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.

Instant Replay: St. Joe's 78, Penn 71

Instant Replay: St. Joe's 78, Penn 71

BOX SCORE

With two teams entering action on three-game losing skids and still trying to find footing midway through the year, it was one of those games - especially in the Big 5 - where, quite simply, someone had to win. 

And in a game that featured lengthy runs on both sides, Saint Joseph’s ended up being that team, holding off the University of Pennsylvania, 78-71, at the Palestra Saturday night.

St. Joe's, the official home team on the ticket at the Palestra, led by as many as 15 in the first half before a 12-1 Quakers run led to a four-point Hawks lead, 35-31, at the break.

Penn got a hold of the lead, 36-35, with an early second half spurt but the Hawks, led by Lamarr Kimble’s 23 points (13 in the second half), were able to make more plays and pick up their first win in two weeks.

The loss was the Quakers’ fourth straight. They’ve yet to win in 2017.

Joining Kimble in double figures for the Hawks were Charlie Brown (career-high 19 points), James Demery (15) and Chris Clover (10).

Penn was paced by Matt Howard’s 19 points. Freshman Ryan Betley had 15, including a couple key threes.

Betley’s corner triple got the Quakers within four, 66-62, with 2:44 left.

But the Hawks scored the next four to seize control.

Turning point
In a close second half looking for a turning point, perhaps a whistle was the moment the game turned.

Late in the shot clock, with the Hawks clinging to a six-point lead, Kimble rose up from deep and was fouled by Jackson Donahue of Penn. All Quakers coach Steve Donahue could do was walk quietly to the other end of his bench in disgust. Kimble made 2 of 3 to push the St. Joe's lead to 70-62 with a little more than a minute to go.

A stop, which Penn would have had if Kimble wasn’t fouled, and the Quakers would have had a chance to cut it to a two-possession game with a manageable clock.

What it means
St. Joe’s, now 51-35 all-time against Penn, needed a confidence booster as it turns back to the crowded Atlantic 10.

Penn is still trying to find the right rotations to win games.

Inside the box score
Penn took 18 shots from beyond the arc in the first half. The Quakers made four of them. They made four on 14 threes in the second half.

Off turnovers, Penn outscored St. Joe’s, 17-4.

The Hawks won the battle in the paint, 36-18.

Penn had 32 fouls as a team and had two players (Tyler Hamilton and Betley) foul out.

Kimble, coming off a nine turnover game, went 9-11 from the free-throw line and had five assists against two turnovers.

Up next
St. Joe’s gets back into A-10 play Tuesday at St. Bonaventure before hosting La Salle next Saturday on City Ave.

Penn plays at La Salle Wednesday before a tough Ivy League road weekend the following weekend at Harvard and Dartmouth to kick off February.

Instant Replay: Devils 4, Flyers 1

ap-michal-neuvirth-flyers-devils.jpg
Associated Press

Instant Replay: Devils 4, Flyers 1

BOX SCORE

Not even a five-day break in the schedule could save the Flyers from themselves.

Some costly penalties, even costlier mistakes, added up to their fifth loss in six games Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center as the New Jersey Devils torched them, 4-1.

The Devils scored two goals in the final four minutes of the second period to turn a tie game into a 3-1 lead. 

Michal Neuvirth started the game but was relieved by Steve Mason to start the third period. 

This was the first of a back-to-back games. The Flyers came into play 7-4-0 in the first games of such this season. They now have 50 points with a record of 22-19-6.

They went into the break getting burned 5-0 by Washington.

1st goal
Flyers allowed the first tally for the ninth time in 10 games as Pavel Zacha scored off a juicy rebound in the slot off the backhand for an early 1-0 Devils lead.

Notable goals
Kyle Palmieri scored the go-ahead goal in the second period off a 5-on-3 power play after a horrendous clipping call on Radko Gudas from referee Dan O’Halloran (see video), followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to Wayne Simmonds for arguing the call. The entire game changed after that call.

Goalie report
Neuvirth was making his first start since Jan. 14 in Boston when he gave up five goals.

Power play
Couple chances on the first one for the Flyers and Travis Konecny ripped it off the crossbar. He made good on the next power play, jamming the puck under Keith Kinkaid to tie the game at 1-1 just after the PP ended. Overall, the first unit wasn’t very good in this game and the second unit had the goal. Officially, the power play went 0 for 6.

Penalty kill
After yielding five goals over the previous four games, the PK units settled down and killed three straight before the Devils scored off a 5-on-3 power play, then got another power play goal in the third period as well. Devils were 2 for 7.

Injuries
Gudas went hard into the back boards after a takedown from Miles Wood in the first period but seemed OK.

Fights
Wayne Simmonds improved to 2-0-1 after a bout with Wood (see video).

Scratches
This was Game 47 – the first time all season the Flyers have had an entirely healthy lineup. Defensemen Brandon Manning and Nick Schultz (both healthy); forward Dale Weise (healthy).

Up next
This is the 12th set of back-to-back games for the Flyers. They face the Islanders on Sunday night in Brooklyn. They will play 18 sets this season.