It was a wild couple of days that put Penn Staters on edge. Now they are starting to feel a little more comfortable and backing away from the ledge and uncurling from the fetal position in the corner of the room. Concerns about the state of the football program, for now, have been calmed.
Bill O'Brien was mentioned by a number of outlets to be a leading candidate for an NFL head-coaching job as seven positions opened up following the conclusion of the NFL season. Bill O'Brien considered interviewing for at least one NFL job. Reports surfaced he did in fact interview with the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles. At the same time Penn State made a serious push to keep their head coach happy in Happy Valley, fueled by a donation from noted Penn State athletics donor Terry Pegula and handing over more power to O'Brien.
Pegula's donation is significant. According to The Patriot News, Pegula donated $1.3 million to be used to add to O'Brien's base salary, which will bump his annual pay for 2013 up to $3.6 million, third highest in the Big Ten. Only Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz will make more. O'Brien will also have more say in structural and personnel changes within the program.
Simply put, more money and more sway along with unmatched job security means O'Brien is in a solid situation. O'Brien says moving to the NFL after just one year on the job was never his style, despite how it may have looked.
"I'm not a one-and-done guy," O'Brien told The Patriot News. "I made a commitment to these players at Penn State and that's what I am going to do. I'm not gonna cut and run after one year, that's for sure."
While this may have been a carefully organized and executed through his agent, O'Brien will still have to answer some questions moving forward.
Will players and recruits accept interviewing for other jobs after one season in State College?
Fortunately for O'Brien, this is the only question that ultimately matters for his job. Fans may be upset and perturbed knowing their coach was either contemplating ditching the program or just going through a process to get more money, but O'Brien does not answer to fans, nor does he need to control them.
O'Brien owes the fans absolutely nothing. A tremendous amount of goodwill was initiated under O'Brien's leadership in a short period of time. Not the popular choice at first, O'Brien became a fan favorite despite starting off with a nearly unfathomable 0-2 start.
O'Brien answers to the athletic director, not the fans. But O'Brien must calm any concerns from his own players and potential recruits. With National Signing Day now just a month away and with all current players allowed to take advantage of a free transfer to any other program with room to add them, O'Brien will have to assure his team that he is there for the long haul. The contract changes would support that notion, but O'Brien also gave his recruiting rivals a new recruiting chip.
Ohio State, Michigan, Rutgers, West Virginia, Pittsburgh and so on can now point to O'Brien's willingness to investigate other coaching options after just one year. It's a fair criticism on recruiting trails because now O'Brien will have the image of a coach putting himself ahead of the team and program even if that is not ultimately the case. Maybe it is, maybe it is not. Only O'Brien knows for sure.
This much we know about O'Brien. Since being introduced as the head coach almost a year ago, O'Brien has handled everything thrown his way with class and steady demeanor. He does not get rattled. He is competitive and not willing to back down. He embraces challenges and works hard to solve them.
Four-year postseason ban? O'Brien turned it around to say Penn State plays seven or eight bowl games every fall.
Scholarship reductions? O'Brien said he was comfortable managing rosters much smaller than what he will have.
Starting off 0-2? Just focus on the next game.
Perhaps what O'Brien saw was an opportunity to put the program in more stable footing moving forward. By taking the time to interview with the Browns and Eagles, O'Brien got Penn State to do something that does not come naturally for the administration. Penn State was proactive and moved quickly to assure their coach was happy. It is something that never needed to be done with Joe Paterno as head coach. O'Brien is not a Penn State lifer so taking preventative measure to secure O'Brien in a new age of football coaching was necessary.
In the end, O'Brien gives Penn State a program that now has a head coach and genuine leader in a more stable position. Eight more years under contract with more saw on how the program is run turns out to be a solid recruiting tool. With one year of sanctions now effectively behind them, the job will start to get a little easier a little bit at a time. There is still a long way to go for Penn State, but today it appears that O'Brien is more equipped and prepared to stick it out a little bit longer than many NFL insiders and analysts were suggesting just 24 hours ago.
O'Brien may one day end up coaching in the NFL. As referenced earlier, he is a competitor and it is expected he wants to one day coach at the highest level. That is a quality character trait because O'Brien is hungry to succeed. Make no mistake; it remains a likely destination at some point for O'Brien.
At some point in time we may get some insight in to just how close O'Brien was or was not to leaving Penn State for the NFL. But that question may have to wait for another day.
For now, O'Brien's job is straightforward. Convince his players he is not going anywhere. Convince his players not to go anywhere. Convince recruits he will be their coach.
Those are the only people O'Brien needs to answer questions to right now.