By Travis Johnson
The Centre Daily Times
STATE COLLEGE - Bill O’Brien was a virtual unknown in the college football realm when Penn State plucked him from the New England Patriots and tabbed him to lead its football program through its darkest period.
Over the past two years, O’Brien - who was once simply that guy who hollered at Tom Brady - has become one of the most celebrated new residents in Centre County.
Not only did O’Brien find success in his two years on the field at Penn State in which his teams combined to go 15-9 in the wake of unprecedented NCAA sanctions, he was able to fit in off it, too. O’Brien, his wife Colleen and their two sons became fixtures in the community. They could be seen courtside inside Rec Hall just a few weeks ago when the men’s basketball team returned to the old venue. The O’Brien’s were also on hand for games at the Bryce Jordan Center and for wrestling duals at Rec Hall.
O’Brien made routine stops to Nittanyville - the tent city that forms outside of Beaver Stadium before home games where students camp out to get the best seats. His radio shows and public appearances were alway well-attended. His outreach missions to introduce himself and help re-brand Penn State football over the 30-stop Coaches Caravan tours were well-received.
In the end, he was in high demand and his former players had nothing but high praise for O’Brien, who is expected to sign a five-year contract to coach the Houston Texans Thursday.
The realization began to set in for Penn State players when reports that O’Brien had reached an agreement to become Houston’s next head coach surfaced Tuesday night.
“(sic)Its weird that I am one of the few penn state football players that will have 4 head coaches mindblown ohwell it’s the business NFL,“ junior receiver Matt Zanellato tweeted.
O’Brien never denied his ultimate aspiration was to one day coach an NFL team. While O’Brien hasn’t returned calls or messages left for him for more than a week, he admitted that the NFL was the pinnacle of coaching shortly after flirting with NFL teams last winter.
Most of his players didn’t take long to come to that realization. Most wished him luck.
“Congratulations to Coach Bill O’Brien,“ senior team co-captain John Urschel tweeted. “Couldn’t be happier for him and his family.“
Former center Matt Staniewitch, who played one season for O’Brien, called O’Brien’s two years “unbelievable.“
It wasn’t just players who joined in the congratulations.
“Good Luck Bill O’Brien. Thank you for two good years,“ State Sen. Jake Corman tweeted.
The former Penn State coach also had his detractors. Message-board posters took offense to the presumed notion that O’Brien had guaranteed players in the 2013 recruiting class that he’d stay around for at least the duration of their careers. O’Brien’s silence so far has also irked a lot of Penn State fans who have taken to social media to call O’Brien a fraud or liar.
None of those sentiments came from players who suited up for O’Brien, however.
“Coach OB following his dreams just like I followed mine. Can’t blame him for that,“ safety Jesse Della Valle tweeted.