In 2012, Bill O'Brien walked into an impossible situation at Penn State.
O'Brien came to Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky scandal that ended the tenure of legendary coach Joe Paterno. The scandal left the Nittany Lions reeling after the football program was crushed under severe sanctions by the NCAA, including a postseason ban and reduced scholarships for four years.
Despite all that, O'Brien led the team to a surprising eight wins and has given the Happy Valley fans a lot of hope.
For those reasons, O'Brien was named as the winner of this year's Paul "Bear" Bryant Coach of the Year Award, according to Associated Press writer Jordan Godwin.
O'Brien bested James Franklin of Vanderbilt (finished 9-4, won the Music City Bowl); Urban Meyer of Ohio State (led Ohio State to a perfect 12-0 record); David Shaw of Stanford (won the Pac-12 and Rose Bowl); Bill Snyder of Kansas State (won the Big 12); and Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M (finished 11-2 and beat Alabama).
Penn State players were told they could transfer without having to sit for a year, resulting in several of the team's top players, including running back Silas Redd, transferring before the season began.
Despite the many obstacles standing in his way, O'Brien came to the program with a positive energy and he immediately established his own culture for the team. O'Brien instituted an NFL-style offense, and there was guarded optimism in Happy Valley.
That didn't last long, however—the Nittany Lions shockingly lost to Ohio and Virginia to start the season, and many folks were resigned to the fact that they were in for a terrible season. But Penn State would go on to win five straight games and eight of its last 10.
Penn State would finish second in the Leaders Division of the Big Ten, behind only Ohio State.
And O'Brien became even more of a hero when he rejected the NFL's overtures and declared he would return to Penn State next year.
O'Brien certainly had some stiff competition for Bear Bryant award, but his resume and the odds he had to overcome make him a worthy winner. Keeping Penn State above water in the face of the NCAA sanctions wasn't easy, but Bill O'Brien proved he was the man for that job.