Speculation of O'Brien to NFL is premature

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien is probably heading to the Houston Texans. Wait, no -- the Vikings. Actually, Washington is intriguing because of its young quarterbacks. Scratch that, the Giants have location on their side.

It's another cold December in Happy Valley, which means the season for O'Brien coaching rumors -- and the accompanying panicky fan base -- is in full swing.

Chatter in local bars and on message boards tends to focus on the latest O'Brien rumors, but it's difficult to blame the fans. The college football norm is unique to Penn State, and fans just don't know how to react. O'Brien is going everywhere and nowhere at once.

CBS' Jason La Canfora reported Sunday that both the Texans and Vikings have already approached O'Brien. That's not surprising; Penn State's dimple-chinned coach is in high demand for developing quarterbacks and showing tremendous leadership during a dark time in Happy Valley. Why wouldn't teams be interested?

No reports have emerged yet about interviews or potential contracts. Heck, Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier hasn't even been fired yet.

"When you're a team that has four wins," Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway told the St. Paul Pioneer Press, "[reports like that are] going to happen. That's the NFL, the business we're in. It happens."

And when you're a college coach who's guided a rookie quarterback and a roster of just 60 other scholarship players to a winning season, new opportunities are going to happen. It's the same situation and same question as last season: Will O'Brien leave for the NFL?

And the answer is likely the same this time around: Eventually, yes -- but just not this season.

Penn State fans are a jittery bunch these days, in part because they've never had to deal with these offseason rumors in the past. Joe Paterno became a PSU assistant coach in 1950, a year before sales of a commercial computer that weighed 13 tons. (Seriously.) He was named head coach in 1966, three years before man walked on the moon.

And before the age of Twitter and the Internet, Paterno thought about leaving Happy Valley just three times -- in 1969, 1973 and 1982. Alumni celebrating their five-year college reunions weren't even alive the last time a head coach other than O'Brien thought about leaving for another gig.

So, maybe understandably, the same fans who pack Beaver Stadium every Saturday are worried they won't see O'Brien again next season. The panic button has already been hit -- but it's been hit much too prematurely.

If O'Brien chooses to stay another decade, his name could pop up on coaching lists every offseason. Even before the confirmed reports, some media outlets floated O'Brien's name as a potential candidate. This is the new normal. But it's just not normal to fans who still drive around with "409" bumper stickers or who have lived through the tenures of nine U.S. presidents and just two Penn State head coaches.

All these reports, and accompanying speculation, revolve around the same storyline as last year: O'Brien is an attractive choice because he's a good college coach.

So, maybe, it's fitting to look back at what O'Brien had to say when the dust cleared around this time last year. It likely still applies.

"I have a lot of respect for that league," O'Brien said on Jan. 7, referring to the NFL. "I love that league. Again, this is my profession. I'm a coach. And that's the highest level, and so -- but at the same time, like I've said, I really, really, I can't be more clear about this: I love coaching these kids.

"I enjoy being the head football coach at Penn State, and I enjoy working here. I enjoy the people I work for, the people I work with, all the people I've met, the student body is incredible here, and I enjoy being here. And I plan to be here."

History tends to repeat itself. Last year, O'Brien garnered interest and worried fans before staying put at Penn State. This year, it's likely more of the same -- even if PSU fans aren't yet used to it.