John Steigerwald

Column John Steigerwald

John Steigerwald has been a fixture of TV, radio, and newspaper sports in Pittsburgh, and has a Sunday column in the Observer-Reporter.

In O’Brien’s case, what are words for?

In Bill O’Brien’s case, what are words for?

January 4, 2014

The Houston Texans gave Bill O’Brien the red carpet treatment.


There actually was a red carpet laid out in front of the Texans’ headquarters Friday morning, awaiting O’Brien’s appearance at his introductory press conference.

I didn’t catch who he was wearing.

O’Brien said all the things you would expect an NFL coach to say on his first day on the job. Before he said them, Texans owner Bob McNair and general manager Rick Smith said all the things you would expect NFL management types to say about their new coach.

“Pefect fit, great guy, man of character, blah, blah blah. … ”

And the media asked all the questions you would expect in their first press conference with the new NFL head coach.

Except this one: “Bill, when did you decide to pursue an NFL job for next season and when did you tell your players and recruits at Penn State you were planning to leave or seriously considering leaving?”

O’Brien was asked one question about what he had said to Penn State players two years ago, when he convinced them to stay even though the football program was riding in the NCAA’s handbasket headed to hell.

O’Brien said, “That’s an interesting question …” then went on to say that it was between him and the Penn State players.

The Penn State players aren‘t allowed to talk to the media, but they have been tweeting and most of them have been understanding and positive. But it would be interesting to hear what O’Brien promised those players who passed on an opportunity to transfer two years ago and what he was telling current players and potential recruits over the last few weeks.

On Dec. 4, O’Brien told Patriot News columnist David Jones the Joe Paterno-loyalists made him, “Wanna put my fist through this windshield right now.”

O’Brien also told Jones, “That’s why they’re gonna be looking for a new football coach a month from now.”

O’Brien told Jones he was on a recruiting trip.

That was 30 days before he was sitting in front of the world as the Houston Texans head coach.

Jones didn’t publish the quotes until after it was announced O’Brien was leaving.

What had O’Brien told recruits that night if he was asked about his commitment to the program? Did he get them to commit based on assurances he was going to be their coach for the long haul? I’m guessing he probably didn’t say, “You should forget about those other offers you’re getting and come to Penn State. Right now, I plan to be the head coach, but that could change in a hurry if the right NFL team calls with an offer I can’t refuse.”

We don’t know what O’Brien said to his players two years ago to keep the program together, and we don’t know what he told players and recruits while he was being recruited by the Texans. But if he gave them the impression he was in it for the long haul when he knew he wasn’t, O’Brien is a liar and a rat.

He became a hot commodity because of his willingness to accept a job that came with so many challenges and because he was able to go 15-9 in two seasons.

The question that needs answered is whether he did it on the backs of players who would not have stayed or would not have enrolled if he had told them the truth?

Without those players who stayed and without freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, the No. 1 rated high school quarterback in the country, he doesn’t go 15-9, and there’s no red carpet waiting for him in Houston.

Seems like a legitimate question for a guy who’s on the verge of canonization for the miraculous job he did keeping Happy Valley happy.

The media at the press conference dropped the ball by not pressing him on the issue. Maybe they didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot with the new head coach.

Hackenberg, at the time of this writing, hadn’t decided if he was going to stay at Penn State or transfer.

If he does transfer, of course, the NCAA will make him sit out a season.

• I see that 44 percent of the Baseball Hall of Fame voters had Barry Bonds on their ballot this year. He needs 75 percent to get in and seems to be getting more support every year. My sources tell me a large percentage of voters are waiting for his head to shrink back to its original size. Otherwise, somebody might impolitely ask him about it at his induction ceremony.

• TV blackouts were avoided in three NFL cities this weekend, by sponsors buying tickets and giving them away to military and by local television stations buying up thousands of unsold tickets. Local TV stations might want to include buying up unsold NFL tickets in their long-term budgets. No shows are just beginning.

• If the Harrisburg column quoting O’Brien had appeared on Dec. 5 instead of Jan. 2, the red carpet would have been laid out for O’Brien in Houston no later than Dec. 6.

John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.



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