If an NFL team wants to hire Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, the current cost of buying out his contract reportedly exceeds $6 million. Before an owner can choose to pay that amount (or a reduced payment possibly to be negotiated), O’Brien must choose to leave Penn State.
At a time when more and more NFL observers and insiders believe it’s a no-brainer that O’Brien will bolt the place known oxymoronically of late as Happy Valley, it may not be a sure thing. Emily Kaplan explores the situation in an item for Peter King’s TheMMQB.com, painting a picture that does not yet clearly point to the NFL.
Less than two years removed from crippling Sandusky-fueled sanctions and still two seasons away from the ability to compete for bowl games, O’Brien could decide to continue the job he took after serving as Bill Belichick’s offensive coordinator in New England.
“He came in with a difficult situation and stuck with it,” Penn State senior safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong said. “He gave us his word. And we stuck around for him.”
O’Brien wouldn’t be the first (or the last) football coach to say one thing and done another, and it would be hard to fault him for making a money grab at the next level. But family considerations also come into play, given that O’Brien’s 11-year-old son, Jack, has a medical condition that prevents him from walking or talking and results in near-daily seizures. The O’Briens reportedly have a high degree of comfort with the local medical care Jack is receiving and the elementary school Jack is attending; uprooting him from that while at the same time finding an acceptable replacement in a new city will present a considerable challenge.
Here’s where a cynic — I don’t know any, but I think they all may be lying — would question whether O’Brien is merely trying to hold together next year’s recruiting class while he waits for an ideal offer that may not come this year, or whether he’s crafting an I-didn’t-want-to-go-to-the-NFL-anyway narrative in the event that no owner decides not to fork over the money necessary to buy out O’Brien’s NFL contract and then to pay him millions more, despite the reality that the Belichick coaching tree has sprouted far more failure than fruit.
Regardless, it may be too early to assume that O’Brien automatically will leave Penn State, even though his name has popped to the top of the NFL’s “A” list.