He took over Penn State’s football program at its most difficult time. Some players fled, but many stayed. They did so because he gave them his word that he’d stay too, that he was in it for the long haul, but if after two seasons, Bill O’Brien leaves will anyone be able to trust him again?
On Saturday, it was reported O’Brien and the Texans had entered negotiations on a contract that would make him the Texans coach. A few hours later a recruit said O’Brien told him he wasn’t leaving. This is after he concluded his speech at Penn State’s football banquet with “See you next year”. He wouldn’t be the first coach to lie about his future plans, but this would be bad, it will get ugly, and it will hurt him in the long run.
Penn State is a unique situation. When the NCAA hit the football program with sanctions that included a four-year bowl ban, it also said that all players would be allowed to transfer without having to sit out a season. Staying at Happy Valley meant they wouldn’t have a chance to play for a championship of any kind. They didn’t care. A lot of those players could’ve played wherever they wanted and played for whatever they wanted, but O’Brien convinced them to stay, to help rebuild the program.
If he does leave, the focus will turn to the players he left in the dust. Those players will be vocal. They will call him a liar. Talk about how they trusted him, and how he betrayed them. If you don’t think that could hurt him in his next job you’re just as naïve as the kids he’s leaving.
There’s a certain innocence that big-time college football players have. That’s why they believe it when their coaches tell them they’re staying while they have one foot out the door. I guarantee you that 90 percent of Todd Graham’s players at Arizona State believe he’ll never leave them even though he’s on his fourth job in less than a decade. NFL players aren’t like that, they see through the BS.
Professional athletes are cynical. It isn’t just a game anymore, now it’s a livelihood, and somewhere along the way they feel like they’ve been screwed by or lied to by someone. You have to earn that trust, and once that trust is lost, it’s hard to get back.
Pretend for a minute you’re a Texans player and Bill O’Brien has been named your new coach. In his introductory press conference he talks about how he wants to “build something special” and how he’s “in it for the long haul”. He also throws around words like “commitment” and “family”. In the back of your mind aren’t you thinking to yourself “Isn’t this the stuff he said to all those Penn State players that have been pouting on TV? He lied to them, how do I know he won’t do the same to me?”
You can’t be a successful NFL head coach if your players don’t believe in you. I don’t care how smart you are or how organized you are or how great staff you have around you. You’re not winning games if your players don’t trust you. He will have already lied to one team, why should his new team believe he wouldn’t do it again. All a man can do is give you his word, and right now, if he takes the Texans job, it would appear Bill O’Brien’s word isn’t worth a whole lot.Follow @AdamSpolane