STATE COLLEGE – Bill O’Brien took his family to Disneyworld on vacation but ended up on a very different kind of roller coaster.
After days of Internet-fueled speculation about whether he would bolt to the NFL, O’Brien stuck right where he started a year ago – Penn State.
O’Brien said Monday his love for coaching the Nittany Lions outweighed a desire to pursue opportunities to move to the pinnacle of his profession despite the promise of a big payday from the NFL. It was the first time he had spoken to reporters en masse since confirming last week he was staying at Penn State.
A year to the day after being first introduced in Happy Valley, O’Brien also asserted several times that he has not asked, nor received a raise, and that no one has approached him about a salary bump, either.
“If it was about money, more than likely I wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” he said. “It’s about making sure that Penn State ... does everything we can do in our power to make sure this place is the best it can be for our student-athletes.”
O’Brien was headed Monday to Nashville to be a keynote speaker at the American Football Coaches Association conference. But first he addressed the media at Beaver Stadium for the first time since the end of an 8-4 season, a smashing success considering the NCAA sanctions against the program for the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.
He said Monday he had conversations with a few NFL teams who reached out about coaching vacancies last week while he was on vacation, but no job was ever offered.
O’Brien declined to name the interested teams. The Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles were among teams who spoke with him.
The former Patriots offensive coordinator, 43, noted that the NFL was the highest level he could achieve in his profession. The teams contacted him “out of respect of what we did this year,” O’Brien said. “That’s as far as it went ... At the end of the day, the most important decision that I made is the decision to be here at Penn State.
“I can’t think of a better place to be.”
His agent, Joe Linta, said last week that there would probably be discussions with the school about O’Brien’s current contract. The initial five-year deal included a 5 percent raise each year, which would make O’Brien’s total compensation this year more than $2.3 million.
Since then, a clause in O’Brien’s contract triggered an extension for the length of NCAA sanctions. Penn State is under sanctions for four years, so O’Brien’s contract now expires in 2020.
Acting athletic director Dave Joyner declined comment when asked Monday whether the school administration would be open to revisiting O’Brien’s deal. “We’re always trying to improve and always trying to make things better,” Joyner said after the press conference.
With Joyner watching from the back of the stadium media room, O’Brien stressed several times that he has never initiated any talks about a raise at any point in his career, and also said that no one from the university or any donor has spoken to him about a raise.
O’Brien took over two months after predecessor Joe Paterno was fired in the wake of Sandusky’s arrest. A retired defensive coordinator, Sandusky is serving a 30 to 60-year prison sentence after being convicted in June of 45 criminal counts of child sexual abuse, including allegations on and off campus.
The NCAA hammered Penn State in July with landmark sanctions including a four-year bowl ban, steep scholarship cuts and a $60 million fine. Players also have until the start of the 2013 preseason in August to transfer to another school without having to sit out a year.
Both Joyner and O’Brien declined comment on Gov. Tom Corbett’s federal antitrust lawsuit last week against the NCAA over the sanctions.
With the aid of a strong senior class, O’Brien kept most of the team together. The Nittany Lions rebounded from an 0-2 nonconference start and finished 6-2 in the Big Ten Leaders Division behind undefeated Ohio State. O’Brien ushered in a passing-game renaissance and turned one-time walk-on Matt McGloin into one of the top quarterbacks in the league.
The NFL took notice. Seven teams let coaches go after the end of the regular season, and O’Brien was considered a top potential candidate from the college ranks.
Both O’Brien and Joyner said they were surprised by how NFL rumors snowballed online. But, Joyner said he was confident in O’Brien’s commitment.
“It’s always a risk with any great coach,” Joyner said about coaching speculation. “If people weren’t talking about Bill O’Brien, then we made a lousy hire.”
Questions about the future of Penn State’s coach are nothing new. In the latter part of his 46-year career, Paterno was constantly dogged by inquiries about retirement. Now, the head Nittany Lion is generating social media buzz over if or when he’ll leave for the NFL.
Joyner said he thought his coach would remain at Penn State for a “long time.” O’Brien wasn’t more specific, but when asked if NFL questions could emerge every year, O’Brien immediately said “No, I don’t think so.”
“I’m a coach and the National Football League is the highest level,” he said. “But at the same time, I can’t be more clear on this: I love coaching these kids ... I enjoy being here and I plan to be here.”