O’Brien directed the Patriots’ offense for several years before moving on to Penn State last season, when he led the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 record and new hope after a year racked by the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Now, the Browns and Eagles are among the teams that are very interested in O’Brien, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. The Browns fired coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert on Monday morning, and the Eagles have parted ways with Andy Reid. Five other teams have head coaching vacancies as of early Monday afternoon, with the Cardinals, Chargers, Bears, Bills and Chiefs all firing their top men.
While O’Brien has long said he is committed to rebuilding Penn State to its former glory, the situation may have changed enough over the past year that he’s now willing to consider leaving the school. When O’Brien took the job, he knew the school and former coach Joe Paterno were under siege for Sandusky’s abuse allegations, but he reportedly didn’t know that the situation could lead to NCAA sanctions, according to Mortensen. Now that the program has been severely limited by a variety of sanctions — most of which will affect the team in the coming years — O’Brien has a taller task ahead.
Mortensen said “it would qualify as a surprise” if O’Brien left after being named the Big Ten Coach of the Year last season and leading Penn State to a better finish than anyone expected, but the possibility is apparently on his radar.
O’Brien reportedly has a $9.2 million buyout on his contract, but it’s unknown whether that forbids him from taking an NFL job, and also whether the details of the buyout could be adjusted since O’Brien was unaware that NCAA sanctions were a possibility.