Penn State Should Pay Bill O’Brien Before Somebody Else Does

Against tremendous odds, football coach has made PSU relevant again, and saved the program.

Penn State's Beaver Stadium

(FULL DISCLOSURE: The author is a proud graduate of the University of Michigan, and he wasn’t very happy Saturday night.)

Let’s face it; any time a team loses to Indiana by 20, it’s not a good thing. But a Vegas sharpie knew something in advance of Penn State’s remarkable, four-OT marathon victory over Michigan Saturday in Delirious Valley. The betting line opened at Michigan minus one, an extremely small number for an unbeaten team–albeit a squad that almost lost to Akron–against a rival that had dropped two of three, including the aforementioned double-sawbuck debacle against the Hoosiers.

But when the “White Out” had lifted, and the Wolverines’ kicker had stopped missing field goals, PSU had earned the kind of victory that can catapult a maturing program into the national discussion. Or, in Penn State’s case, into the national discussion again.


The biggest thing to come out of the victory, other than Michigan’s crying need to upgrade its special teams, is that Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner must find another couple million dollars (a year, if necessary) to stuff into coach Bill O’Brien’s pockets. Once the next NFL coaching replacement festival begins, the former New England offensive coordinator and QBs coach is going to be a pretty popular guy. O’Brien resisted all entreaties after last year, but unless he is compensated like an SEC emperor–or Ohio State overlord Urban Meyer–it’s entirely possible that he might conclude that his work at PSU is finished and head back to the big leagues.

No one in State College could possibly be angry with O’Brien for making such a move. If he left, his two-year tenure would be always remembered with great fondness, and he would have a place of honor in the school’s football tradition. But just imagine if he stays another two years. Or six. Or 10. It’s becoming more and more apparent that O’Brien is a great leader and top-notch football mind. He has taken a program that was kicked in the teeth by an asinine NC2A probationary sentence and created a sense of purpose and excitement around it. Again, getting walloped by Indiana wasn’t exactly part of the script, and losing at home to UCF didn’t make the alumni smile. The important thing is that through the highs and lows, O’Brien has kept the whole thing moving forward. That is evident.

Now, it’s time to keep the momentum going. When shoe, camp and TV/radio dough is considered, O’Brien is earning about $3.2 million this season, a pretty good number. Thanks to a quirk in the new contract he signed last summer, his compensation drops next year, before it rises in 2015 and ’16. In all, he’s getting about an average of $3.2 mil a season from 2013-16, according to ESPN.com. That’s good, but it’s not as much as Meyer makes ($4.4 million per) or Brady Hoke earns ($3.25 mil annually) at Michigan. It’s even less than what Kirk Ferentz is making in Iowa, and when was the last time the Hawkeyes mattered?

If Penn State wants to keep O’Brien around, it will have to get him up into the $4 million per year range. Some may balk at the idea, since losing by 20 to Indiana isn’t usually the kind of thing that gets you a raise. Dropping a home decision to UCF doesn’t generally send one’s boss scrambling to the safe to find some extra cash, either.

O’Brien’s value to the Penn State program can’t be measured in just wins and losses. His steady stewardship has allowed fans to be proud once again of their program and school, and the atmosphere at Beaver Stadium Saturday was as wild as any during the school’s top-five days. That’s something that transcends the record. Sure, O’Brien can’t lose to Purdue and Illinois moving forward and expect everybody to stay happy, but he certainly has built something from the rubble of the Sandusky scandal that has helped the school rehabilitate its image, both within its own community and throughout the country.

The win over Michigan wasn’t pretty and certainly could have been a loss if the Wolverines’ kicker would have made one of the three potential game-winners he missed. But he didn’t, and Penn State made the plays it had to, forcing overtime with a great last-minute drive, converting a fourth-down play in the last overtime period and stuffing Michigan’s suddenly conservative offense to force the ill-fated placement attempts.

O’Brien’s task now is to keep some momentum going. The school’s job is to make sure he wants to stay around. Doing that is going to take more money, more years on his contract and better bonus incentives. There are other coaches out there who could come in and be successful if he left, but O’Brien has transcended conventional methods of measuring success.

Penn State has to recognize that and act accordingly.

And fast.

Sucker Punches

• That Nick Foles is one sharp passer, eh? He looked great against the Buccaneers, but let’s not forget that in the two games he played in 2012 against playoff teams, he completed 46.8% of his throws and tossed one TD pass against three interceptions. He’ll likely get the start Sunday against Dallas, while Michael Vick’s cranky hamstring heals some more, and it will be interesting to see how he fares against a team that isn’t going to fire its coach in a couple weeks. (Cowboys owner False Face will likely wait until after the season to dump Jason Garrett.)

• Well, that decision to fire Peter Laviolette three games into the season has paid handsome short-term dividends for the Flyers, hasn’t it? The offense has sprung to life, and the Metropolitan Division is quaking as new coach Craig Berube’s eighth-place club flounders. The team’s problems couldn’t possibly be due to the ill-advised deals made by GM Paul Holmgren, who has Sergei Bobrovsky’s 2012-13 backup in goal and a collection of forwards that has managed all of five goals in six games, could they? Nahhhh.

• You have to love what Jadeveon Clowney is doing at South Carolina. The defensive end, thought by some to be the top overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, didn’t play last week in the Gamecocks’ win over Kentucky, due to strained muscles in his rib cage. That sparked a firestorm fueled by comments by many, including USC head coach Steve Spurrier, about his commitment to the program. Spurrier backed off last week, and Clowney played in the ‘Cocks’ rout of Arkansas, but the junior’s strategy here is great. Since he is getting a disproportionately small cut of the pile of cash he is generating for the school, he’s going to play when he feels like it. Why should he risk his future for something that doesn’t reward him fairly for his contributions? He’s a pioneer in college athletes’ quest for fair compensation, and let’s hope his actions spur the kind of change necessary for a more equitable distribution.

  • Joseph Haas

    No reason to be happy with the Flyers right now, but the continued browbeating Holmgren gets for trading Bobrovsky dismays me. For these reasons:
    1) Who exactly among the media or fans was howling when Bob was traded in the first place?
    2) Goaltending certainly was a problem last year but it is the least of the Flyers’ problems this year. In fact, Bobrovsky’s former backup, Steve Mason, is doing terrific for the Flyers. (And it’s worth noting that he, too, was a one-year wonder, which may be what Bob turns out to be.)
    3) Finally, the Flyers got two draft picks for Bob, one of which turned out to be young goalie Anthony Stolarz. Not proven yet, but all the early indications are very good and his ceilling is just a bit higher than Bob’s.

  • Dr Skip Watters

    as a proud southwest alum I can t tell you how excited we were here in Az If OBrien needs 4$ mill plus to stay we should definitely come up with it-I will be flying in for the Illinois Game Go Lions!!!

  • TOMMYGUNN

    Penn State knocking Michigan from the top 25 was great. I have, however one question I would like someone to answer concerning the PSU/Michigan game. The NCAA,with its strict rules governing uniforms.I’m not standing here with a rule book in front of me, but somewhere it must state that all team members will wear the same matching uniforms when playing in the NCAA.Then you see field goal kicker, Gibbons strutting out onto the field, wearing a pair of yellow shorts,clearly out of uniform ,and clearly against the NCAA rules governing the uniform policy.

    • PSUGRAD82

      What do you expect when he was arrested for rape of a fellow female student in ’09, and nothing was done by the NCAA .

  • gershon64

    Until Bill Belichick retires or moves upstairs at New England, Bill O’Brien will be happy with the best coaching position in college football. It’s not just about the money.

    • The Legend

      best coaching position in college football? lol

  • BSORaiderErie

    BOB is payed fairly and he’s making more than JoePa ever did, so if he isn’t happy he can go! There are enough good Pennsylvania coaches out there that would be happy to coach at PSU, however, after his contract is up then he should get a raise but no way we just throw money at him, that is the problem with this sport today! Like I said there is plenty of PA. coaches that can coach and recruit. If BOB goes before his time is up, no matter what job opens up, it would hurt his reputation and we’ll see if he is like Saban, and others that have done this but BOB has said for the right NFL job maybe he would leave, we will see! If anybody wants to watch a good show on Belechek on the NFL Network great look at coaching. Have a good day!

    • PSU Alum in OH

      “There are enough good PA. coaches…”? Are you serious? Name a few please… JoePa turned down money as he didn’t want it as the residual value of his title, history, etc at PSU more than compensated him for any lack of “salary”. He was a muti-millionaire and was very generous to the university. I am grateful for that. The hiring of BO’B was the right man at the right time. What he has done in 1.5 years is amazing. I watched his presser the day he was introduced and was in tears after doing so. That man can stay as long as he wants and I agree with the author of this article. Pay him and pay him now! We are just now hitting the recovery road and I for one do NOT want another change.

  • Kurt N

    already making close to $3m per year if not over. If he wants more he’ll have to go to the NFL.

  • Joe Frederick

    With the “corporate sponsored” empty seats in stadiums nationwide about to grow in numbers (now that the final nail is in as Congress has crapped out to corporate America and very few sheeple are left to subsidize the Wall St Ponzi scheme), let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves in what Bill gets paid. Even he might be happy to have a job within 2 years as the Evil Empire of Goldman Sachs is contemplating bankruptcy and Nike is asking >>> If I throw in a free pair, will ya pay $100 for these grossly overpriced RG3 models?