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Penn State moving forward with O'Brien

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By Scott Brown
Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, 11:24 p.m.

A couple of hours before Bill O'Brien publicly reaffirmed his commitment to Penn State on Thursday night, Nittany Lions defensive backs received a text message from their position coach.

John Butler told them that their coaches weren't going anywhere. He also reminded the players to be ready for the start of offseason training Monday.

Penn State forges ahead with O'Brien after the first-year coach talked with two NFL teams and was linked to several others that have head-coaching openings. All indications are O'Brien never seriously considered leaving Penn State despite speculation that caused panic among many Nittany Lions fans.

O'Brien told recruits at the beginning of the week to brace for reports of his leaving for the NFL but not to give them credence. O'Brien met with the Browns and Eagles earlier this week, but agent Joe Linta said talks were relatively short and never advanced “past first base.”

A buyout that has been reported as anywhere from $9 million to $18 million was believed to be a possible deterrent to an NFL team hiring O'Brien. But Linta said the buyout never became an issue because O'Brien did not seriously consider leaving Penn State after one season.

“Any report that said the buyout entered into the decision (to stay) is patently false,” Linta told the Tribune-Review on Friday. “This decision was based on integrity and commitment.”

Linta declined to talk specifics of the buyout in O'Brien's contract.

O'Brien received a $1.3 million gift from Penn State alumnus Terry Pegula for staying, but Linta said O'Brien did not have any part of his contract reworked as part of the deal.

O'Brien's decision didn't come as a surprise to Erick Hackenberg, father of prized quarterback recruit Christian Hackenberg.

The elder Hackenberg said he spoke with O'Brien at the beginning of the week and that “Bill gave us absolute assurance that he would coach Penn State next year.”

Hackenberg and tight end Adam Breneman headline the recruits who have given Penn State a verbal commitment and can sign with the school Feb. 6.

Each talked to O'Brien on Thursday night from Orlando, Fla., where they have been all week preparing for the 2013 Under Amour All-American Game.

“Nothing's changed,” Erick Hackenberg said.

O'Brien's flirtation with the NFL, brief as it was, could raise questions about his long-term commitment to Penn State.

O'Brien, who has eight years left on his contract, still has to recruit on two fronts because current Penn State players are allowed to transfer without penalty until the start of the 2013 season.

Cornerback Stephon Morris, one of the senior leaders on the 2012 team, said he doesn't believe O'Brien talking with two NFL teams will be an issue with current and future players.

“You should want to play for a coach that is getting NFL buzz,” said Morris, who is training at Penn State and will graduate this spring. “As a young guy I wouldn't be worried at all. He's honest and loyal. I never thought he was going to leave anyway.”

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @ScottBrown_Trib.

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