Would Bill O’Brien’s Departure Cripple Penn State?
Penn State has had a very difficult time recovering from the scandal and sanctions that began in 2011. Bill O'Brien became the first head coach hired by the school in more than a generation and seemed determined to stick it out in State College after a better than expected 8-4 first season gave him opportunities to depart. This season's 7-5 run was good enough to keep him a hot commodity. Now it sounds as though he might leave for an NFL head coaching gig with the Houston Texans. What would that mean for the Nittany Lions?
Future Prospects with O'Brien
The schedule seemed to position Penn State for another 8-4ish kind of year. While perhaps not a glorious notion, not a terrible on either given the constraints on the program. From there, 8 or 9 win seasons (with perhaps a tenth coming in a bowl) seemed attainable as the program could pull itself out from under the penalties imposed on it. The bigger question might be whether O'Brien thought he'd be able to win the East division having to go through Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State every year (with Nebraska, Iowa, and/or Wisconsin thrown in every now and again as additional obstacles). In some ways, the scholarship restrictions might be felt to some degree all the way up until 2018 or 2019. Would Nittany Lions fans have remained patient with O'Brien for that long if he keeps finishing between second and fourth place?
Prospects with Greg Schiano, James Franklin, or Mike Munchak
With any coaching change usually comes turnover. If a new coach comes in, you'd expect an uptick in transfers out of State College. That would be tough on a program already under scholarship restrictions through the 2015 season. Then comes an at least one-year adaptation period for players to get accustomed to new coaches, schemes, and terminology. Their prior experience would continue to have some value, but their mastery would be limited compared to more seasoned competition. Any of those top names brought in would have to do everything right just to get back to an 8-win plateau. Chances are they'd do worse (initially) which would get them off on the wrong foot with fans and players alike. Culturally, experiencing four head coaches (including the interim coach in 2011) in four years can't be good for a program that was once a model of stability either.
Whomever Penn State hires should reports of O'Brien's departure prove true, had better be more committed to the school than O'Brien had been. That would make Munchak look like a good choice since he's an alumnus of the school. But none of these coaches seem like a lock to surpass Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio, or whomever is coaching at Michigan in the coming years. Keeping O'Brien might have been their best (and perhaps only) hope.