Breathe easy, Penn State fans, and cancel any orders for hazmat suits you might have made in a panic on Thursday. After brief reports that head coach Bill O'Brien had been listening to overtures from the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles, O'Brien announced that he was staying at Penn State.
Here's what O'Brien told David Jones of PennLive.com:
"I'm not a one-and-done guy," said O'Brien. "I made a commitment to these players at Penn State and that's what I am going to do.
"I'm a man of my word. I am what I am. Maybe I get fired in six years. But I'm not gonna cut and run after one year, that's for sure."
In addition to a clear testing of the pro head coaching waters, this was a strategic mission of sorts by O'Brien. By having [agent Joe Linta] throw his name open to NFL openings and having the agent field offers, he was able to gain additional leverage that allowed him a chance to accomplish structural and personnel changes in the Penn State athletic department that may be forthcoming. O'Brien declined to be specific about those changes when asked but he did not deny those aims.
Now, this was not just a matter of O'Brien saying "thanks but no thanks" to potential NFL suitors. He did interview with the two teams. There's no report saying either of the two teams offered O'Brien the job—his enormous buyout likely played a role in that—but as mentioned above, it did take some effort from Penn State to get O'Brien to reaffirm his commitment.
A large part of that effort is reportedly a $1.3 million raise for O'Brien, but one has to think that the "structural and personnel changes" mentioned are going to be beneficial for O'Brien's assistant coaches. As mentioned before, O'Brien declined specifics, but look at what he said about taking care of those assistants in a separate interview with Jones.
Jones: How important is it that your staff is well taken care of?
O'Brien: "That's an important part of it. That's a good question. These guys are top-flight coaches that have plenty of opportunities and this is not going to be the easiest of times of the next few years for Penn State and these are tough guys that've been through a lot and they've stuck with us, they've stuck with Penn State, they stuck with me. So, I think it's important for the people of Penn State to understand that and we've done the best we can to take care of these guys."
Jones: You've been hired nearly a year. What's the continuity of this stuff and why is that important?
O'Brien: "You know, that's what the NFL is going through right now with those programs that are starting over again. Continuity is what breeds success. When you have a staff that works together, knows each other's language, work ethic, understands their role and what their strengths and weaknesses are and how they fit into the staff. Then, the players see the chemistry of our staff. I think the players see a staff that gets along very well. It's important to keep this staff together."
Whether this is just adding years to assistants' deals to add stability to their situation, or giving them raises, or whatever it is O'Brien's got in mind, when he says "it's important for the people of Penn State" to understand his coaches' commitment and that there's been an effort to "take care of these guys," he's clearly talking about improving his assistants' situation for the duration of the sanctions.
And hey, his seven-figure raise can't hurt either.
In the end, what O'Brien has done is make his program more attractive for his assistant coaches and himself, and that's going to be crucial for Penn State to remain successful and cohesive throughout its period of sanctions—and beyond.
That's what makes this the best possible move: Not only does Penn State not have to go through the painful process of trying to replace a coach for the second time in as many seasons, but it's ensuring that this whole situation is less likely to take place after 2013. And after 2014. And beyond.
It's a cold, cold move to go listening to the NFL after one year of guiding Penn State through the opening season of sanctions. O'Brien got what he wanted out of it. But in doing so, he demonstrated to his fellow coaches and to his players that he was most interested in reaffirming his commitment and taking care of the guys around him who help keep that commitment, and since whatever lingering issues O'Brien perceived have now been taken care of, Penn State will be better off than if this brief NFL courtship hadn't taken place and the status quo had persisted.
So again, breathe, Penn State fans. This is good.