Getting to Know Bill O’Brien

It will be strange on Saturday to look across from the Ohio State sideline and not see Joe Paterno, the man who patrolled the Nittany Lions football squad for 46 seasons. Instead, there will be a stern, younger looking man with a fiery personality and modern offensive mind. His name is Bill O’Brien and he will be a fixture on the sidelines for Penn State for a long time.

O’Brien came up through the coaching ranks relatively quickly compared to others. He started at his Alma Matter, Brown University, then went on to become offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech for seven seasons, left there to go to Maryland for two years to coach running backs, and then went to Duke for two seasons to coach their offense.

After 14 years as a relatively unknown college coach, he made the jump to the NFL with the New England Patriots in 2007. Working under legendary head coach Bill Belichick, O’Brien started out as an offensive assistant to Josh McDaniels and helped engineer the most explosive offense in NFL history. McDaniels left after the 2008 season and the keys of the offensive were given to Bill O’Brien. The Patriots sputtered in 2009, but went 14-2 in 2010 and 13-3 in 2011 before losing in the Super Bowl. He became more well known across the country after his verbal spat with Tom Brady on the sidelines in which the two had to be separated after a Brady interception. After Paterno was let go in midst of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, O’Brien interviewed and accepted the offer to become head coach at Penn State the week before his Patriots took on the Giants.

O’Brien was the focal point of scrutiny in their losses while he was offensive coordinator, but he changed the offensive from when McDaniels was there. Bill O’Brien’s offensive philosophy starts from the inside-out and McDaniels was opposite. Meaning that O’Brien wants his quarterback to focus on his tight ends, crossing routes and check downs. His offense rarely goes outside the numbers and he needs a smart, patient quarterback like the one he had in New England to run his offense to perfection. Quarterbacks that understand his system will have a high completion percentage and will be looking for the open receiver.  Not to say that O’Brien is against going down the field, but he feels there is no reason to force a ball down the sidelines into coverage when the tight end is open to check down to and gain five yards.

O’Brien befriended Chip Kelly, the offensive wiz at Oregon, and the two have been known to meet up in the off-season with Belichick and Urban Meyer to share offensive philosophies. Obviously the personal and the play calling is different between Oregon, Penn State and the Patriots, but their NASCAR package is very similar. After this weekend’s game versus the Buckeyes, really focus on Penn State’s fast pace, no huddle offense. Then on Sunday, watch the Patriots game versus the Rams and the similarities will jump out at you. It is no coincidence that these offensives are the best coached in their respective divisions or leagues.

NFL teams have been calling O’Brien after his team’s surprising 5-2 start to the season but his agent has stated that he is committed to Penn State. He may not be a fixture on the sidelines in Happy Valley as long as Paterno was but that does not happen as much in this era of coaching. Even with the harsh sanctions, expect O’Brien to use his NFL credentials to lure recruits to Happy Valley. It will be a tough order but do not count out Bill O’Brien.

Expect a chess match between Meyer and O’Brien this weekend and take advantage of seeing two of the most well coached offenses in the country go at it until the final whistle blows.




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