INDIANAPOLIS — Bill O’Brien faced one of the most difficult coaching situations in college football history.
In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State dealt with unprecedented NCAA sanctions in 2012. The football program was banned from bowl games for four years (which was rescinded after O’Brien’s tenure). Any of its players could transfer to another school without losing eligibility. The athletic department was fined $60 million.
O’Brien himself faced a major obstacle in replacing legendary coach Joe Paterno, who led the Nittany Lions to a Division I-record 409 wins. O’Brien attacked the challenges as best he could and guided Penn State to a combined 15-9 record in two seasons. Then, after the 2013 season, O’Brien left for the Houston Texans, and James Franklin took over as Penn State’s head coach.
But O’Brien didn’t stop caring about the Nittany Lions after his move to the NFL. He recruited several athletes to State College. So last fall, when the Nittany Lions won the Big Ten championship and advanced to the Rose Bowl, O’Brien paid attention.
He’s now a fan.
“I take a lot of pride in Penn State,” O’Brien said Wednesday at the 2017 NFL Combine. “I don’t have anything to do with that (Penn State’s success) right now; I’m just saying I take a lot of pride in following them. That place meant a lot to me and my family.
“A lot of kids that were playing on that team this year, we knew a lot of those kids. It was really cool to watch what coach Franklin and that coaching staff did with that group of players and where they were able to go. I think that’s a testament to Penn State and that university. It’s a fantastic place, and I think they’re on the up and up.”
In three seasons with Houston, O’Brien has a 27-21 regular-season regular record and two AFC playoff berths. The Texans have won the last two AFC South titles, and this year won a playoff game against the Oakland Raiders.