Bob Smizik: Bill O'Brien reportedly headed to NFL


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With Penn State coach Bill O’Brien being described by ESPN.com as the "overwhelming favorite" to accept a job with the NFL's Houston Texans, let the speculation begin.

Who will replace O’Brien, who has been on the job two seasons as the replacement for Joe Paterno?

Here’s a name that will be mentioned a lot and will good reason: James Franklin.

Franklin, the head coach at Vanderbilt, is a rising star and a Pennsylvania native.

Franklin, 41, took over a Vanderbilt program in 2011 that had been 4-20 overall and 1-15 in the Southeastern Conference the two previous seasons. In three years, he is 23-15 overall and 11-13 in the SEC, the best conference in the country. The Commodores were 5-3 in the conference in 2012, their most wins ever in the SEC. Vanderbilt will play Houston in a bowl game Jan. 4.

Franklin is a native of Langhorne, Pa., in Bucks County. He played college football at East Stroudsburg.

The departure of O’Brien comes as no great surprise. He has made no attempt to hide the fact the NFL was his desired destination. He was linked to the Philadelphia Eagles job after the 2012 Penn State season.

O’Brien has worked wonders at Penn State, rallying a program that was crushed by NCAA sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Penn State was 8-4 in 2012 and 7-5 this past season. He was Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2012.

There will be complaints from some about O’Brien leaving, but his contract allows him to do so, at a steep financial cost. That’s the way of the world in college football. Contracts are not very binding. Any Penn State fan upset about O’Brien leaving should remember that his successor will almost certainly also be leaving a contract early.

Just as the O’Brien hire was crucial, so is this one. O’Brien has Penn State on the right track, but sanctions are still in place and the program is not close to full strength.


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