Could Bill O'Brien come back to the Big Ten?
CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora reported Sunday that the former Penn State head coach and current Houston Texans head coach has interest in the head-coaching opening at Maryland.
Texans embattled coach Bill O'Brien, perhaps headed to a showdown with general manager Rick Smith this offseason as ownership mulls a change in its power structure, is very intrigued by the opening at the University of Maryland, according to several sources close to the school, and his interest in the job is not lost on the school's primary boosters.
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Maryland's head-coaching job is open after the school fired Randy Edsall earlier this season. Edsall had limited success, posting a 22-33 record while leading the Terps and reaching just two bowl games in four and a half seasons.
O'Brien did a terrific job leading the Penn State program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, convincing a number of players to stick with the Nittany Lions during a period of uncertainty and leading the team to winning records in both of his seasons (2012 and 2013) despite serious scholarship limitations and a postseason ban. O'Brien amassed a 15-9 record in his two seasons in Happy Valley.
But it seemed even while he was still the Penn State head coach that a departure for the NFL wasn't far away, and the former New England Patriots offensive coordinator left to take over the Texans ahead of last season, Penn State filling the head-coaching vacancy with James Franklin.
Maryland does not seem to be the biggest opportunity for O'Brien, as his name has been speculated as an option for much higher-profile head-coaching openings in college football. But he's found limited success and a less-than-ideal working environment in Houston, and O'Brien is an East Coast native who spent two seasons as Maryland's running backs coach in 2003 and 2004.
The Terps job has its positives, of course, chief among them close ties with Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, which provides a recruiting advantage and will help support a new multi-million-dollar athletics facility. The school's proximity to a fertile recruiting area in the Mid Atlantic region is also a plus. Being a member of the Big Ten brings financial benefits.
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According to La Canfora, it sounds as if the Under Armour boss will have a lot of sway when it comes to who the next Maryland coach will be, and O'Brien fits his criteria, the same that was outlined by athletics director Kevin Anderson when Edsall was fired.
The Maryland job is more attractive than many on the outside perceive, especially given Plank's financial and emotional commitment to the school and his desire to turn it into a Big Ten power, including a plan to build state-of-the-art training facilities.
O'Brien's perception as having a difficult demeanor, and of leaving jobs quickly, has not made the prospect of a return to College Park very popular among some alumni — though his optics generally fit what Plank has told confidants he is looking for: a young (under-50), bright offensive mind who could run an attractive, pro-style offense.
The Terps play in the extremely competitive Big Ten East Division, currently dominated by Ohio State and Michigan State and stocked with traditional powers re-finding their footing in Michigan and Penn State. Going head-to-head in recruiting battles with those four schools would certainly prove difficult, and leading a program that's low on the totem pole in such a competitive division — meaning few opportunities to rack up wins — could prove unattractive to many candidates. But it was O'Brien who took on the challenge of guiding Penn State in that difficult time both on and off the field, and he exceeded the expectations of many.
O'Brien is a big name, and his addition — or rather, return — to a divisional coaching roster that includes Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio, Jim Harbaugh and Franklin would be huge for the conference.