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.

Could Flyers have trade partner in Avalanche or Kings?

Could Flyers have trade partner in Avalanche or Kings?

The NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. next Wednesday.

As usual, the number of scouts at Flyers home games again reached double digits during a 4-l loss to the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night (see game story).

Two clubs that have been in Philadelphia quite a bit this month are the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings.

The Avs, who are dead last in the NHL, have been trying to move Gabriel Landeskog and/or Matt Duchene for quite a while. They would love to do a deal with the Flyers, according to an NHL source.

Colorado is looking for a top forward and defensive help. A number of NHL clubs realize the Flyers have a slew of young upcoming defensemen and not all of them are going to be able to play here, certainly at the same time.

The Kings are in search of a left wing who might be a nice fit with Anze Kopitar, but the Flyers don’t have a left wing they can part with and, frankly, would love to have a scoring winger themselves to pair with Claude Giroux.

Some of the 10 clubs here on Wednesday night are in need of a backup goalie for a playoff run. Perhaps even the Kings, if Jonathan Quick doesn’t return soon. L.A. waived Jeff Zatkoff on Wednesday.

Scouts say there is a market for Michal Neuvirth right now if the Flyers want to move him. He’s been playing a lot and he’s been very sharp and healthy, which is always a factor when talking about him.

Neuvirth made his fifth consecutive start in Wednesday’s game against the Capitals and is expected in net Saturday night at Heinz Field for the Stadium Series game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Flyers need a goaltender under contract to expose in this summer’s expansion draft and both Neuvirth and Steve Mason can be unrestricted free agents.

Zatkoff could be that guy if the Flyers claimed him and moved one of their goalies now.

If you’re general manager Ron Hextall, the Flyers' numbers offer a compelling reason to be a seller: 3-6-1 since coming out of the All-Star break and 9-15-4 since the club’s 10-game win streak in mid-December.

Ben Simmons, Robert Covington react to Ersan Ilyasova trade

Ben Simmons, Robert Covington react to Ersan Ilyasova trade

On Wednesday, the Sixers traded Ersan Ilyasova to the Hawks in exchange for Tiago Splitter and a 2017 second-round pick, as well as the option to swap 2017 second-round selections (see story).

"I want to thank Ersan Ilyasova for his positive contributions to this organization both on and off the basketball court," president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said in a statement. "Ersan is a true professional whose daily examples of hard work, focus and consistency have helped facilitate the ongoing growth of our program and culture."

The Sixers took to Instagram to express their appreciation for Ilyasova’s leadership. Ilyasova quickly embraced the role of a veteran go-to when he was traded to the Sixers in early November. Both posts below exemplify his team-first mentality.

✊🏼 A true Pro @ersanilyasova7

A post shared by Ben Simmons (@bensimmons) on

Thanks for being a great teammate @ersanilyasova7. Wishing you the best in ATL

A post shared by Rob Covington (@atf_33) on