Does Bill O'Brien Want to Be the Next Joe Paterno or the Next Bill Belichick?

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor IOctober 15, 2013

Oct 12, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Bill O'Brien looks on from the sideline during the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Michigan 43-40 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Bill O'Brien is a Bill Belichick disciple, he loves the NFL and he'll jump at the opportunity to move to the big time stage as a head coach in the league as soon as possible—at least that's the prevailing narrative out there. 

It exists because there is no coach in America with a higher upside than O'Brien at the moment. NFL front-office types glow about him and how he's handled the unprecedented situation at Penn State makes him a wanted commodity in college coaching circles as well. 

Right now, he can pick his lane and no one would bat an eye one way or the other. Outside of Nick Saban, is there another coach in America with that kind of pull?

Yet, for all the rumors of NFL overtures and the narrative some are putting forth, Bill O'Brien's coaching DNA is as much college football as it is NFL. In fact, one could easily argue he's got more college football in him than NFL.

That, along with a guy by the name of Christian Hackenberg could be the things that keep O'Brien in the college football lane.

Amazingly, when discussing O'Brien's future, most writers and fans chose to gloss over the 14 year history O'Brien has in the college game.

Sep 14, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Central Florida Knights head coach George O'Leary (left) shakes hands with Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Bill O'Brien (right) prior to the game at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sp
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

They also chose to gloss over the fact that his first big mentor wasn't Belichick, but George O'Leary at Georgia Tech. 

You could even go as far as to say there is no relationship with Belichick if it weren't for O'Leary taking O'Brien under his wing in 1995.

O'Brien described his relationship with O'Leary as one of a demanding boss teaching a bunch of young guys how it's done (h/t to 

“He was a demanding boss,” O’Brien said. “He demanded a great work ethic from his staff, a great work ethic from his players. We all are grateful to him for that, because we learned a lot working for him.”

How many know that O'Brien's first coaching job was at Brown University in 1993? How many care that he spent more time coaching in the ACC than in the NFL (seven years to five)? 

All most see when looking at O'Brien are Penn State's sanctions and a coach who's name is hot thanks to what he did in one year, under extreme circumstances, at Penn State. 

Why would he want to deal with the issues brought on by NCAA sanctions, or recruiting or scholarship limits? Those things don't exist in the NFL. 

Yet, Bill O'Brien clearly has a love for the college game and what it can do to affect the lives of young men.

"I think, I really enjoy watching 18, 19, 20 or 21 year old guys improve," said O'Brien at Tuesday's Big Ten coaches teleconference. "I enjoy watching these guys get their degrees. I enjoy scenes like Saturday night in Beaver Stadium with a 108,000 fans, with the student section. I enjoy the student body here at Penn State."

Those are all things that speak more to being a college coach, than a man made of strictly NFL cloth and looking to move on fast.

However, it's not to say he isn't grateful or doesn't love the National Football League either. 

"Obviously, I've said this time and time again, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the National Football League and I always will; and I have a lot of respect for college football-what it's meant to me and my career, and the people that I've met from both leagues," said O'Brien.  

"But I just think the coaching aspect here at the college level is fun for me and I've enjoyed my 18 games here to this point." 

That said, it remains to be seen if O'Brien stays content in the college coaching arena, where he will earn an average of a "paltry" $3.2 million over the rest of the life of his contract, or if O'Brien would like the challenge of an NFL team of his own? 

Put more succinctly—does Bill O'Brien want to be more Joe Paterno or Bill Belichick moving forward? 

If money is the ultimate driver than it doesn't matter what Penn State or any other college does, the NFL will always be able to offer more than any college gig could ever dream of (yes, even Texas folks). 

However, with NCAA sanctions being eased up, O'Brien's job and the prospects of future success at one of the most visible and tradition-rich schools in the country, just got a lot more intriguing as well. 

Just imagine what lifting the postseason bowl ban would do to further the appeal of the Penn State job. It would certainly be a game-changer in recruiting and it would give O'Brien another measuring stick to work towards for this program and his resume.  

In a day and age where coaches are lucky to survive three seasons, let alone a decade or more in either college football or the NFL, it will likely come down to which part of O'Brien's coaching DNA wins out.

Chances are O'Brien will be approached time and again in the coming months about NFL openings and the decision he makes in those months may be the ultimate crossroads for his career. 

Whatever happens this coming offseason will tell us a lot about which side of his coaching DNA wins out at the end of the day—his collegiate roots or the pinnacle of the NFL?

Right now, he is saying all the right things to the college crowd and to the Penn Staters out there, but only Bill O'Brien knows what he is really thinking and feeling.


*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer. All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise noted. You can follow him on Twitter @ andycoppens.