HOUSTON – Bill O’Brien, the new head coach of the Texans, arrived in Houston Thursday afternoon and he is ready to get to work.
"Oh I’m excited. You know, in your lifetime you get certain opportunities only so many times," O’Brien said at Hobby Airport. "You have an opportunity to come here and work for an owner like Mr. McNair and to be a part of this organization. It’s a very exciting time for myself and my family."
In fact, O’Brien said McNair is the reason he chose the Texans over other NFL teams that came calling. He knows that McNair expects him to turn the team around after a disastrous 2-14 season.
"I think the thing that we’ll do here is that we’ll work very hard to field a very, very competitive football team," O’Brien said. "At the end of the day, it’s all about winning. Everything we do here at Houston will be pointed in the direction of winning and winning football games. Hopefully we’ll get started here soon."
O’Brien will become the third coach in Texans history, following Dom Capers, who led the team from its expansion season in 2002, and Gary Kubiak.
Kubiak took over when Capers was fired after a 2-14 season in 2005. Kubiak went 61-64 and led the Texans to their first two playoff appearances and two AFC South titles before being fired in early December.
Houston was expected to contend for the Super Bowl this season but instead lost nine games by a touchdown or less to end with the NFL’s worst record.
The Texans have scheduled an 11 a.m. news conference on Friday to introduce O’Brien, who was flown in on the team jet.
O’Brien left Penn State less than two years after replacing Joe Paterno.
"Yeah, those things are tough. It’s not easy. There are great kids at Penn State and a lot of great people there," O’Brien said. "They gave me my first opportunity as a head football coach and I’ll always thank them for that. But at the end of the day this was a fantastic opportunity for my family and that’s how I feel."
A former offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, O’Brien took on perhaps college football’s toughest job in January 2012, joining a school rattled by the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Despite a lack of scholarships, a bowl ban, an overall sense of doom and player defections from the late Paterno’s roster, O’Brien led the Nittany Lions to two winning seasons while restoring some tempered enthusiasm in Happy Valley.
"I believe that Bill O’Brien came here with the intent to be here for a long haul," Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said Thursday.
Penn State picked defensive line coach Larry Johnson as interim head coach while the search for a replacement goes on.
Joyner formed a search committee and said it won’t take long to find a new coach.
"I think it’s a lot more attractive at this point, although we had tremendous interest even in spite of everything two years ago," Joyner said. "From a scholarship standpoint, we’re going to be very competitive right out of the gate. Watching what’s happened here the last two years, if I was a head coach candidate, would make me very excited."
While some scholarships have been restored, Penn State lacks the full allotment that other Big Ten schools - including new members Rutgers and Maryland - have at their disposal.
Joyner said O’Brien’s contract buyout was in the $6.5-6.7 million range. Penn State worked with O’Brien until the end to keep him.
Penn State’s field of candidates is likely to include many from college and the NFL. Greg Schiano has Penn State ties and may want to return to college after two forgettable seasons with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While at Rutgers, Schiano was viewed as an Eastern recruiting expert who built the Scarlet Knights into a consistent bowl team by landing players from New Jersey to Miami.
Schiano would likely be received well in State College, but he is not O’Brien.
O’Brien, who helped lead the Patriots to the Super Bowl in 2011-12, arrived in Happy Valley with sterling credentials - apprenticeships coaching at Brown, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke, followed by five years as an NFL assistant on Bill Belichick’s staff. He won games and won over players, and he did so with a stern look on his face.
O’Brien did it all in Paterno’s shadow. Over the course of his 61 years at Penn State, Paterno became not just the face, but the cantankerous soul and benefactor of a school that was transformed from a "cow college" into a top-shelf public university.
Joyner said O’Brien never seemed affected by the Paterno loyalists who were slow to warm to an outsider running the program.
"Bill handled that very well, with grace and style," he said. "I really believe that he loved it here. From the get go, he looked at himself as a long-termer. But I think a tremendous opportunity came up for him."