— Bill O'Brien has been a head coach for less than three of his 45 years, but already he's demonstrated a remarkable ability to rebuild at the major college and professional levels.
O'Brien saved Penn State's football program from ruin by stepping in when he did following the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse scandal and leading the Nittany Lions to winning records in back-to-back seasons while operating under the handicap of 20 fewer scholarships than his opponents were allowed.
However, it was during that second season when the disconnect between O'Brien and the Penn State community grew so out of control that he knew he would have to bail.
His landing spot was here with the Houston Texans (4-4), who already have doubled their win total from a year ago and have established themselves as a legitimate contender for the AFC South title.
O'Brien's Texans host the Philadelphia Eagles (5-2) this afternoon (1 p.m., FOX).
"I had a great experience at Penn State," O'Brien said Wednesday in a conference call with Philadelphia reporters. "I would say my best memories of Penn State would be the players. They were tough, resilient, competitive kids that we really enjoyed coaching. Made a lot of great friends there in State College.
"But at the end of the day, based on my family and what we thought was best for us and based on the fact that the Houston Texans was a great organization, based on the fact that I really enjoy pro football, this has been a very enjoyable experience for me."
Although it is clear O'Brien prefers the NFL to college, he might still be at Penn State had he not perpetually clashed with athletic director David Joyner, the administration and Board of Trustees.
The bottom line is that there are none of those headaches in Houston, where O'Brien has settled into a more stable situation and a more level playing field.
"In college, you're coaching 18-, 19-year-old kids, some just out of high school," he said. "You're dealing with a lot of different social issues, academic issues, on-the-field issues.
"And in college you don't have them as long. You have them at like 2:30 in the afternoon until about 5:30 or 6 o'clock at night, and they've got to go to eat and then study hall. Penn State is a great school, so those kids have got to go to class all day."
Players in the NFL go to class too, but right at their teams' premises. And the curriculum is entirely football.
That's what most appeals to O'Brien.
"You're coaching grown men," he said. "A lot of these guys have families. You have them from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and it's a full-time job."
"You can't do it overnight," O'Brien said. "You've got to kind of chip away at it, and I think we kind of did in the offseason. I think we have a really strong locker room here. We've got a bunch of good guys, guys that practice hard. So hopefully we're changing the culture to be what we want it to be."
The Eagles also talked to O'Brien about their opening last year, after Kelly initially indicated he would be staying at Oregon. But Kelly changed his mind and O'Brien decided to stay put — until the temptation became too much at the end of last season.
Obviously he has no regrets, and his five years as an assistant coach with the New England Patriots prior to going to Penn State have helped him make the transition to Houston without a hitch.
"I've known Billy for 20-plus years," Kelly said. "I visited him when he was at Georgia Tech. I visited him when he was at Brown. He's a hell of a football coach, competitive as you can get and really smart, really intelligent. It's not surprising the success he's had in his career because you can tell that from the first time you meet him."
In so many ways, football coaches are products of their environments.
So there will be a little of New England, a little of Oregon and a little of Penn State on both sides in today's game.
As if it weren't already worth watching.
Source : http://www.mcall.com/sports/mc-texans-obrien-1101-20141101-story.html