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PSU community bids fond farewell to O'Brien

| Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 6:57 p.m.

Two seasons after succeeding Joe Paterno as Penn State football coach, Bill O'Brien welcomed the new year as the new coach of the Houston Texans.

The hiring, expected to become official Thursday, resulted from O'Brien's success amid the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal and resultant NCAA sanctions.

O'Brien's efforts also seemed to ease the sting of what might have been viewed as a painfully abrupt departure.

“Fans should not blame O'Brien for anything right now,” Penn State football historian Lou Prato said. “He saved the program.”

“He's a bright, capable, ambitious guy,” said John S. Nichols, who was part of the six-member search committee that recommended O'Brien's hiring in January 2012.

Nichols, a Penn State professor emeritus of communications and international affairs, said he would have preferred O'Brien stay longer but added, “He did very good things here under difficult circumstances, and that made him highly marketable.”

A former New England Patriots assistant, O'Brien almost certainly will receive a salary bump from his reported $3.6 million Penn State salary. Also, being an NFL coach carries allure and prestige that goes beyond money.

“For good or for evil, Penn State has been forced to join the real world of college football,” Nichols said. “Penn State got spoiled in that it had a longtime coach.”

Paterno was head coach for 46 years.

“This is very new territory,” Nichols said.

“He doesn't owe anything to the fans,” Prato said of O'Brien. “What he owes is to the players. If they're complaining, that's different.”

Most of the players don't seem to be complaining, at least publicly.

Many took to social media to bid farewell.

“I'm happy for Coach OB,” junior running back Bill Belton posted on Twitter. “Truly helped me personally and this university over the last two years. Just want to say thank you!”

Tweeted junior linebacker Mike Hull, “Coach O'Brien is a great coach and a great person! Proud to have called him my coach. It was his dream to coach in the NFL. Best of luck.”

Former Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington, who has been critical of the university's Board of Trustees, said he bears O'Brien no ill will for leaving. But he told pennstate.247sports.com that “a real Penn Stater” might have had “a different state of mind.”

O'Brien had no prior connections with the university. That was a subject explored in a Wednesday column by David Jones on The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News website that quoted O'Brien as being frustrated with what he saw as criticism from “the Paterno people.”

Prato and Nichols refuted that as a reason for O'Brien's departure.

“Bill O'Brien left because he got a great offer to be an NFL coach,” Prato said.

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com or via Twitter@BCohn_Trib.

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