|The job Bill O'Brien has done at Penn State will boost his stock with NFL teams seeking head coaches. (US Presswire)|
Oregon coach Chip Kelly and Penn State coach Bill O'Brien both turned down opportunities to coach NFL teams last offseason. But with upwards of a third of the league possibly making changes in 2013, NFL executives and those involved in potential coaching searches believe both will be pursued again. Kelly turned down a chance to take over in Tampa Bay last year and has subsequently presided over another outstanding season at Oregon. O'Brien was a top candidate in Jacksonville but pulled out of that process to take over at embattled Penn State. He has shined in his first season despite all of the fallout and controversy stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse charges and university cover-up.
Kelly's abrupt about-face with the Bucs, after he had essentially agreed to terms with the Buccaneers, does not seem to have dampened his appeal. Kelly's innovative, high-tempo offense has been unstoppable in the NCAA, and owners and executives expect to see it in the NFL at some point. Oregon would likely step up again, financially and otherwise, to retain Kelly, NFL sources believe, noting that billionaire Phil Knight, of Nike, is the chief booster at that school. But the allure of coaching at the highest level and the opportunity to implement his offense in the NFL might be strong enough for Kelly to make the leap.
New Jaguars owner Shahid Khan was very impressed with O'Brien last year -- O'Brien was New England's offensive coordinator at the time -- and sources said the job could have been his. O'Brien took on a unique challenge at Penn State instead, stepping into the turmoil of Joe Paterno's firing at the scandal-filled program. He has galvanized that community both by his steadying presence and by turning around what had been a much-maligned offense before his arrival.
Some wonder if O'Brien would leave the school so soon. But it's worth noting that while assurances were made to O'Brien upon his hiring that the team would not face any NCAA discipline, the program was instead hit hard. Penn State was banned from postseason play including bowl games for four years, will lose 10 initial scholarships given to first-year NCAA athletes for four years beginning in 2013 and will drop its total number of scholarships from 85 to 65 for four years beginning in 2014. The university was also placed on five years' probation. O'Brien's contract was extended in the aftermath of those sanctions. But with Jacksonville (1-7), among many others, possibly exploring new coaching options, several executives said privately they would not be surprised if NFL teams reached out to O'Brien again.
Along with Jacksonville, Cleveland, Kansas City, Carolina, Dallas, San Diego, Philadelphia, Tennessee, Buffalo and Arizona are among the spots that prospective coaches and general managers are analyzing for potential firings, and there are only so many qualified candidates to go around. The quality of resume that both Kelly and O'Brien would bring to the table is seen as very attractive to NFL power brokers.