Maybe Bill O'Brien leaving Penn State for the Houston Texans wasn't such a jerk move after all.
In an article published by Pennsylvania's Patriot News, columnist David Jones described a heated, off-the-record rant that former Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien had with him on the phone in December, a rant in which O'Brien hinted that he was thinking about leaving the school.
The rant came about due to a question about the negative backlash from "Paterno-era loyalists" who were upset about the dismissal (or resignation) of Ron Vanderlinden, an assistant coach who had been on the staff under Joe Paterno. Many fans were upset about Vanderlinden's exit, as he was one of the few remaining ties to the Joe-Pa era, and wanted answers as to whose decision it was for Vanderlinden to leave.
This set O'Brien off. From the article:
"You can print this: You can print that I don't really give a [expletive] what the 'Paterno people' think about what I do with this program. I've done everything I can to show respect to Coach Paterno. Everything in my power. So I could really care less about what the Paterno faction of people, or whatever you call them, think about what I do with the program. I'm tired of it.
"For any 'Paterno person' to have any objection to what I'm doing, it makes me wanna put my fist through this windshield right now."
"I'm trying to field the most competitive football team I can with near-death penalty [expletive] sanctions. Every time I say something like that and somebody prints it, it's skewed as an excuse. And I'm not an excuse-maker. I'm trying to do the best I can for the kids in that program. That's all I care about is the kids in that program. As long as I'm the head football coach here."
It was during this rant that O'Brien dropped the major bomb.
"That's why, in probably about a month, they're gonna be [expletive] looking for a new coach."
The rant is interesting not only because it hints at O'Brien's imminent departure, but because it illustrates the pressure O'Brien was working under at Penn State. Forget just coaching a football team. This guy was leading a Division-1 program that was saddled with the loss of significant scholarships, a program that was reeling from one of the major scandals in NCAA history and, on top of all that, he was doing so with a loud faction of the fans (and, perhaps, the administration) still longing for the time when Joe Paterno coached them.
It sheds light on O'Brien's decision to leave. This wasn't just a guy using Penn State's battered program as a springboard to an NFL coaching job.
O'Brien was asked to do something impossible. He actually pulled it off, leading the team to a 15-9 record during his tenure there, and he was still flayed because he wasn't properly showing deference to Joe Paterno. Why would O'Brien stay?
Of course none of this is discussing Jones' decision to publish these quotes, given that they were off-the-record at the time. It's unclear if he thought that O'Brien's decision to leave freed him from any agreements the two had, or if he got O'Brien's permission, or if he just didn't need him any more. The funny thing is, his decision to print the off-the-record quotes makes O'Brien more likable in this whole thing.
He's more likable because it's clear that his job at Penn State had as much to do with things outside of football as it had to do with football. He had to know that going in, of course, but perhaps he didn't know that, even after everything that happened at Penn State, people would still long for the good old days.
This quote from Jones best sums it all up:
"[O'Brien] adores the pro game, the purity of it, without the university politics and pretense of the college version."
Yes, the NFL, with its huge salaries, big egos, corporate sponsorship and all the rest, has a "purity" that O'Brien couldn't find in the college game. Yikes.