STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State played its final game six weeks ago, but its biggest win came Thursday -- with the news that Bill O'Brien would return as head coach of the Nittany Lions.
Sanctions couldn't defeat this program. But an O'Brien departure almost certainly would have, resulting in this program wheezing through its final breaths on life support. The class of 2013? A majority likely would have defected. Players free to transfer without penalty? Unprecedented chaos.
Maybe this was all a chess move in the big business of college football, simply a plan to garner raises and more control. Maybe not. Whatever the case, O'Brien chose Penn State -- and this period of confusion and panic needs to be put to rest for several years.
O'Brien reportedly will see his salary increase more than 50 percent, from $2.3 million to $3.6 million. His staff also likely will see raises, and some structural changes are bound to take place. A coach can't ask -- and receive -- all that and then go fishing for NFL jobs one season later.
Fan sentiment is only so flexible. It appeared O'Brien might have lost a few Thursday, interviewing with Cleveland and Philadelphia this week despite saying on Nov. 27, "I plan on being the head football coach at Penn State [in 2013]."
He acted quickly enough Thursday, when that news broke, to snuff out any apparent sense of betrayal. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported about 5 p.m. that he interviewed with the Browns; about five hours later, he decided to stick with Happy Valley.
It might have just been a few hours, but O'Brien can't put the fan base and the university through this again every offseason, lest it affect recruiting and player morale. (Tweeted PSU commit DaeSean Hamilton: "I'm gonna be highly upset if I have to start this allll over again.") The university stepped up to meet his demands, and now O'Brien must play out his original contract.
A move otherwise might not result in the death of this program, since those lax transfer rules will end in August, but it would surely destroy his reputation should he leave just one season later.
O'Brien has espoused loyalty and perseverance to his players since he first arrived in Happy Valley. Now, after PSU met his demands, it's his turn.