Bill O’Brien is getting what amounts to a $1 million raise this year, the time and place pretty much demanding such.
In a sense, just taking the Penn State head coaching job in January of 2012 was an intriguing and most debatable option. There was the task of following legendary Joe Paterno in the middle of the biggest college sports scandal in history.
Of course, O’Brien had never been a head coach on any level.
It was a calculated risk on both sides.
And yet the grand opportunity and possibilities truly were lined up for him, even after the Freeh Report was released and the NCAA hammered Penn State.
Leading tradition-rich, football power Penn State through the sanctions, even a small step at time, would be rewarded grandly by fans, media-types and certainly his bosses — whether at Penn State or in the NFL.
O’Brien then went out and produced in his first year, remarkably so considering the waves of turmoil constantly slamming into his program.
NFL teams came sniffing around him at the end of last season, and there’s no secret that the man who was the New England Patriots’ top offensive assistant has eyes for an NFL head job some day.
Penn State needed to not only reward him for his work in 2012 but also make an attempt to keep him in State College, at least for the next couple of years.
That’s why his base salary of $950,000 has been jumped to $1,932,779 for this coming year plus paid use of a private aircraft. When incentives are added, his compensation goes from about $2.3 million to $3.28 million. His NFL head coach buyout clause now requires him to pay Penn State his base salary for that year multiplied by the number of years remaining on his contract if he leaves.
(View the amended contract here).
This all makes him the third-highest paid coach in the Big Ten this season, behind only Ohio State’s Urban Meyer ($4.3 million) and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz ($3.835).
Looking at 2012 numbers, the raise slips O’Brien in the top 10 of head coach salary earners who are returning to their schools.
Is he worth that much money already?
He is when, once again, considering the time and place. When considering how much football means to Penn State and produces for Penn State and how much turmoil and uncertainty have swirled around the program for the past 21 months and may continue on.
Now, consider this: O’Brien’s base salary actually drops to $1,137,096 next July but goes back up to $1,650,994 in 2015.
University officials want continuity, and so they are trying to keep O’Brien around through at least the next two seasons — through much of the NCAA sanctions.
His buyout will drop considerably after next July. So, if he wants to go the NFL, then early winter of 2014 when vacancies arise, may be the time.
He would have coached three seasons with the Nittany Lions and truly proven himself in the college ranks. He would have done his duty at Penn State. And, maybe least importantly, his payback money would be fairly minimal.
And if you buy time, you give him and his family a better feel for living and working the longer term in State College.
It is a fair and legitimate offering on the part of university officials.
It’s simply what needed to be done.