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Penn State coach O'Brien-to-the-NFL talk is about to heat up

| Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012, 6:28 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Bill O'Brien talks with quarterback Steven Bench during the game against Temple on Sept. 22, 2012, at Beaver Stadium in University Park.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State's new head football coach Bill O'Brien coaches during the Blue-White scrimmage on April 21, 2012, at Beaver Stadium in University Park.

Speculation about Bill O'Brien leaving Penn State for the NFL is about to shift into overdrive.

More than half of the 20 NFL teams that did not make the postseason could make a change at head coach, and dominos figure to start falling Monday — the start of the offseason for squads that did not qualify for the playoffs.

ESPN reported that O'Brien, who completed his first season at Penn State last month, will draw the most interest from NFL teams considering hiring a college coach. O'Brien could be on the short list of the Browns and Eagles, according to ESPN.

O'Brien, who declined to discuss his future at Penn State when asked about it during the season, told an Atlanta radio station earlier this month that his plan is to stay at Penn State.

Penn State acting athletic director Dave Joyner told the Tribune-Review this month that he expects O'Brien to stay in Happy Valley for the foreseeable future.

“When we were looking for the next coach, we wanted someone that wanted to be here for a long time, and we wanted somebody that wasn't looking at this as a stepping stone,” Joyner said. “We wanted someone that embraced that, and Bill has embraced that from the first moment I talked to him.”

O'Brien and Penn State exceeded expectations after the NCAA hit the football program with severe sanctions in July. The first-year coach held the program together after the NCAA allowed players to transfer without penalty, and he guided Penn State to an 8-4 record.

O'Brien has won two national coach of the year awards and was named Big Ten Coach of the Year by the media and his fellow coaches.

Teams interested in O'Brien would have to pay a hefty fee to buy out his contract. O'Brien has four years at about $2.3 million per year on the contract he signed a year ago. Four more years were added to the contract after the NCAA sanctioned Penn State, but it is not clear whether the extra years would be part of a buyout.

O'Brien has been linked to presumed NFL coaching openings because of his success at Penn State and his NFL background. O'Brien rose from offensive assistant to coordinator in five seasons with the New England Patriots.

O'Brien has told recruits and their families that he is committed to Penn State and cannot control speculation about the NFL.

“He said basically you're going to hear his name any time an NFL job comes open as long as he's successful at Penn State,” Brian Breneman, the father of prized recruit Adam Breneman, told the Trib recently. “We just have to trust that he's going to stay with it.”

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com.

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