College Football Insider

Coaching Changes Daily: Moment of truth for Penn State's Bill O'Brien

Bill O'Brien has Penn State in a better place than it was in two years ago.  (USATSI)
Bill O'Brien has Penn State in a better place than it was in two years ago. (USATSI)

While the Texas search has been relatively quiet, the real action can be found with another storied program and a high-profile coach who must make a decision about his future.

Penn State's Bill O'Brien might or might not interview for half of the NFL – well, at least half the NFC North. He's been linked to several jobs in reports, including the Texans according to the NFL Network.

Most agree O'Brien will be a great college coach if he stays in State College, but boy, has he played a 15-9 record into high society. He's coveted like a coach coming off back-to-back titles.

The best jobs in America might be those strapped with NCAA sanctions. O'Brien and Miami's Al Golden are a combined 37-23 the last five years and are more heralded than many coaches with better winning percentages. Nebraska's Bo Pelini has one more loss than those two despite coaching 21 more games at a place where it's not easy to recruit five-star talent.

Not saying these coaches aren't impressive. They are, very much so. But there's a major sympathy card for coaches taking over broken programs. Penn State might be the best job in America because of the same crippling circumstances that make it a difficult job.

How long does the grace period last? Still hard to tell. That's what makes O'Brien's looming decision a crucial one.

When you have a good agent like O'Brien does with Neil Cornrich, this is how things work: Let the buzz build, no talking publicly, then either negotiate an extension with the school or leave.

But until O'Brien wins big, this routine will be hard to manage every year. Most fanbases understand the process but can only take so much. The NFL has pursued O'Brien in each of the last two seasons, and entertaining those options for a third stiraght year would risk alienating the fans.

O'Brien has Penn State in a better place than it was in two years ago. He held together recruiting classes, provided a promising quarterback in Christian Hackenberg and has a roster that can contend in the Big Ten.

For all the knocks on the Big Ten, O'Brien is part of an impressive coaching group that could help rebuild the conference's image.

No one would blame him for jumping to the NFL. This would be a new challenge for an ascending coach.

The only way O'Brien's stock will be higher is if he wins big – and soon.

Clearly Penn State would like to find out if he can.

There might not be a better time to leave.

There might not be a better time to stay, if he's a long-term Lion.


Jeremy Fowler is a national college football insider with CBSSports.com. Fowler joined CBS in 2012 after covering the Minnesota Vikings for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for two seasons and covering the Florida Gators for the Orlando Sentinel for two years. Fowler is also a contributor to the CBS Sports Network.
 
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