Bill O'Brien

Like It Or Not, Bill O’Brien Has Impressive Track Record

Generally, columns like the one you are about to read are supposed to be filled with thought-provoking opinions that are presented in such a way as to perhaps sway a reader’s own opinion on a particular subject.

This, however, is going to be the rare column without a single opinion or emotion. It’s just going to be facts. And some people aren’t going to like them.

Starting with the fact that I have no idea if the hire of Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator of Ryan Day’s Ohio State Buckeyes is going to work out. Based on many boisterous opinions on social media, however, it’s not going to work out at all.

Some are calling this the final rusty nail in Ryan Day’s 56-8 coffin, including ESPN’s Desmond Howard, who replied to an ESPN Instagram post about O’Brien’s hire Thursday night.

Does it make me a bad person to lump the angry Ohio State fans into the same group as Desmond Howard? Yes. Am I okay with that? Oh, you betcha. Remember, this is a column that is only dealing with facts.

Writing a column to counter internet reaction is about as quixotic as a person can get, but these truths aren’t going to present themselves.

First, let’s start with what a bunch of people are saying. Namely, what the hell is Ryan Day thinking?

Well, probably the same thing Nick Saban and Bill Belichick were thinking when they hired O’Brien for the same job. The greatest college football coach of all time hired him to run his offense. Then arguably the best NFL coach of all time hired him away to do the same thing for his team, for the second time.

This is like Jack Bauer and James Bond vouching for your ability to perform under pressure while the clock is quickly ticking down.

A year ago, Ryan Day began talking about relinquishing some play-calling duties so that he could have more time for other aspects of being a head coach. That never materialized, but it was clear this past season that he needed to continue to explore the possibility.

It is assumed that Bill O’Brien will be handed the play-calling keys, but even if he isn’t, he will give a veteran eye up in the press box. This will be his 30th year as a major college or NFL coach, so he’s seen it all and he communicates it very well.

Don’t believe me? Here’s what Alabama quarterback Bryce Young said back in August of 2021 before he would go on that season to throw for 4,872 yards with 47 touchdowns and win the Heisman Trophy in O’Brien’s first season as Alabama’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

“Coach O’Brien coming in has been great for me. It really has been a super smooth transition. When he first came in, I didn’t know him previously, didn’t have any relationship with him. I knew the experience he had, I knew he was from the NFL, knew he had all this title. When he came in what really shocked me was how open and how humble and how well he articulated everything to me.

“He’s super receptive to everyone in the quarterback room and everyone with offensive ideas. He’s obviously super knowledgeable and he’s really taught me a lot. That’s been really good for me and my growth. Being able to have those conversations, have that relationship was something that was really good for us as an offense and me individually and I’m super excited to keep working with him in the future.”

In his last two collegiate stops — Penn State in 2012 and 2013, and Alabama in 2021 and 2022 — his quarterbacks had their best seasons under his watch.

When O’Brien arrived at Penn State in 2012, he inherited a part-time starting quarterback in Matt McGloin who had lost the job to Rob Bolden in camp in both 2010 and 2011. Bolden would then lose the job late in the season each year, allowing McGloin to start five games in each of 2010 and 2011.

Here’s how McGloin’s career went at Penn State. The up-tick in 2012 is Bill O’Brien’s first year.

McGloin was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection in 2012. He led the Big Ten in passing yards, touchdowns, and interception rate.

Then in 2013, O’Brien started a true freshman quarterback. He signed 5-star Christian Hackenberg, who was the No. 1 quarterback in the 2013 class per some services.

O’Brien only coached Hackenberg one year, and it was his best, which should never be the case for a true freshman. Hackenberg also earned Honorable Mention All-Big Ten accolades that year. He never earned them again after O’Brien left to take over as head coach of the Houston Texans following the 2013 season.

It’s unfair to look at Bryce Young’s time with and without O’Brien because his two years without O’Brien were his true freshman season at Alabama and his rookie season with the Carolina Panthers, where he was selected No. 1 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft.

But since we’re here…

So far, college quarterbacks have performed better with him than without him. O’Brien will be put to the test again this year with an Ohio State quarterback room that is equal parts extremely veteran and extremely inexperienced.

But can he recruit?

Well, in his last four years as a college coach, his teams landed commitments from three 5-star quarterbacks. And that includes signing Christian Hackenberg in 2013 when Penn State football was sitting in NCAA prison with parole a long way off.

That’s all well and good, but can he coach?

Well, this season the Houston Texans won their division for just the seventh time in their 22 seasons. O’Brien won the division four times in his six full seasons. He has made the playoffs with both Brian Hoyer and Brock Osweiler as his starting quarterbacks.

Is that good coaching or witchcraft?

After the 2019 season with the Texans, he was also appointed as the franchise’s general manager.

After an 0-4 start during the COVID season of 2020, he was fired.

Since then, he has spent two years at Alabama and one year at New England. This past season at New England did not go well. The Patriots finished 30th in total offense with, what was termed to me by an NFL source, “top three worst” offensive talent in the league.

Whether you like this hire or not, Ryan Day has gone out and replaced outgoing quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis — who has only ever coached at Ohio State — with a guy who has experience as a quarterbacks coach, a play caller, a head coach in both the Big Ten and the NFL, and as a general manager.

On experience alone, there is a lot that Bill O’Brien can provide to Ohio State, and especially to Ryan Day.

Does that mean it’s going to work? I don’t know. I can’t see the future. I can only see the past, and the past has some impressive items of note.

Do I think this is a good hire?

I haven’t put a single opinion in this column yet, and I don’t really feel like starting now.

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