One thing we know about big-time sports, college or professional: When someone says it isn't about the money, it's definitely about the money.
"It's not about money," Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien said Monday.
That was in response to questions about O'Brien's reported flirtations last week with the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles despite the fact he had just finished his first season at Penn State and is under contract to the university for seven more years. Pennlive.com reported Penn State subsequently sweetened O'Brien's salary by $1.3 million to $3.6 million next season to make it easier for him to turn down the NFL's advances.
"If it was about money, more than likely, I probably wouldn't be sitting here right now," O'Brien said. "I have never asked anyone for a raise. It gets my blood boiling a little bit when somebody tells somebody else or writes something that this was about money."
I had one thought as O'Brien went on and on:
Please, spare me the sanctimonious attitude.
I'm not sure why Penn State officials scheduled O'Brien's news conference. He didn't help himself with it. Instead, he came across as incredibly condescending.
• How dare you question my motives for talking to NFL teams?
• How dare you question my commitment to my Penn State players?
• How dare you question my long-term commitment to Penn State?
It was pretty sickening, actually.
It was beneath O'Brien, who is a really good coach and did terrific work this past season, going 8-4 with a team that easily could have been devastated by harsh NCAA sanctions and player defections after the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal. Although the late Joe Paterno and interim coach Tom Bradley, who was Paterno's longtime defensive coordinator, left him with a strong defense and wonderful team leader in linebacker Michael Mauti, he did magical things with the offense. Quarterback Matt McGloin was barely functional under the Paterno coaching staff. He became one of the Big Ten Conference's top quarterbacks in 2012.
It's also great news for Penn State that O'Brien is staying. It's hard to say a program that had Paterno for 125 years needs stability, but Penn State, at this point, absolutely needs it. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for a new coach to come in, deal with the sanctions, keep the team together and build on O'Brien's impressive start as a recruiter.
But those who want to give O'Brien sainthood for staying at Penn State need to realize he's no different than other major-college coaches, who routinely use leverage from outside interests to get bigger and better deals. LSU's Les Miles did it this offseason. So did Louisville's Charlie Strong. Oregon's Chip Kelly appears to be the latest. The coaches are smart. They either win or win bigger.
That's America, right?
We all want to do what's right - what's best - for ourselves and our families.
The coaches who lose me are the ones who try to be devious about it.
"I love coaching these kids," O'Brien said of his Penn State players.
Sure, he does.
Just not enough to flat-out turn down other potential opportunities in the NFL.
O'Brien probably didn't ask Penn State for a raise, but he had to know one would be coming after he had what he called "conversations ... that's as far as it went" with NFL clubs. He denied that his raise came from prominent Penn State alum and donor, Terry Pegula, as was reported by Pennlive.com. But that's probably a matter of semantics. There are ways to launder money so it doesn't appear to be coming from one booster. Big-time donors routinely step up to write a check at major-college football programs. It's understandable if Penn State doesn't want to be linked to that sort of thing right now. It was widely criticized during the Sandusky fallout for allowing the football tail to wag the university dog. The last thing it wants is for that image to be perpetuated.
O'Brien said he is fully committed to the 2013 Penn State team. As for his long-term commitment to Penn State and what he's telling recruits about his future, he said he has had "very honest and open discussions" with all of the players and their families. "There's a lot of trust there."
The way O'Brien refused to rule out jumping to the NFL in 2014?
"I mean, that's next year," he said. "Believe me, I plan to be at Penn State ... I'm very, very thrilled to be the head football coach at Penn State."
I absolutely believe O'Brien.
Sure, I do.
For now, anyway.
Ron Cook: email@example.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
First Published January 7, 2013 5:00 AM