O'Brien's Penn State status in limbo

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Now that the NFL regular season has ended, the league's coaching carousel starts will spin in earnest. The question is whether coach Bill O'Brien will stay at Penn State or take the job with the Houston Texans.

NFL shows Sunday reported that O'Brien, 44, remained the "overwhelming favorite" (ESPN) to become the Texans' new head coach, and that he was "expected to get that job" (Fox Sports) after two successful years as the Nittany Lions' coach.

But there also are some indications that O'Brien's move back to the NFL isn't as certain as the reports would make one believe.

The father of Christian Hackenberg, Penn State's star quarterback, told the Harrisburg Patriot-News Saturday night that his son and O'Brien had talked, and indicated there was no need to panic.

"They had their own conversation," Erick Hackenberg said. "He asked Christian for it to stay between the two of them, so that's what's going to happen. He's talked to Bill, and we're comfortable with where it stands."

Christian Hackenberg was the first player to commit after O'Brien took over in January 2012, and kept his promise despite the imposition of harsh NCAA sanctions, so there is trust between coach and family.

"Coach has never given Christian or any other people any reason to believe he's not a guy of his word," Erick Hackenberg said.

CBS reporter Jason La Canfora said he learned that the search firm working for the Texans and examining O'Brien "has caused some pause" for the team by mentioning the lack of success as head coaches of former assistants who worked for New England coach Bill Belichick, including Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini.

La Canfora said the firm also cited "power grabs" by unnamed former Patriots assistants, plus O'Brien's "issues" in dealing with athletic director Dave Joyner, and the departure recently of linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher.

Still, the consensus is that the Texans, led by chairman Bob McNair, liked what they heard from O'Brien in talks Thursday at O'Brien's vacation home on Cape Cod. Multiple reports, however, said the Texans still are interested in talking with San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, a former head coach of the Arizona Cardinals and a former offensive coordinator for the Steelers.

McNair told the Houston Chronicle Saturday that "the process continues" and the search for a new coach to replace Gary Kubiak, who was fired Dec. 6, "isn't over." If the Texans hire O'Brien, they would be expected to pay the $6.7 buyout for O'Brien contract, which has 31/2 years left.

NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport said Joyner is prepared to fly to Florida to speak with Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, a former Penn State assistant, if O'Brien takes the Houston job. Rapoport also said O'Brien spoke with his staff about being ready to join him in the NFL.

Even with the rumors about O'Brien, Penn State received its 19th commitment for 2014, 6-foot-7, 300-pound offensive tackle Chasz Wright of Woodbridge, Va., according to several recruiting websites. Wright, from Milford Academy, originally made a verbal commitment to Temple but has switched to Penn State and is due to enroll in January.

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