When Bill O'Brien was named the head coach of Penn State's football program in early January, he had said without hesitation that he would remain committed to his New England Patriots responsibilities until the end of the playoffs. As it turned out, O'Brien stayed on the job in New England into February with the Patriots reaching the Super Bowl.
His decision to remain at his current position of offensive coordinator was a small bit of unpleasant news for some Penn State faithful, who felt he should leave immediately, but for the most part it seemed as though O'Brien's intentions were received well by those in blue and white. After all, having a Super Bowl ring when making recruiting trips was supposed to be a chip that Urban Meyer did not have—not that a pair of BCS championship rings is anything to scoff at.
O'Brien's mission failed, as New England lost to the New York Giants in Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI, 21-17. Does retrospect suggest O'Brien should have taken the Penn State job as his full-time gig on day one? Sure, there will be some who lean that way, but O'Brien's decision to stick with the Patriots through to the bitter end turned out to be a decent decision for Penn State. While the class of 2012 was being finalized, the coaching staff still got to say their head coach was still coaching when few others in the sport were, giving everyone a chance to see what kind of offense O'Brien has a desire to bring to State College.
But a Super Bowl ring does not necessarily guarantee success in the college game. Just ask Charlie Weis, who flashed his New England Super Bowl bling to haul in some of the top recruits to Notre Dame. Obviously, things did not go so well for Weis in South Bend, and now he is the new head coach at Kansas so he can flash the championship rings once more.
New England did not have a great offensive performance against the Giants in the Super Bowl, and nobody expects Matt McGloin to be Tom Brady, but O'Brien's offense did show some positive signs at points during the game, including a masterful 96-yard touchdown drive in the clutch led by Brady. Brady tossed a pair of touchdown passes to tight ends, which figures to be a focal point at Penn State as well once O'Brien's staff have the right players in place through recruiting (who knows, they may already be there).
O'Brien has officially moved in to his new office and begun life as a full-time head coach at a major college football program. Moving forward he will be able to dedicate 100 percent of his football time to the Nittany Lions and there will be plenty of work to do. First up will be a meeting with his assembled coaching staff and the decision on whether or not to hire one more offensive assistant coach to help him with the play-calling.
O'Brien said during his introductory press conference in State College that he would be the one calling the offensive plays, and that may still turn out to be the case, but the option is available with one spot left to fill on the assistant coaching staff if needed. There had been rumors O'Brien would invite his former boss and Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen to the staff, so that may still be an idea to keep in mind. Friedgen would be a nice addition to the staff, as he is a decent offensively minded coach and is well-respected in the Maryland area. Adding Friedgen would increase Penn State's recruiting power in the Maryland region, complementing the power already owned by Larry Johnson.
Whether Friedgen or another coach is added to the staff or not, the focus will quickly shift to getting to know the players on the staff through workouts and practices, when allowed. This is where there will be plenty of questions left to answer in the coming months.
Will O'Brien view the quarterback situation the same way Joe Paterno and his assistants did? Will Rob Bolden's skills mature under a new coaching staff? What players will transfer out, if any (O'Brien said last week he had no knowledge of any players considering a transfer)? Who will emerge as the playmakers on either side of the football in 2012?
On top of all of that, O'Brien will once again be able to focus more time on the recruiting game and prepare to put together a class in 2013 that has his touch on everything. While O'Brien and his new staff did mix in a few players to the class of 2012, this next recruiting class will be his first true class of recruits, and he has a solid mission set. O'Brien wants to win back the recruiting battles in and around Pennsylvania, taking advantage of those pipeline states such as New York, Maryland, New Jersey and even in to Ohio. If O'Brien has his way, Penn State will start winning back some of the top in-state talent instead of seeing Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin coming in and plucking the players the Nittany Lions want.
O'Brien has also said they will need to start recruiting better in the southern states. With he and his staff collectively having a good idea of what it takes to recruit in the south, and with the need to do so increasing with Urban Meyer joining Ohio State, the future could look bright for Penn State football if all goes according to O'Brien's plans.