Bill O'Brien Said Right Things, Did Another to Penn State

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor IJanuary 1, 2014

Nov 23, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Bill O'Brien prior to the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

“We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior." 

Those words, spoken by author Stephen M.R. Covey, seem rather appropriate with the reports of Bill O'Brien's departure from Penn State for the Houston Texans of the NFL, per Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen of ESPN.

Penn State should say thank you to Bill O'Brien for his on-field results after leading the program to a 15-9 record in his two-year stint in Happy Valley under harsh NCAA sanctions.

Off the field, though, the Nittany Lions have every right to feel slighted by their now ex-head coach—because what Bill O'Brien said and did at Penn State were two very different things, despite what were probably the best of intentions.

No words in O'Brien's departure echo more than ones spoken in September ahead of Penn State's matchup with UCF, when he told Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel:

The players who are here now and the guys who were here last year could've gone anywhere. They didn't have to stay at Penn State, but they committed to each other, they committed to Penn State, and they committed to our coaching staff. I felt it was important that they understood that I was committed to them. What are you if you're not a man of your word?

O'Brien was adept at saying exactly the right things at exactly the right times, no matter the audience and right up to the last days in State College.

It started at the very beginning for O'Brien, who set a tone of rising above the fray and focusing the attention on the players in the program.

To say fans were initially split on his hire would be an understatement. The Penn State "family" was even more upset about O'Brien being hired over someone from within the ranks of said "family," typified by former Penn State linebacker Brandon Short's comments: "Penn State is a family and it is real and if they choose to get rid of (defensive coordinator Tom) Bradley and not hire a Penn State coach, then they've turned their backs on our entire family."

Who can forget the epic post-hire rant by another former linebacker, LaVar Arrington?

By these people making the decisions the way that they are making them, basically coinciding with everything that's being written about our university, if they get rid of Tom Bradley, that means they in essence have accepted the fact that we are all guilty. You might as well call it all the same thing. What we stood for and what we represented for so long, what we have been taught, what we have been trained to know and the values that I raise my own children with, you're basically telling me it's good, only as long as times are good.

At his introductory press conference, O'Brien said all the right things and walked the tightrope needed in becoming the man to replace the legend, Joe Paterno.

"Replacing a legend, I've heard it a lot in the past few days. I'm not here to be Joe Paterno. There's only one Joe Paterno," O'Brien said according to "What I'm going to try to do is be Bill O'Brien and we're going to do the best we can to continue the success that he's had here for many, many years."

During the Penn State scandal and impending sanctions, O'Brien once again was there to be the rock for the program, publicly and privately saying all the right things.

Nov 16, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Bill O'Brien leads his team on the field in front of defensive tackle DaQuan Jones (91) prior to the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Beaver Stadium.  Penn State defeated P
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

He continuously reaffirmed his commitment to the players and the program, emphasizing how much this team needed to become a family and rally around each other during the tough years ahead.

That same pitch worked in recruiting, where O'Brien reeled in prized quarterback Christian Hackenberg as part of the Big Ten's fourth-best class in 2013 (according to 247Sports) and had the third-best Big Ten class going for 2014.

The big name for 2014 is Thomas Holley, and as recently as a week ago O'Brien was still committing his future to Penn State despite the rumors of an NFL return.

“I just off the phone with him," Holley told 247Sports' Luke Stampini. "He said he isn’t going. It’s not true."

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Head coach Bill O'Brien of the Penn State Nittany Lions (C) sings the schools fight song with the team after defeating the Navy Midshipmen 34-7 at Beaver Stadium on September 15, 2012 in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Ph
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Maybe it should've been a case of "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me," because O'Brien's actions said he wasn't long for Penn State's future.

First it was reworking his contract for a bigger payday following an unexpected 8-4 season in 2012—one in which he also got a massive bonus as of 12:01 on January 1, 2014.

That should've been the clue players and recruits needed to show them just how "committed" O'Brien was to them and the Penn State program.

However, the biggest one emerged just before Christmas, when word got out that O'Brien asked for his NFL buyout clause to be reduced, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

If that didn't put up red flags that something was about to happen, not much will.

For recruits and their families, a coach's word is all they have to go on sometimes. After all, you are about to entrust your child to a coach and school for the next four years or so. If you can't trust that coach, you have nothing.

Bill O'Brien has every right to do what he thinks is in his and his family's best interest, and if that's going to the Houston Texans, he's making the right choice for that situation.

How O'Brien went about his apparent exit from Penn State also gives clues as to why Penn Staters have every right to be upset.

O'Brien's words and actions over the last two years don't add up to a man that was ever truly committed to Penn State for the long term, like he claimed from day one to the bitter end.

For the players who stuck around and the recruits who committed to the program despite its uncertain future, O'Brien's departure serves as a harsh reminder that words and actions need to be aligned for trust to really occur.


Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.


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