According to multiple reports, Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien has accepted the vacant head coaching position at Penn State, and will be introduced by the team on Saturday (according to a Chris Mortensen ESPN report).
The news isn't exactly unexpected. Over the past weekend there were conflicting reports over O'Brien's interest in the position, but with word coming from O'Brien's agent earlier today that he would be interviewing for the Penn State position, it seemed to be only a matter of time that O'Brien accepted a position somewhere else.
The two questions that immediately come to everyone's mind with this news is first, will O'Brien coach through the end of the season? And second, who will replace O'Brien as the offensive coordinator for the Patriots?
The first question has already been answered by ESPN's Adam Schefter. According to Schefter, O'Brien will pull "double duty" throughout the Patriots playoff run. This is what Charlie Weis did back in 2004 when he had been hired by Notre Dame. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl that year, but you can't deny that this news has to be somewhat distracting not only to O'Brien's focus on the team, but in the locker room as well. O'Brien has every right to pursue further career opportunities, but as a Patriots fan, the news can be a little frustrating considering its timing.
The second question probably will not be answered for some time. When the team's last offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, departed to be the head coach in Denver after the 2008 season, the Patriots had a few viable in-house candidates including O'Brien who was groomed for the job. This time around, the Patriots have less candidates, unless the team were to surprise and give either running back coach Ivan Fears or offensive line / assistant head coach Dante Scarnecchia the responsibilities (I think Belichick, the team, and the coaches themselves are happy with the current situation at those spots).
The two most viable in-house candidates appear to be Brian Ferentz, the tight ends coach and Chad O'Shea, the receivers coach. I think Ferentz needs a few more years of experience before taking on such a role. And while O'Shea could be a candidate, I could also see the team making a move to bring back Josh McDaniels. ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss speculated the same thing:
A Josh McDaniels return, if he's ultimately available (he was not fired when Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo was shown the door and is still under contract in St. Louis), makes a lot of sense. It was McDaniels' departure following the 2008 season to become Broncos head coach that opened the door for O'Brien's ascent up the Patriots' coaching ladder, giving him the chance to work with Tom Brady as quarterbacks coach/playcaller. Unlike some other Patriots assistants who have left to become head coaches elsewhere, no bridges have been burned when it comes to McDaniels and the Patriots.
Of course, we want to wish Bill O'Brien the best of luck at Penn State. He was underrated in terms of being a strong voice. His personality was brash, and I liked it. His play calling has been criticized at times for being to predictable, but I think he's done a pretty solid job overall the past three years, and has done a nice job transitioning the Patriots from the 3-WR base in 2009, to the power-TE offense we've seen the past two years in New England.