The question probably shouldn’t be about whether Bill O’Brien wants to stay at Penn State.
At least for now.
Rather, his recent NFL rumors which has led to nervous Penn State fans, and maybe even Penn State officials, is probably about other things.
And it almost surely does not revolve around a pay raise. Because if he wanted only that, deep-pocketed supporters would find the money easily. And some are saying that’s actually already been done.
No, we should look at the possibility that all of this talk and debate about the possibilities of O’Brien leaving for the NFL could be about power and control, so to speak. O’Brien could well want more of it to run the Penn State football program.
And you could see how an impressive 8-4 record under harsh NCAA sanctions, including unprecedented transfer rules, would give him some leverage. As would the apparent interest from multiple NFL teams to fill their vacant head coaching positions.
So it seems plausible that O’Brien may very much want to stay at Penn State now — but still adamantly want changes to be truly satisfied.
Which means he could be playing some serious hardball with Penn State officials, including athletic director Dave Joyner.
How could O’Brien do better at Penn State right now?
He could negotiate a lesser buyout clause that various reports say range anywhere from $9.2 million to more than $18 million. That would make a future jump to the NFL much easier.
Maybe he wants more control of scheduling.
Or maybe better contracts for his assistants.
Or maybe even more access to the university plane, say for recruiting purposes. When was this even an issue with the prior regime?
He may want more control over walk-on numbers.
And we could go on and on with the possibilities.
Because, until we get true evidence to the contrary, any possible dalliance with the NFL seems more about negotiating and leverage than anything else.
Think about this: While O’Brien should be commended for his work at Penn State, do we know what NFL teams actually have him near the top of their replacement lists? Teams willing to pay at least a $9 million buyout — on top of a salary — for a guy who’s been a head coach for 11 months?
Just considering those two points, almost every other candidate for every open position is a safer choice.
Even if it’s only “safer” for now.
Because while O’Brien could make a wonderful NFL head coach one day, and Penn State will be able to get along just fine without him, the timing on either front doesn’t add up.
The thought here is that NFL teams wouldn’t mind seeing him lead a program for another year or two — and when the buyout money isn’t quite so high.
Plus, O’Brien seems the type to care about bolting so quickly from a commitment and probably setting back the football program further than even those NCAA sanctions.
He seems like someone who wouldn’t want to wake up every day being responsible for that. For telling early commitments like Adam Breneman, who is enrolling this weekend, that, after everything, I’m not going to be your coach.
And yet this all also shouldn’t stop O’Brien from trying to get what he wants while still at Penn State.
At least that’s a debate fans can live with.