Bill O’Brien: Not a Penn State guy

Bill O’Brien: Not a Penn State guy

Bill O’Brien did what almost every college football coach does when a better opportunity comes along—he took it and ran. That, unfortunately, is the nature of the job.

But at Penn State, where the program is still reeling from scandal and sanctions, O’Brien’s departure feels like a larger betrayal than usual.

On Thursday, the Houston Texans announced the hiring of O’Brien to be their next head coach following a week-long courtship. His jump back to the NFL was always inevitable, but after just two seasons in Happy Valley, it feels like he’s leaving a job unfinished.

Six months into O’Brien’s tenure, the NCAA hit the program with crippling sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The penalties included a reduction in scholarships and postseason ban—harsh, yet typical—and as if that weren’t enough, players were allowed to transfer from Penn State without losing a year of eligibility.

O’Brien helped stave off a mass exodus and incredibly led the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 record in his first season, earning college football’s coach of the year honors in the process. That success brought national attention though, and O’Brien quickly became the hottest head coaching candidate in NFL.

The Philadelphia Eagles were among the teams to sniff around the former Bill Belichick disciple last winter, but the buyout in his contract with the university was cost prohibitive. Over the summer, O’Brien tipped his hand, reworking his deal for a nice raise and some extra incentives, but also negotiating a reduction in the buyout.

Still, it seemed as if Penn State might have more time. Despite the sanctions, O’Brien managed to land a number of high-end recruits, most notably Christian Hackenberg. Widely regarded as one of the top quarterbacks coming out of high school, Hackenberg undoubtedly chose PSU in part due to O’Brien, who worked closely with Tom Brady as an assistant for the New England Patriots.

One year later, O’Brien is gone after a 7-5 season. Naturally, a lot of young men are feeling less certain about their decisions.

To the casual observer, the situation these student-athletes are in may not seem unique or unusual in the cut-throat world of major college athletics, where coaches are constantly jumping ship for the next big thing. In this case however, these kids stuck it out at Penn State or committed to the university when there was no promise of bowl games or even winning.

O’Brien was one of the primary reasons for that.

What makes the decision even more difficult to accept is the fact that the NFL would still be an option for O’Brien years from now, when the program is finally free and clear from sanctions and promises to young men and their families have been fulfilled.

He didn’t leave Happy Valley for a once-in-a-life opportunity. He left for the same kind of opening that is available every year.

Some of the reasons for disappointment are admittedly selfish. After watching Joe Paterno pace up and down the sideline inside Beaver Stadium for 40-plus years, Penn State simply isn’t used to these types of breakups. And the university can paint the job as more attractive than it was two years ago all they want, the odds of finding a better coach than O’Brien are slim to none.

O’Brien does deserve credit for restoring stability to the program over his two short years. Let’s face it, nobody who was anybody was having anything to do with that vacancy when it opened, and that was before the NCAA came down hard on PSU. Honestly, the position is more attractive now, which the university owes to O’Brien.

And nobody can begrudge a man for wanting to coach in the NFL, which O’Brien described last year as the highest level in his profession. The money is much better, and in Houston he’ll be taking over a team with plenty of talent already, plus the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft.

It’s the timing that kind of sucks, and if nothing else, that O’Brien wasn’t loyal to or honest with his players. According to reports, he was telling recruits as recently as December that he would be returning to Penn State.

None of which makes O’Brien a villain per se, just your run-of-the-mill sleazy college coach that the occupation almost demands, somebody who was willing to say and do whatever was necessary if it meant putting a winning football team on the field.

It turns out Bill O’Brien was never a “Penn State guy” at all. Having said that, the university and its legions of fans and alumni probably owe the man a debt of gratitude for saving the football program in the first place.

Bill O’Brien was never a Penn state guy, even if he was exactly what Penn State needed at the time.

Was Roy Halladay's perfect game really seven years ago?

Was Roy Halladay's perfect game really seven years ago?

Where were you seven years ago today? I'd put my money on a number of Phillies fans spending their Saturday of Memorial Day weekend 2010 lounging out on the beach at the Jersey Shore just as I was.

But that night — just 14 miles from where the Phils will take on the now-Miami Marlins tonight — Roy Halladay tossed just the second perfect game in Phillies history, striking out 11 Marlins en route. Yes, that was the same Halladay who earned 55 wins over the course of four seasons in Philadelphia and pitched a no-hitter that same season against the Cincinnati Reds in the opening game of the NLDS.

It was a magical night at Dolphin Land Shark Sun Life Stadium. Anyone who wasn't watching the Flyers lose Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks, 6-5, probably remembers Shane Victorino tracking down Wes Helms' deep fly to dead center as well as the incredible game called by Carlos Ruiz behind the plate. And then there's the 27th out as third baseman Juan Castro cooly collected the Ronny Paulino ground ball, spun and fired to Ryan Howard at first base.

So what's Doc doing now you ask?

Well, if his Twitter is any indication, Halladay has not stepped too far away from the game of baseball. During the weekend, he posted a series of tweets with his son Braden's high school baseball team, Cavalry Christian (Clearwater, Florida), as they completed a perfect 30-0 season and won the Florida 4A state title with Halladay as one of the team's assistant coaches.

He also tweeted to honor fellow Phillie Jim Bunning — the only other Phillies pitcher to ever throw a perfect game — after the baseball legend died Friday night at the age of 85.

End to End: Who's the better fit for Flyers, Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick?

End to End: Who's the better fit for Flyers, Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick?

Throughout the offseason, we’ll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.
 
Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.
 
The topic: Who would be a better fit for the Flyers, Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier?
 
Dougherty
I don’t believe either one would necessarily be a better fit than the other for the Flyers. This is a case where either player matches what the orange and black need: a top-six centerman. It’s safe to say with either Hischier or Patrick, they will come away from Chicago with a substantial piece they can add to their puzzle. I’ve felt they needed another lottery forward.
 
They’re getting one now, but which player would I prefer to see as a Flyer? That would be Patrick because, for me, he’s the safer bet who is closer to the NHL than Hischier. Now, I don’t believe the Flyers should draft based on who will be here quicker. That would be asinine. But it sure wouldn’t hurt to see either one of them in Philadelphia next season.
 
Patrick has been atop the rankings for this class for two years now. He dominated the WHL as a 17-year-old two years ago, and despite injuries last season, he still ruled play. Plus it’s hard not to be enamored with Patrick’s size. At 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, he’s a big right-handed pivot. Hischier is listed at 6-foot, 176 pounds. He’ll have to get stronger.
 
That’s not saying Patrick doesn’t need to add more muscle to his frame, but at 6-3, 198, he has a solid frame that should be able to handle the wear-and-tear of an NHL season. Sure, he does have some durability questions, but it’s not to the Joel Embiid level of concern.
 
Both players play a solid 200-foot game, which is something GM Ron Hextall preaches. Neither is deficient in his own zone. Patrick is more of a physical player than Hischier. The Brandon center has a solid combination of speed, power and skill, which is attractive.
 
Hischier has many of the same traits as Patrick, but he’s the flashier of the two. Ultimately, this is a discussion for the Devils more than the Flyers. New Jersey has to decide which one they want, and then the Flyers get the other. From afar, Hischier seems more of a fit to what the Devils need and factor in his rise over the last few months, I think he’ll be a Devil.
 
And that means Patrick will be a Flyer. Which is perfectly fine with me.

Hall
If I had to pick, I think the Flyers need more of a player like Hischier than Patrick.
 
The good thing is they can't go wrong with either 18-year-old.
 
Hischier seems to come with a higher ceiling offensively and greater potential to put up star numbers at the center position. The playmaking ability is what changes games and the teams that score are the teams that win.
 
"He's such a strong offensive player, he's completely fearless — you cannot intimidate him," Cam Russell, the general manager of Hischier's junior club, the Halifax Mooseheads, said (see story). "If you watch him play closely, you'll see that he's the first one on the puck and I've never seen a player roll off hits like he does in the corner. I can't think of a time when he was run over or contained in the corner, he's just so strong, so quick and so agile with the puck."
 
What's really appealing about Patrick is you know what you're getting: a proven two-way center that focuses on defense just as much as offense. He'll bring everything to the table and he looks to be the safer pick.
 
He has "elite" potential, too, in his own right.
 
"He won't let anybody down," Grant Armstrong, the general manager of Patrick's junior club, the Brandon Wheat Kings, said. "I just think he's an elite talent with an elite sense for the game. At some point, he'll be a great two-way centerman in the league."
 
So, the Flyers are in an excellent spot. I'd like to see Hischier fall to the Flyers, but Patrick should excite fans, as well.
 
And the funny thing is the Flyers won't have to decide between the two.

Paone
Let's get this part out of the way before I go deeper into this question: both Patrick and Hischier are great fits for the Flyers.

Both are impact forwards who should be able to help sooner rather than later. And with the way the Flyers struggled offensively last season, that's just what the doctor ordered. So they really can't go wrong here and, as I said on Sunday, I do feel it comes down to simplest terms as the Flyers should take whomever New Jersey doesn't out of Patrick and Hischier.

But this question is about the better fit between the two.

Let's think about it this way: We all have a bunch of t-shirts that fit, but we all have that one t-shirt that fits just right. And when we're in a pinch and need something to wear, we always go back to that t-shirt that fits just right.

And the "just right" fit here for the Flyers is Hischier.

The guy just brings an energy to the ice when you see him play. He has a dynamic way to him that when you watch him play, your eyes are just drawn to him. So many times last season the Flyers seemed so lethargic and slogged through periods and games. They needed an energy boost. Hischier can help bring that needed jolt.

On top of that, the high offensive ceiling for Hischier has to appeal to the Flyers, as Jordan said above. That's just what they need. Nothing against Patrick, seen as more of the two-way player. But the two-way center has been the Flyers' preferred way of thinking for so long now. Nothing against a two-way center, but the Flyers need more of a dynamic, playmaking center and Hischier is that. It's time for something different.

The Flyers are going to get a darn good player at No. 2 no matter what, but Hischier is the better fit here and now.