Coaching Carousel Could Be Bill O’Brien’s Wheel of Fortune
Christopher Walsh’s All Things CW ratings column will appear in five parts this week, one each day before Saturday’s game against Texas A&M.
This is …
The Nick Saban Coaching Rehab Facility, otherwise known as Alabama Crimson Tide, may be on the verge of another success story, which should surprise absolutely no one, anywhere.
Next up is offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, whose name is already being thrown around like a roulette table ball as the coaching carousel is already spinning cruelly this year.
Paul Chryst was fired in Wisconsin on Sunday despite posting a 67–26, 43–18 overall record in the Big Ten, with three Big West division titles and was twice named Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Scott Frost in Nebraska, Herm Edwards at Arizona State, Geoff Collins of Georgia Tech and Karl Dorrell in Colorado also obtained sample slips.
Chryst was the biggest surprise, though. It was a program Alabama was paired with to open the 2015 season at AT&T Stadium (won by the eventual national champions, 35-17), but they’re set to play a home-and-away series in 2024-25.
Bettors have O’Brien ranked second among the most likely candidates to replace Chryst, only behind interim head coach Jim Leonhard, the defensive coordinator now tasked with trying to salvage the season after a 2-3 start.
It’s one of those places where you look and think, “Oh, this might be a good fit,” especially since O’Brien was once Penn State’s head coach. He already knows the conference, and has had success.
However, he would also be on Nebraska’s shortlist of top candidates.
Don’t overlook Georgia TechThat is.
In college, O’Brien was a defensive back and linebacker at Brown University, where he also served as an assistant coach for two years. His first job outside of his alma business was at Georgia Tech.
From 1995 to 2002, he rose through the ranks from graduate assistant to running backs coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and finally assistant head coach.
He left to be Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator before the whole George O’Leary fiasco unfolded.
From 2007 to 2020, O’Brien worked primarily in the NFL, including as offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots in 2011 and as head coach of the Houston Texans (2014-20). During that time, he had only one college job, head coach at Penn State from 2012-13, replacing Joe Paterno after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
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Some criticized him for leaving after two years, but O’Brien kept the Nittany Lions afloat when the NCAA dropped the hammer.
Specifically, Penn State’s wins from 1998 to 2011 were overturned and the school was fined $60 million. The NCAA also banned the Nittany Lions from the playoffs for four years, reduced the football scholarships from 25 to 15 for four years, and placed the program on probation for five years.
After being sued, the NCAA later overturned the sanctions in 2015, but in the meantime the NCAA granted immediate eligibility to any player wishing to transfer out of Happy Valley.
Even with all of that, O’Brien managed to coach Penn State to back-to-back winning seasons, which hasn’t been forgotten.
Which brings us to the question that only O’Brien knows the answer to and could determine his fate: Would he rather coach in the NFL or at a top college?
Financially, there is not much difference today. Have you seen some of the buyouts that schools pay for people not to coach their teams?
O’Brien’s name offered a few opportunities in the NFL last year, including with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Patriots as offensive coordinator, but to no avail.
“I understand Bill O’Brien would have been willing to come back here,” Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer said via NBC Sports Boston. “He was going to let Bill [Belichick] and Nick takes care of it. And finally, Bill Belichick didn’t want to bring Bill O’Brien back because he was afraid of losing him after a year.
Throwing another wrench into things is that with the early signing period, schools are starting their search for coaches earlier than ever, and most will be looking to fill their vacancies around Dec. 1, when Alabama could be in the middle of another title.
At least that’s nothing new for Saban and the Crimson Tide.
However, it’s only week 5 of the NFL season. There will be vacancies for coaches, but probably not for some time, although 22 teams have hired new coaches in the past three years.
So we are left with only one conclusion, and it is the same as IF Pat Forde just made out with Auburn head coach Bryan Harsinbut for a very different reason:
It’s probably now a “when” question, not an “if”.
Christopher Walsh’s All Things CW ratings column appears weekly on BamaCentral.
Socket 1: Bryce Young’s injury hurts Alabama in ways that aren’t obvious