This week, Penn State's Bill O'Brien was named Big Ten Coach of the Year by the conference's coaches and members of the media, capping off one of the better coaching jobs in conference history. And according to O'Brien, he plans on being the Nittany Lions head coach in 2013, even after being linked to several NFL head coaching jobs.
Last January, O'Brien left as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots and took over a Penn State program in shambles in the midst of the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Although his hiring was initially criticized by some former players and alumni, O'Brien eventually helped bring a sense of pride back to Happy Valley. He stuck with the team in July when it received unprecedented sanctions from the NCAA, leading to the transfer of some players such as star running back Silas Redd to USC. He stayed the course after a rough start to the year, as boosters and fans questioned his ability to coach.
And now he appears to be sticking by the program again despite rumors of several NFL teams being interested in him.
He affirmed his desire to stay at Penn State -- but was somewhat non-committal -- when the topic came up during a radio interview with 790 the Zone in Atlanta, though he didn't definitively rule out a return to the NFL.
"I plan on being the head football coach at Penn State," O'Brien said. "That's my plan and that's what I intend to do."
Of course, plans can change. Given the adversity his team faced this year along with the pressure of replacing Joe Paterno on the sidelines, O'Brien certainly did a masterful job in his first year as a head coach. It is no surprise the NFL might gauge his interest.
Despite the distractions and defections this past summer, Penn State rebounded from an 0-2 start to finish the season 8-4 and second in the Leaders Division of the conference. The team showed resiliency and improvement throughout the year due in large part to O'Brien's unwavering belief in his team.
Perhaps more than anything, what O'Brien did was rebuild the image of a program that certainly lost its luster after the Sandusky scandal and the subsequent cover-up by the university. Under Paterno, Penn State football had always created an aura of prestige and class. With an 8-4 finish, O'Brien brought that feeling back to the campus and its iconic football team.
"It was a tough, tough year here, especially if you go back to November, but I think these kids -- and again it goes back to this senior class -- they're wise beyond their years," O'Brien said. "As time went on they realized that it's not about bowl games, it's about making sure that we do our part to help put an end to child abuse but at the same time go out and play as good of football as we can and like every season we wish we had some plays back and some games back, but I think at the end of the day we played pretty good football."
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