Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 1/19/12

Of all the off-season coaching buzz, not a whole heck of a lot seems to be centered around Bill O'Brien. While Urban Meyer is a home run in Columbus, Mike Leach is intriguing in Pullman and folks in College Station are excited about Kevin Sumlin's arrival, no one is quite sure what to make of O'Brien in Happy Valley.

To his detractors, O'Brien is a guy with no heading coaching experience, coming from the pros, and seems to be a bit stubborn and stuck in his ways. He has already elected to stay with the Patriots through the end of the NFL playoffs (which could take him into mid-February) and will not hire an offensive coordinator, choosing instead to call his own plays. To his supporters, there doesn't seem to be a big leg for them to stand on, with most seeming to think, "You know what, it was a time for change in Happy Valley."

So simply put, where do you stand on Bill O'Brien? Flop waiting to happen? Program resuscitator? Or somewhere in between?

Aaron Torres: Truthfully, I do understand why O'Brien's detractors (especially in Happy Valley) are none too happy to see him ride in on his white horse. While he worked in college previously, he was never a sparkling can't miss coordinator, and has never been the head man at any level. Plus, the recent track record of New England Patriots offensive coordinators is none too special. After all, maybe Tom Brady "made" Charlie Weis and Josh McDaniels much more than the other way around.

Still, I like the hire... a lot, actually.

The truth is, while Penn State has everything needed to attract the best and brightest coaches in the land, it was never going to happen this time around. There is just too much bad residual karma for a guy like Chris Petersen or even Al Golden to take a chance on their coaching legacy by coming to Happy Valley at this moment in history. Five years ago? Sure. Five years from now? Maybe. But not in the winter of 2012.

Still, what Penn State needed was a leader; someone who not only could be the face of the program, but the heartbeat as well. And with all due respect to Joe Paterno, he hasn't been that way for a long time. I know people around that program (as I know some of you do as well), and while Paterno was a figure-head, there was a lot of jumbled noise in that locker room coming from different voices. There was a leadership vacuum. You know how Nick Saban has his fingerprints on everything at Alabama? Same with Chip Kelly at Oregon, Urban Meyer at Ohio State and Bob Stoops at Oklahoma? That wasn't happening at Penn State.

Which brings me to O'Brien.

I don't know if he's the perfect fit, but he is the right one at the right time for this school. If the school could've gotten Chris Petersen, more power to them, but instead they got someone off the Bill Belichick coaching tree that will come in confident, organized and focused on details. Seriously, if he could work his way up under "The Hoodie," I don't think he's going to be intimidated by Jerry Kill, Brady Hoke or anyone else in the Big Ten.

I'm looking forward to the Bill O'Brien era, and curious to see what he can do with this program.

Michael Felder: I understand O'Brien detractors but I disagree with them on many levels. First the necessary requirement of head coaching experience is becoming a bit overblown for my liking. Guys like Houston Nutt, Dan Hawkins and Rick Neuheisel had ample head coaching experience and are out of the game at the moment. Not every guy is going to be Urban Meyer or Nick Saban simply because he's got some experience. In short, it is a lazy person's argument to me.

Next come the offensive coordinator issues; Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian and, just a bit ago Ralph Friedgen, seemed to be alright calling their own plays. For all of the hatred surrounding Charlie Weis his offensive play calling wasn't the problem so much as the bodies running the plays and playing defense. In short we've got a guy who worked under, for my money, one of the best play callers in the last decade in Ralph Friedgen and followed that up with totally designing, installing and scheming the new look Patriots offense; why not let him call the plays, that's what got him the job.

If folks want to belly ache about something get upset with the defensive coordinator hire of Ted Roof, that's the actual head scratcher here. Beyond that I'm pretty pleased with the prospects of what O'Brien has to offer Penn State.

Allen Kenney: It almost doesn't matter who Penn State hired. In my mind, I don't see any way that it's not a long-term rebuilding process there. I think just about any coach is going to struggle there for the next four or five years. Any discussion of Bill O'Brien has to be evaluated in that context.

Given the general lack of interest from high-profile candidates, O'Brien actually makes for a decent hire. He's running the offense of the team that is the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl, and it's not like he doesn't have experience on the college level. He knows what he's getting into, and he clearly wanted the job. That's saying something.

The heart of the matter: What are reasonable expectations for O'Brien and the team in the next few years?

These aren't your dad's Nittany Lions. PSU doesn't have the same level of talent that JoePa's best squads did, and I don't see that getting better with the way things are trending at the moment. Urban Meyer has to be licking his chops when he thinks about raiding the Western Pennsylvania battleground. Brady Hoke has had some early success in recruiting at Michigan. O'Brien will have to do all he can just to stay afloat.

If Penn Staters can handle a few lean years in the beginning, we should be in position to truly give him a fair shake and see what he can do.

Michael: With respect to reasonable expectations I think looking at Penn State and the roster they have they should expect to remain in the middle of the Big Ten. This isn't exactly a "we're horrible now" type of ordeal but there will be bumps in the road.

The Nittany Lions are a team that should remain better than the Minnesotas, Indianas and Purdues of the world, easily. Illinois has their own problems with the coaching change and tough time getting talent pumped into the roster. Northwestern is a well-coached club but they haven't beaten Penn State since 2004. That's five of the eleven opponents that Penn State should expect to play with and beat going forward, the other six; Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska have already been better than the Nittany Lions.

Basically, you look for wins where you can get them over the better six teams, try to find a way to claw the way back to the top and it starts with O'Brien putting together a few good seasons and rebuilding this program to his liking.

Kevin McGuire: Honestly, the negative reactions surrounding the hire of O'Brien have since fizzled once the staff surrounding him started to come together. I'll concede that the hiring of Ted Roof is a head-scratcher given his track record, but you cannot look at that and think the defense will fall off the map in State College. For starters, retaining the likes of Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden cannot go unmentioned when discussing the defense. These guys have helped build and maintain some strong defensive lines and linebackers over the years, and Johnson is a well-respected recruiter in Maryland and Virginia. I would take a bet to say that Roof has never had these kind of coaches working on defense with him. The key will be whether or not coaching individual players will carry more weight over a questionable defensive coordinator. If Roof adheres to the advice given by Johnson/Vanderlinden, then perhaps it won't be all that bad.

But back on to O'Brien. The fact that he is taking it upon himself to call the offensive plays is a dramatic improvement over what Penn State has had recently. Do you realize how many people were involved in the calling of an offensive play last year, under Joe Paterno? Jay Paterno called passing plays and Galen Hall called the running plays. Both made those calls form the coaches box and relayed the calls down to Mike McQueary on the sideline, who relayed the calls to Joe Paterno and whoever was playing quarterback at that moment. That's a total of five people involved in the process of calling just one single play. And keep in mind, while JoePa had relinquished a bunch of control in recent years, he did make a point to take back at least some of the control in 2011 when it came to play-selection. So if he didn't like a play, he would change it. How many seconds are there on a college football play clock? Yeah. Talk about too many chefs in the kitchen. Penn State's offense will now be much more efficient, at least in theory, with one guy calling the shots and working directly with the quarterback. This should have a ripple effect on the entire offense, with the quarterback getting the call earlier and leaving plenty of time to make adjustments as needed before snapping the football.

I think the realistic expectations for Penn State will be to have a winning team capable of making an appearance in a January 1 bowl this season. I don't buy in to the idea that it will take four or five years to rebuild the program either. The finances are there, as are the facilities. You throw a coaching staff that is already proving to be rejuvenated in recruiting and it may not be as bad as once thought. Of course, time will tell for sure and the only thing that will really matter is if O'Brien can win some games on the field. In year one Penn State gets Ohio, Navy and Temple at home, and makes a trip to Virginia. Penn State should win those games, but three wins is an absolute must before Big Ten play opens up. I agree with Michael in that Northwestern, Purdue and Indiana should be ins for Penn State, while Illinois is a toss-up. Penn State's biggest crutch has been winning the big games, against ranked teams. If O'Brien can pick up a win or two against Nebraska, Ohio State or Wisconsin, then everything, as far as football itself is concerned, will be ok.

Allen: I'm actually OK with O'Brien staying on with the Patriots. They're the favorites to win the whole thing right now, which hasn't happened since Charlie Weis was waddling around Foxboro. To me, a Super Bowl ring would be a big selling point for him in future recruiting. (Metaphorically speaking, of course. I'm not suggesting O'Brien act like a pompous ass and flaunt it, if you get my drift.)

Aaron: To me, the biggest thing to O'Brien's short and long term success is if he is able to stop the hemorrhaging that Allen mentioned his post.

The idea that this program is "broken" or can't be quickly salvaged doesn't fly with me. Michael laid out the fact that at worst-- worst-- Penn State is still ahead of the curve on basically half the league. And given the resources they have, there's no reason they should fall off pace with Nebraska and Iowa, if not surpass them. Everything is there for that to happen, and for the Nittany Lions to firmly entrench themselves as one of the top 2-3 teams year-in and year-out in this conference.

Of course, like everywhere, what it comes down to is recruiting, and really where O'Brien's biggest tactical mistake came in: He was already waaaaaaaay behind the eight-ball when he was hired, and by not showing up until the Patriots run is over, he basically punted this entire 2012 class.

Now, do I blame O'Brien for that? Not totally. Yet at the same, right now is probably the only time to catch Ohio State in a bit of a vulnerable spot for the foreseeable future, and it's not as though Michigan is some steamrolling juggernaut. Now, above any other time is when Penn State should be striking. But instead O'Brien is scribbling on a white board somewhere North of Boston, and giving away precious time that he may never get back.

To finish back where I started, there's no reason in theory that O'Brien shouldn't be able to compete with anyone for recruits, especially in Pennsylvania. There are no scholarship reductions, and as things stand, no reason to think that the program will be going on any kind of probation.

Which means that it comes back down to the "image" perception. That's obviously not as fixable entirely, but like anything else, can be improved. But it can't start until O'Brien actually gets on campus for good.

Kevin: I think the fact that O'Brien is handling Patriots and Penn State duties can be overblown. Penn State was already willing to sacrifice going all out in recruiting this season given the circumstances. And O'Brien has been making trips back to State College when he can and has already met with recruits. To some, O'Brien has already been a guy kids can warm up to and there are a couple kids who say they are excited about the future under O'Brien. It could just be words to throw out to guys covering recruiting but O'Brien seems to be handling this recruiting time as well as he can. And if he can bring a Super Bowl ring to his future recruiting trips, it could have some influence.

But it ultimately pales compared to what Urban Meyer can show off with a pair of BCS rings. This cannot be disputed. But does it carry more weight than what Paul Chryst bring at Pittsburgh and what Brady Hoke has to show off at Michigan? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. But one thing is for sure. As long as the Patriots are in the playoffs, recruits are getting a glimpse at the kind of offense O'Brien would like to install at Penn State. While there are no Tom Brady or Rob Gronkowski type players here, having your offense being on TV for another game or two when nobody else has that to work with could be a benefit moving forward.

Photo credit: Kevin McGuire

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