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O'Brien accepts Penn State job

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  January 5, 2012 11:36 PM

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Bill O'Brien, who has directed the Patriots' offense the past three seasons, will become the next head coach at Penn State, according to league sources.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen first reported the news.

O'Brien, who was born in Dorchester but raised in Andover, will stay on until the Patriots' season concludes, similar to the situation the team encountered when then-offensive coordinator Charlie Weis accepted the Notre Dame job in 2004 and stayed on through the Super Bowl run.

O'Brien, 42, came to the Patriots in 2007 as an offensive assistant after coaching at the collegiate level for 14 years, including at his alma mater Brown.

He was named receivers coach in '08 and ascended to quarterbacks coach and playcaller when Josh McDaniels left to coach the Broncos following the '08 season. O'Brien officially got the offensive coordinator title before this season.

Under O'Brien, the Patriots ranked sixth, first and third in points scored in the NFL. In yards, they were third, eighth and second this season.

Analysis

Despite how some fans viewed him, O'Brien is an excellent coach. He could have had his pick of NFL jobs in the near future but not everyone aspires to be an NFL head coach, at least not right now, especially with a young family with some personal concerns. The time demands are much greater in the pros compared to college. You can actually have a semblance life. It's still not ideal, but it's better than the NFL. Of course, everything at that level depends on recruiting, so for O'Brien's sake, I hope he has a good chief recruiter in mind.

Now, where does that leave the Patriots?

In the short term, this won't have much of an effect. O'Brien will do his job and use whatever free time he has to set the wheels in motion at Penn State. It's not perfect, but they'll deal with it.

As for the Patriots going forward, what you have to remember is the Patriots have their own system. It's much different than other NFL teams, where coordinators come in with their own playbooks and completely change everything.

With Bill Belichick and several key assistants -- Dante Scarnecchia and Ivan Fears on offense, Pepper Johnson on defense and Scott O'Brien (no relation) with special teams -- around for the duration, the Patriots run the Patriots' defense and offense regardless of who comes and goes. The coordinators put their own spin on things, but the core is the same and will continue to be that way.

As far as who replaces O'Brien long-term, here are the likely scenarios:

  • The return of Josh McDaniels?: The man O'Brien replaced is still under contract with the Rams, but Patriots fans should be watching the coaching searches in St. Louis and Miami. If Jeff Fisher accepts the Rams job -- which many think he will -- then McDaniels will undoubtedly be cut loose. Fisher doesn't like that kind of wide open offense, and McDaniels won no points with Fisher when he basically said the Titans were coached to play dirty after Denver's 2010 victory. If Fisher goes to Miami and the Rams were to hire a defensive minded coach, then McDaniels could stay. Of course, the Chiefs -- with a possible older head coach if Romeo Crennel gets the job -- could be a viable option. But McDaniels does things with Belichick's blessing, and so does Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli. If Belichick wants McDaniels back, he'll get him. We would term McDaniel's return as the most likely scenario. It's far from certain, but if we were betting, this is where we would put our money. (UPDATE: Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported both the Patriots and Chiefs requested permission to speak with McDaniels but it's not known whether the Rams granted that permission).
  • Promotion from within: Fears, the veteran running backs coach, could handle things, but the Patriots have a rising coaching star in tight ends Brian Ferentz. He's just 28, could he handle the playcalling duties? Quite possibly. Considering what he's done with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in two seasons, Ferentz could handle just about anything. The Patriots would probably like him to serve under a McDaniels type for a year or two before replacing McDaniels when he gets another head coaching job. Chad O'Shea, the receivers coach, is in his ninth NFL season -- six seasons elsewhere -- is another candidate. Plus, Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady control a lot of the offense, so if there's any team that could afford to go young at quarterbacks coach/playcaller, it's the Patriots. That's what they did with McDaniels, who at 28 (same age as Ferentz) became quarterbacks coach in '04 (after two seasons as a defensive assistant), and called the plays starting a year later in '05.
News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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