I never expected Bill O'Brien to be Joe Paterno, and I firmly believe that the vast majority of the fan base knew he would leap to the NFL in time. And we were okay with that, mostly because the assumption went that he would lead Penn State back to prominence before doing so. Some could argue he already did during his two years here, but that doesn't take the idea of Christian Hackenburg and Bill O'Brien celebrating the 2016 Big Ten Championship together out of our heads, nor the sting of his silent departure from our hearts.
Publicly, Bill O'Brien embraced Penn State the way hundreds of thousands of fans and alumni have. He sat in the front row at basketball games. He toured the state promoting Penn State Athletics from Scranton to South Philly. When I danced in THON 2012, Bill O'Brien sent me a letter of encouragement. He gave every indication that he felt the same passion for Penn State as we did.
And, really, that's what hurts. We cannot fathom the idea that someone would not want to be a part of the Penn State family, our family. That makes us no better or worse than any other fan base in major college football, except that at Penn State, the coaches felt, and still feel in the case of Larry Johnson Sr., that way too. Whether this represents a football #culture or simply a fan base with the same small town ideals as its epicenter, I'm not sure, but like it or not that's how "We Are."
In the end, it appears, O'Brien chose to make his decision as much about his frustration at Penn State as his desire to pursue football's crown jewel, the Lombardi Trophy. The quotes published in David Jones' piece earlier this week seem to confirm that, depicting an exasperated man who simply couldn't grin and bear it anymore in the face of university leadership questions and occasional fan base bickering.
This from the same coach who high-fived the first row of the student section after wins and emphatically stated to fans that "you are why we want to be here" in 2012.
This from the same coach who took the job knowing he followed a college football legend and Penn State pillar.
This from the same coach who had the adulation of 99.9% of the Penn State fan base and State College community.
This from the same coach getting paid $3.6 million for his first head coaching job and a year later having the balls to ask for Penn State to lower his NFL buyout (which they did).
This from the same coach who preached loyalty and commitment to his players and recruits under the premise that his time at Penn State would span theirs as well.
But I digress.
Regardless of where you fall on the issue, Bill O'Brien taught us the same philosophy that we must again adopt as a fan base, which is that no one man is bigger than Penn State. For this, we should be grateful, because it means we have hope for the soon-to-be-sanction-free future after few predicted our survival at all in July 2012. Now, it seems, Penn State's opening has as much buzz as that at Texas or at USC a few weeks back.
For that, I cannot ignore what O'Brien accomplished here just because I didn't like the way it ended.
Thank you for the memories, Bill. Good luck in the NFL, I guess.
- John Tecce
Follow John on Twitter @JohnTCpsu
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