Bill O'Brien can continue to leverage PSU

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
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Bill O'Brien made it clear Thursday that he's "not a one-and-done guy" and will remain at Penn State in 2013 -- and possibly for many more years.

But O'Brien is no dummy, either. He knew that the interest he drew from several NFL teams in recent days could help him and his Penn State coaching staff during a potentially turbulent stretch ahead. After what O'Brien did in his first season at Penn State -- an 8-4 record and Big Ten Coach of the Year honors -- and with the brunt of the NCAA sanctions against the program kicking in for 2013 and beyond, O'Brien had plenty of leverage with his employer. And he used it.

From The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News' David Jones:
O'Brien acknowledged that PSU donor Terry Pegula, financier of the new Penn State hockey arena, has been a major ally in his efforts. Pegula was the first person who contacted O'Brien in late 2011 when he was eventually interviewed for the job.

Though O'Brien was not specific about it, high-level PSU sources have told me that a $1.3 million donation is to be added to O'Brien's salary in the coming year that will bump his total compensation to $3.6 million and place him behind only Ohio State's Urban Meyer ($4.3M) and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz ($3.8M) as the third-highest-paid coach in the Big Ten.

Not bad for a guy who just completed his first season as a head coach at any level.

Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel reports O'Brien's assistants also are in line to receive "significant" pay raises. The assistant pay bumps are incredibly important because assistants usually have less attachment to a school than the head coach and will receive interest from other college programs if they perform well for the Lions. Looking at what's coming for Penn State with four years of truncated recruiting classes, you couldn't blame the assistants for seeking other opportunities, but Penn State seems to be increasing its commitment to keep them in town.

Whether O'Brien is worth $3.6 million annually after just one season as a head coach can be debated. Some bring up Charlie Weis' 10-year contract extension he received just seven games into his Notre Dame tenure, which might have been the most ridiculous transaction in college football history. But O'Brien isn't Weis, and Penn State is in a shakier situation than Notre Dame was in 2005. Penn State would have been in an extremely difficult position if O'Brien had left for the NFL, especially with the small but talent-stocked recruiting class set to sign Feb. 6. This likely will be the case for the next few years, until the post-sanctions era is on the horizon, so if O'Brien remains a hot name for NFL jobs, he can continue to leverage Penn State for more money/resources.

Will O'Brien ultimately be an NFL head coach? I believe so. But I also could see him staying through the end of the sanctions and try to compete for postseason glory. He might never have as much leverage as he does right now, but as long as his teams remain afloat and strong recruits roll in, he'll have cards to play.

This is a big win for Penn State, but a bigger win for O'Brien and his assistants, who face big challenges ahead.

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