Penn State University expected a lot of Bill O’Brien, who for two seasons was its head football coach to replace the legendary Joe Paterno who was in charge for 46 years — until the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal became the worm in the apple that ate the very core of the program.
Given the recriminations and bitterness that attended Mr. Paterno’s ouster and the severe sanctions imposed on Penn State by the NCAA, Mr. O’Brien’s job description could have included healer, miracle worker, diplomat and sturdy rock in a storm.
In fact, he filled those roles admirably well. In spite of player defections, a ban on bowl games and initially fewer scholarships, he brought pride back to the Nittany Lions. Low expectations were turned into encouraging results as he compiled an enviable record of 15-9 over two years. His players reportedly loved him.
But Penn State found that he was no more than he said he was — a good football coach, one who wanted to take his talents to the highest level, the National Football League. On Thursday the university officially announced that he will leave to become the coach of the Houston Texans.
It’s a blow to Penn State, but the school community should not blame the outgoing coach who never made a secret of his NFL ambitions.
Sure, it leaves the school in the position of having to start all over again, but Mr. O’Brien deserves credit for doing his job well. He righted the ship and set it on a course for future success. And he showed that it could be done by a mere mortal, not a legend.