Who IS Bill O'Brien (Part I)?




It seems like we have a few months of down time on our hands, so let's look closer at the details surrounding our new head coach.

This is Part 1, which explores the fresh wounds inflicted upon Penn State Nation that were just beginning to scab over from the Joe Pa era that came crashing to an end just two years ago.

You know him as the guy who chewed out Tom Brady, the guy who spent a few seasons working his way up the ladder with the Patriots—from a position coach to offensive coordinator there—and as the Penn State head coach for the previous two years. We also know he’s good with quarterbacks, and that he has a vision for his brand of offense that includes adapting to each week’s opponent with flexibility in the X’s and O’s early and often throughout a game itself (rather than waiting for halftime to make adjustments).

But what else? Inquiring minds want to know, and hell it’s not like we have anything else to do for, oh…say the next 4 or 5 months until the draft. I went out onto the Interwebs and did some searching for my own entertainment. Who is this new Texans head coach, and what do others think of him?

I’ve explored as many angles as I can, from the positive praises to the skeptical sniping, so here we go!

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow. Shakespeare stuck this famous line of literary fame into Romeo & Juliet, and to read the angst of Bill O’Brien who vented about his frustrations with Paterno Nation coupled with the harsh tweets of PSU fans that resulted with the news of his departure, it seems Shakespeare might have foreshadowed the problematic relationship of collegiate football with it’s big crush known as professional football.

After all, just as Romeo and Juliet were good with their love for one another, but the parents were not, so too it seems the meddling Penn State Nation cast of characters dealt O'Brien and the PSU players a situation that only knives and poison could solve. That's my best attempt at trying to tie in the whole Shakespeare line, so sue me. LOL.

Among the more interesting quotes thrown about the social media landscape include the following:

"For any ‘Paterno person’ to have any objection to what I’m doing, it makes me wanna’ put my fist through this windshield right now." - Bill O'Brien, December 4, 2013

O’Brien made these remarks to PennLive’s David Jones in a revealing interview from December 4, 2013, that Jones had to keep off-record until now. If you haven't read the interview, you are missing a LOT of information you need to learn muy pronto. Bill O'Brien goes off on PSU, and we learn that his exit might not have been as "in limbo" as some made out to be the past few days leading up to his official decision.

There were vague rumors that O’Brien was not happy in Happy Valley, and now the revelation that he wanted to figuratively plunge a fist through the windshield of a car he’s driving while talking to the reporter over a cell phone is indicative that Bill O’Brien is not soft. Some could say that’s a fault, and some could say that’s a trait the Texans have sorely lacked since the inception of the Texans.

OPINIONATED SIDENOTE: Harnessed correctly, brute force as a response to a challenge of one’s manhood is an enticing philosophy for a Texans team who has always been labeled as being soft and quick to fold under pressure. Used to an extreme, and leaned upon as a motivational crutch, it could be a problem as the dependence upon always using an authoritative base of leadership to try and get players to comply is a sure path to creating a bad culture for real growth. O’Brien will need to pick his spots early on, but I think most Texans fans agree that there is some tough love that has to occur in order to take a next step in the NFL power rankings. In short: "It’s on me" is likely not going to be uttered at the Monday morning presser podium much, if any at all in 2014. There will be real accountability, and it doesn’t sound that this new head coach is going to let mistakes by his players and coaching staff to repeat week after week for season upon season.

In the comments section of that aforementioned David Jones article, above, it seems there is a split in the fans’ opinions regarding the idea of JoeBots (Paterno loyalists) and that O’Brien was undermined or opposed by fans and wealthy Penn State persons who supposedly tried to hijack or steer the program as they saw fit.

Some think it’s a red herring used to shield O’Brien, as well as used by O’Brien to give himself a Judas who betrayed him. One commenter in the comments section of the David Jones article rejected the JoeBot theory by saying,

"This is BS, David. You (and Bob, and Audrey, etc.) are smart journalists. I can't speak for the others, but it would appear that you were played. Does O'Brien want us to believe that he couldn't renegotiate his contract last year, as he did for more money and a sweeter escape clause, to change his job description for someone to step in and field the crazy "JoeBot" malarkey? If the university can pay a million dollars for "Penn State Lives Here", they would have paid handsomely for a press secretary to shield BOB [and] to do his bidding. This is BS. He wanted out and is using the Paterno loyalists as his excuse. Simply put, you were played and O'Brien is using the pro-Paterno, anti-trustee extreme as his excuse. He's lying."

Others say the JoeBots are alive and well, not a figment of one's imagination, as articulated by one commenter who said,

"I would say it is likely that Admin was also a factor in his decision, but they are not "paterno people" and "paterno people" are JoeBots. And JoeBots are very annoying, they start petitions and send e-mails. The ones with enough money file lawsuits. JoeBots hold vigils, carry cutouts and signs, wear t-shirts and undermine the transition of PSU into a new era. There will not be any JoeBots sending him e-mails when he makes a minor change in the program in Houston. Nor will they start a petition if he changes things a little to bring the team into the year 2014 and not stay stuck in 1980."

Once again, the link to the David Jones article is here, and you can read all the juicy and saucy banter between the PSU fans in the comments section of that article. It paints a picture of the typical fanatical nature of collegiate football: Everyone is all-in for State, but what that means is entirely subjective based on the person and personality.

There is at least one Penn State fan blogger who stated, in the headline of his blog entry, for the door to not hit O’Brien’s fanny on the way out. You can read his thoughts at the PennPatriot Blog here, but to summarize and paraphrase I will say that his main reasons for not sweating the loss of O’Brien revolve around five or six Penn State losses he thinks were the result of poor planning by O’Brien, as well as the notion that O’Brien is not mature and throws tantrums too much (read: Lack of integrity and professionalism). My gut instinct tells me that he’s secretly wishing O’Brien was still the head coach at Penn State and so he’s got some TMZ-style ammo to use in order to comfort him in his loss. He isn’t scathing, and he does seem to believe what he’s writing, but it really has a sour grapes smell to it all, in my opinion. If anybody wishes to engage him in thoughtful conversation, I’m sure you would be a welcome relief from the one commenter on that blog entry who really needs a lesson in proper manners on a social media commenting platform. Yikes.

As you can see, there is no shortage of fireworks between so many people involved in this decision by O’Brien. It seems the players, by and large, who are the most affected by the loss, are actually among the more mature of those who are stating their thoughts on his exit from PSU. They know college ball is usually a stepping stone to the NFL for players and coaches, and many have wished O’Brien well in Houston.

JoeBot SIDENOTE: A Deadspin article by a Penn State alum, and current PSU employee, helps explain the Cult of Joe Pa if you're interested in seeing an insider's take on how decades of success and loyalty to Joe Paterno grew out of control to the point that the idea of current-day JoeBots, the term used for Joe Paterno fanatics, is plausible to the point that O'Brien openly stated he wanted it printed that he doesn't give a Nittany Kitten about them or their opinions of him. That the author had to remain anonymous tells you that the situation is harrowing and it's not always safe to speak out.

Even in the way David Jones ended his article, it tastes and smells like home-style cooking by the PennLive author. Ending his article with a spiteful sort of remark, regarding how maybe Penn State will get a coach who says he is loyal and says he is staying…and really means it…seems a bit homer’ish and very Richard Justice to me. Collegiate football is an emotional roller coaster, for sure. And if anybody wondered why O’Brien would want to jump to the NFL, re-read this section and spend some time reading the exchanges in comments sections of Penn State football articles out there on the Internet.

The NFL realm has its share of jersey burning freaks, and yet the NFL is primarily and overwhelmingly a streamlined entertainment business ruled by results and not the twisting, dizzying unicycle chainsaw juggling act of politics and emotionally charged fan base found at the collegiate level. There are no wealthy boosters in the NFL trying to get their way at all costs, unintended outcomes be damned. In the NFL, there is an owner and usually "board members" who sort through the profitability reports and make their decision based on a team’s results. Stay on the right side of the ledger, you’re in.

Some coaches embrace the college game(s), both on the field and behind the scenes, and some do not. I think we now know that Bill O’Brien definitely isn’t too hip to the idea of spending his coaching years dancing with the right crowds of people on a college campus. He stated he is focused on winning games and interacting with the players and coaches, and not on being a wallflower or a political weapon for certain persons at a college. In my opinion, his exit from PSU is not a negative thing for Texans fans to worry about. If anything, it possibly shows that he’s not hung up on making people feel like rock stars and as if they’re more special than others.

The guy wants to win games, he’s focused on the players, and petty political maneuvering isn’t even on his radar. He doesn’t want to feel good by making others feel good (see: Kubiak’s downfall of loyalty to a fault). He wants to win, and he thinks winning makes everybody naturally feel good all on its own (see: The way the Patriots style of football makes people feel good, it’s called "Winning. In bunches.").

Part 2 will look at the various coaching stops made by O'Brien. We'll look at what his peers in the coaching world, his players, and the media say about him as a coach and as a person.

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