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January 8, 2014

As Paterno's successor, O'Brien didn't get his due at Penn State

The drama surrounding Penn State University's football program added a revealing chapter last week. Bill O’Brien - who stepped in to coach during a difficult, if not impossible, time in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal - traded his Nittany Lions attire for that of the Houston Texans.

O'Brien has spent his time in purgatory, so a jump to the National Football League makes sense, at least professionally.

What makes his departure even more interesting was revealed in an interview he gave in early December - a month before the move was announced - with sports columnist David Jones of The Patriot News, a newspaper in central Pennsylvania.

O’Brien discussed the difficulties of winning in the world of big-time college football, let alone under NCAA-imposed sanctions that have included scholarship reductions and a ban on post-season play.

Living in the shadow of late coach Joe Paterno - even though his reputation was soiled by the Sandusky scandal - became too much. Penn State went 7-5 last season, and O’Brien’s overall record stood at 15-9. That would have been good enough for two bowl appearances if not for the post-season ban.

“I’m trying to field the most competitive football team I can with near death-penalty (expletive) sanctions,” O'Brien told Jones in a phone call. “Every time I say something like that and somebody prints it, it’s skewed as an excuse. And I’m not an excuse maker. I’m trying to do the best I can for the kids in that program. That’s all I care about is the kids in that program - as long as I’m the head football coach here.”

Then O’Brien hinted that his tenure at Penn State might be ending.

Coaches, especially those in high-powered programs, have two jobs: Produce teams that win, and woo influential alums and friends of the university.

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