Bill O'Brien resigns at Penn State, search for new coach begins

Bill O'Brien resigns at Penn State, search for new coach begins
January 2, 2014, 11:15 am
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Vinnie Duber

It's official: Bill O'Brien is no longer the head coach at Penn State.

Athletics director Dave Joyner announced during a Thursday press conference that O'Brien had resigned to take over the head-coaching position with the NFL's Houston Texans.

But while the fan base and media expressed mixed emotions, Joyner assured that Penn State was happy for its now former head coach.

"We're happy for coach O'Brien and this tremendous opportunity for him," Joyner said, thanking O'Brien for helping to create and build upon a foundation for the program.

Joyner acknowledged the comments O'Brien made after the 2012 season that the NFL was the ultimate level for any football coach, keeping the door open even then for his eventual return to the professional ranks, the AD also said he had expected O'Brien to be at Penn State for a long time.

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"I believe he always had Penn State's best interests at heart," Joyner said.

"I believe that Bill O'Brien came here with an intent to be here for a long haul," he said. "Bill always operated under the assumption that he was going to be here for a long time. ... Things change that you can't predict, and Bill just had an opportunity presented to him that he couldn't pass up."

Joyner informed the media that Penn State had spent the past couple weeks, during which rumors of O'Brien to the NFL swirled, to make O'Brien's contract "as advantageous as we possibly could."

Still, O'Brien took the job in Houston, and that means Penn State begins the search for a new head coach immediately. Joyner said the search committee — made up of himself and other Penn State athletics officials — expects the search to be a fast one.

"We expect this search to be very timely, and our anticipation is we'll be counting this in a matter of days rather than weeks," Joyner said.

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Joyner added that several "very prominent" head coaches have already contacted Penn State regarding the opening, but he refused to elaborate on any specifics regarding the search.

Though Penn State is a historic and high-profile program, there are unique challenges that still exist in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. O'Brien took over at the height of the punishments levied by the NCAA, which included the loss of scholarships and a postseason ban. Some scholarships have been restored, but any new coach will still have to deal with the effects of those sanctions. Then there's an added layer of expectation: O'Brien turned in a pair of winning seasons despite those sanctions. Will the new coach be able to do the same?

Still, Joyner believes the job remains an attractive one.

"I think there's tremendous interest in spite of everything two years ago," he said. "We effectively, from a scholarship standpoint, we're going to be very competitive bright out of the gate. To me, if I was a head coach, that'd be a very positive thing. Watching what's happened here over the last two years, if I was a head-coach candidate, would make me very excited."

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Instability at head coach is uncharted territory for Penn State. Joe Paterno served as head coach from 1966 to 2011 before being fired in the wake of the scandal. But once a new head coach is hired to replace O'Brien, it will be the Lions' fourth in five seasons.

Joyner elaborated on how this search will be different from the one that ended with O'Brien's hiring two years prior.

"Some things we learned last time? We're going to be deliberate this time but faster. And we were deliberate and slower on purpose last time because of all the extra things that were going on around this," he said. "This time, there's more and more that can be focused on directly related to a coaching search rather than trying to keep your finger in the dike, so to speak, at the same time as you're doing maybe the most significant head football coach search in history.

"We're very, very sorry to see Bill go. He's a tremendous person and a tremendous coach, but every new challenge brings great opportunities so that's the way we look at this. We look at it in a very positive way going forward."