewed life. The team started out 0-2, and finished on an 8-2 run. He earned Big Ten coach of the year honors, not to mention national accord for the same by multiple sources.
He has transformed a nation’s knee-jerk response to the words “Penn” and “State” from lowering the head and shaking it back and forth in a show of sympathy and disgust to one of well-deserved appreciation, the kind reserved for witnessing the rising above rubble and becoming a heart-warming story of redemption.
Really, at this point, Bill O’Brien is Penn State. Regardless of whether he received all the “correct” info when signing up for his current gig, he has created a bond and a belief there that should not be ignored – most of all by himself.
But the NFL is calling, and he may opt to get on that ride – even if it calls for him to pay a $9.2 million buyout to Penn State.