Christopher Smith

Penn State's Bill O'Brien Looking At NFL?

Created on Dec. 23, 2013 12:42 AM EST

Penn State's Bill O'Brien amended his contract last summer to lower the buyout for NFL teams, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Sunday.

O'Brien has coached the Nittany Lions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, leading the team to 8-4 and 7-5 records in the first two seasons of a four-year bowl ban that includes massive scholarship reductions.

A New England Patriots assistant coach for five seasons under Bill Belichick, O'Brien maintains strong NFL ties. He received some level of interest from four NFL teams last season and his name is part of the conversation regarding Houston's coaching search.

O'Brien approached Penn State recently, asking the school to reduce the buyout fee even more, a university official told Schefter, though he's said to be "torn" about whether to leave the Nittany Lions.

The coach has been outspoken in the team's quest to get the heavy-handed penalties reduced, and succeeded to an extent. Penn State will have 75 scholarships in 2014 instead of 65, the original penalty, and can add five to that total the next two seasons, returning to the full allotment and bowl eligibility in 2016. It's hard to envision the Nittany Lions competing for a Big Ten championship as soon as 2016 and it likely will take at least one more year to return the talent to previous depths, but it's possible Penn State could re-join the elite within three years.

In the NFL, though, O'Brien would have a chance to return a team like Houston to the playoffs as soon as 2014 (see: 2013 Kansas City Chiefs).

Known as an offensive coach, O'Brien played a role on some prolific offenses, including the 16-0 regular season in 2007 and the 2011 team, both of which lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. O'Brien served as offensive coordinator in the latter before accepting the Penn State job.

He's managed pretty well in tough circumstances at Penn State and has had to answer some tough questions and lead the team from a dark place, making him more of a known quantity from a public relations standpoint as well.

At 44 years old, O'Brien is young by NFL head coaching standards, but he's already a wanted commodity. It seems likely the choice of whether to leave Penn State is one he'll have to make.

If O'Brien does leave, what started as a fairly tame offseason for college football coaching changes will become unprecedented, with jobs at USC, Texas and Penn State opening in the same season.

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