A Thank You To Coach O'Brien
Imagine you're Bill O'Brien. Seriously.
Only don't imagine that you just turned into him today, or a few years ago when you are starting your life at Penn State. Imagine you've been Bill O'Brien from the very beginning of his life.
Now imagine that your dream, from a football stance, is to be involved in the NFL. That's the ultimate prize for you. Maybe not as a coach, but probably at first as a player. In high school you find yourself to somewhat fit the mold of a defensive lineman, and that with hard work, there just might be a place for you.
Now imagine the set backs you have in getting there. Not fast enough, not strong enough, at Brown he played defense but wasn't going to make it into the league as a player.
So you get upset. The world is not your oyster. But then you see that perhaps you can coach. That you can teach the game to young men and get them to see the world as you do, and they could become the thing that you yourself could not.
Then, life happens at a pace that is like a whirlwind going by. And the biggest blessing of your life, the birth of a son, was not typical and would provide some difficulties that most people can not simply fathom.
There are ups, and there are downs, but again you find your peace, your drive, and who you are on that football field coaching.
Now imagine as you climb you somehow find yourself with the honor and opportunity to do more. That people think highly of your skills as a motivator, as a teacher, and as football tactician that you put yourself in the position to lead a hollowed, storied program to the best of your ability.
You want to help the school, you want them to succeed, and in all honesty, you aren't completely sure they will actually hire you. They do, after all, carry some serious weight in terms of a financial institution and have some other fine choices amongst the coaching ranks.
Then you get a call back and they say you're the guy. You are going to be the guy to follow Joe Paterno at Penn State. Amid an absolute firestorm of media coverage, possible sanctions, and oh yes, the very real possibility that we will blame you if anything goes wrong, because you, in fact, aren't Joe.
Imagine you are that Bill O'Brien.
Now you tell me how you would proceed.
How would you change the story thus far?
Did he not get the job done as well as anyone could ever have hoped for?
Did he do everything in his power to make Penn State football relevant, to keep it successful, to recruit the kind of kids that represent Penn State with class and passion? Tell me again, what else do you want him to do?
The first season was such a success that he was named Coach of The Year by multiple outlets and his team was rightly honored in a ring of honor in Beaver Stadium.
He got the absolute best from every kid on that Penn State team. From Seniors who stayed on to make sure they could have success like Michael Mauti and Matt McGloin, to younger players such as Zach Zwinak and Allen Robinson.
This past season was also a success to anyone who has been paying attention. A huge win at home over Michigan; an incredible road win against Wisconsin.
All the while he generally likes it here. He especially likes working with the kids, teaching them, preparing them, not only for football, but for life. That things in the real world don't always work out the way you want them to. That things change, which may seem bad at first, but will teach you more about yourself than you ever thought possible.
And of course, before you forget, there's this scene in the visitor's locker room after the Wisconsin game that couldn't be any more genuine.
So here you sit, doing just your absolute best to do everything right. To do right by your wife and your children first and foremost. My guess in O'Brien's case, being a religious man, is that he tries to do his best by God as well. Then after that he thinks of himself and his dreams, and he honors the character of the man he wants to be.
Along comes an offer for your dream. It may not be everyone's dream, but it has always been yours.
To make it to the NFL.
I would guess that the majority of the United States male population had this dream at some point in their life, for however brief. It's not much different than the ones about being any other type of celebrity, and we make our decisions at some point to stop following those dreams, to settle and do something else because either your personal talent won't allow you or chance has struck a cruel blow.
So imagine that here, after so much work, after going through a lifetime of emotion and of ups and downs, you finally get the opportunity that feels right.
A job in Houston, with great pay, with incredible benefits and a chance to be in the NFL. I'm sure the ability to stay away from the cold gray skies in the winter, the tax laws and other differences also played a weight, but I seriously doubt it would be significant.
But you are aware that you told the kids that you intended to stay. That you'd help them as much as possible for as long as you could. For as long as you were at Penn State, a school that entrusted you with keeping hope and positive feelings alive in a community that so sorely needed them, you would continue to be the best FIGHTING coach you could be.
But your dream is in reach, and you just want to take it.
One could hardly blame you for taking a chance on your dream. If anyone should know that things in the future are not promised, it's you.
So what happens next is purely a personal decision. One that, if I were Bill O'Brien, I would probably consider agonizingly difficult. I honestly don't know which I would choose as there are clear pros and cons to both scenarios.
The cons that seem to have materialized in the current situation is that a seemingly large portion of the Penn State community feels jilted and cheated by O'Brien because he seemed so earnest in wanting to do all that he could to help put Penn State football back in a positive light.
But that feeling is misplaced. What O'Brien has walked away from is not unlike when a junior becomes eligible for the draft, and decides that he would like to take his chance now in the NFL. The rules for coaches and players are certainly different, but their dreams remain the same.
To one day make it to the NFL.
I would like to take this time to thank O'Brien for giving his all for this school while he was here. He did not shy away from the job, he attacked it with every ounce that he had. He recruited, he spoke at functions, he helped fund raise. He won games, he kept players, all the while staying true to values of Penn State.
Obviously, selfishly, the community wants him to stay. To continue the course that he's set, because to be sure, the future looks bright for him and for Penn State. I count myself among those that wish he would stay longer, however, I believe he has given everything to the job in front of him and he has succeeded.
As O'Brien steps down, he owes Penn State a simple "thank you" for the opportunity to coach at a great institution. Penn State owes him a "thank you" for doing his job to the absolute best of his abilities.
Thanks Coach. It was a special couple of years that we'll never forget.