Penn State faced a program-changing event when the Jerry Sandusky allegations first hit the airwaves. The Nittany Lions saw a legacy come crashing down and needed a steady leader to return the program to the top.
Bill O’Brien stepped in and guided Penn State to eight wins in his first year. That performance, coupled with the current positive direction of the program, makes O’Brien college football's best hire in the past decade.
Once the allegations against Sandusky were revealed, there was little hope for the football program in State College. It soon became apparent that the NCAA was going to crush the Nittany Lions' program, and no one expected it to be able to compete for at least the next 10 years.
But after a mass defection of top stars, O’Brien picked up the pieces and pushed forward. The Nittany Lions started the year with a loss to Ohio, making many believe that the pain of the sanctions was already taking hold.
Just a few weeks later, however, the team hit a turnaround and began to play quality football.
After starting 0-2, the Nittany Lions went on a five-game win streak and suffered only two more losses the rest of the season. One was at the hands of undefeated Ohio State, and the other was from Big Ten Legends Division winner Nebraska.
They found an offense and relied heavily on defense to push for wins. O’Brien was able to put together a team that could produce and believe in itself in the process.
There have been a number of splash hires throughout the country in the past few years—most notably at Ohio State, Penn State's Big Ten rival.
But Urban Meyer was a proven commodity, while O’Brien was not. Meyer walked into a stacked situation, unlike O'Brien, who saw a number of his top seniors transfer after the NCAA sanctions were announced.
Others new hires like Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M and Will Muschamp at Florida appear to be paying off, but no coach has faced the limitations that O’Brien has in such a short time.
This was a tough transition for a program on the mend, and there was no better solution than to hire the former coordinator and rising star on the coaching circuit.
The Nittany Lions needed a coach who could embrace the past while setting in motion a plan for the future. O'Brien has done just that.
After watching his success a year ago and the progress this program is making under his leadership, there is no denying that O’Brien is the best hire of the past five years.