On Sunday, an opinion was shared on Bill O’Brien possibly leaving Penn State and how, from this far-away perch without knowing all the details, it doesn’t seem right after just two years.
Also included in that opinion was this thought: “I think O'Brien would be a terrific choice for the Houston Texans' head-coaching job.”
Reconciling those thoughts is part of what makes O'Brien’s defection, reported Tuesday night by ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen, such a hot-button topic.
Did he owe Penn State more? Did Penn State owe him more? What about the promises he made to recruits?
Today, we’ll stick just to the football, sharing some thoughts on this question: What makes O’Brien more likely to have success than past Patriots assistants who have failed in head-coaching gigs?
1. He has already shown the ability to lead a program: Unlike past assistants Eric Mangini, Romeo Crennel and Josh McDaniels in the NFL and Charlie Weis in college, O’Brien arrives at this post having already spent two years as a head coach (and enjoying success doing so). That makes his situation different from those of other past assistants who were first-time head coaches at the college or pro level, as well as personnel men who were hired to rebuild other teams (Scott Pioli, Thomas Dimitroff).
2. Taking the best of Belichick ... but staying true to personal identity: If there is one misstep that stands out from past Patriots assistants/staffers who have struggled when given the chance to lead their own program, it’s this one. They seem to try too much to be like Belichick in personality/approach, and in our view, Mangini (Jets/Browns), McDaniels (Broncos), Weis (Notre Dame) and Pioli (Chiefs' general manager) fall most into this category. The key, it seems, is taking some of the foundation-type aspects of Belichick’s program, but also leaving room for a decisive enough personal stamp (both in building a program and public persona). The fiery O’Brien, who prior to joining the Patriots in 2007 had been working in college and was exposed to other ways of doing things, seems smart enough to study those situations and avoid falling into similar pitfalls as those before him.
3. Traits of O’Brien as a coach: Things we took note of during O’Brien’s Patriots tenure: his strong communication skills, passion, competitiveness, decisiveness, offensive imagination and knowledge of personnel. He is a top-notch coach, in particular, when it comes to developing quarterbacks (a key for Houston’s future). Belichick previously mentioned O'Brien's coaching style as “old-school,” and the feeling here is that suits the "new-school" Texans (the NFL’s newest franchise) well.
4. Final thoughts: There is much to be taken from coaching under Belichick and seeing from the inside how his program is run. It's also my view that Belichick is special and unique in having expert knowledge in all areas of building and coaching a team (offense, defense, special teams, personnel, salary cap), and the successful assistant moving on to run his own program will realize that. I think it would take two to three people to duplicate what Belichick does in New England. In O’Brien’s case, it seems his coaching network is strong enough to allow him to surround himself with the right types of people to account for this dynamic.