This is an absolutely crazy winter in both college football and the NFL.
Nearly one-third of the teams in the NFL are replacing a head coach before next season, and the dominoes are in place for if/when a few elite college coaches like Oregon's Chip Kelly take the money and run to the big time.
Since "Black Monday," when a number of NFL coaches received pink slips, a popular name that emerged from the college ranks was Penn State's Bill O'Brien. O'Brien has only been at Penn State for one season, and did an admirable job picking up the pieces in the post-Paterno apocalypse that was Happy Valley. Indeed, if I had a vote for NCAA Coach of the Year, O'Brien would have been near the top of my list, if not at number one.
However, just 12 short months ago, O'Brien was calling plays for Tom Brady with the New England Patriots. He's been in the pro ranks, and the allure to take his offensive game back to the NFL level was certainly tempting. He reportedly received calls from a number of teams, even interviewing with the Cleveland Browns earlier this week.
But O'Brien told Cleveland and every other NFL suitor the same thing late this week: thanks, but no thanks. O'Brien told PennLive.com that he's "not a one-and-done guy," and that he's staying at Penn State.
When I heard that O'Brien was staying, I was glad. As I wrote when the NCAA was considering, and later imposing, sanctions on the university in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the football program supports a lot of other programs and teams at Penn State, and the kids that are currently on the roster had nothing to do with Paterno and Sandusky's crimes.
I found myself struggling as I continued to read the article on PennLive about why O'Brien is staying at Penn State, though.
The article points out that O'Brien admittedly used the potential of an NFL job to manipulate the university and gain influence on Penn State's campus.
"In addition to a clear testing of the pro head coaching waters, this was a strategic mission of sorts by O'Brien... to gain additional leverage that allowed him a chance to accomplish structural and personnel changes in the Penn State athletic department that may be forthcoming. O'Brien declined to be specific about those changes when asked but he did not deny those aims."
We don't have to look very far back - to July of last year, specifically - to see accusations that Penn State's corruption was built on a foundation of coach worship. An independant investigation looked into a number of problems with how the university dealt with the Sandusky situation; one of the major issues being investigated was the amount of power Joe Paterno had at the university. Forbes posted an interesting column on coaches' power at the college level after former FBI Director Louis Freeh specifically spoke about the problems rooted in Paterno's power reaching far beyond the football complex in his lengthy report.
And here, six months later, is Paterno's successor now wielding influence over the same university that promised the NCAA, state and local government officials, alumni and the parents of their current and former students that things would be different.
After one season (with an 8-4 record), and one confirmed interview for an NFL job, O'Brien agreed to stay at Penn State... for an additional $1.3 million in salary. PennLive's report indicates O'Brien will become the third-highest paid coach in the Big Ten Conference thanks, in large part, to businessman Terry Pegula. Pegula financed the new arena that houses Penn State's hockey team (in their first year of D-I play), and also owns the NHL's Buffalo Sabres.
So, in review, O'Brien has major financial donors in his back pocket and openly admits that he used the potential of the NFL calling to get a substantial raise and get what he wanted from the athletic department.
The culture of college football hasn't changed, and it's obvious that, for many fans, Penn State has turned a significant page from the Paterno era. As the PennLive story concludes, "Penn State now can enter the home stretch of recruiting season with encouragement."
As they say during games, "We Are... Penn State." While there may be new circumstances - new year, new administration, new names - what we're seeing is nothing more than the same coach worship.