Now that Penn State's 2012 season is officially wrapped up, the rumblings are only going to gain more traction -- Nittany Lions' head coach Bill O'Brien may be headed to the NFL.
Just in the last couple weeks we've gone from a story about O'Brien choosing Penn State over an NFL head coaching gig with Jacksonville last year, to O'Brien shooting down that story while at the same time not committing to the Lions beyond this year, to multiple media outlets detailing O'Brien's potential hefty buy-out from his current contract (anywhere from $9 million to $16 million, depending on which report you believe).
The former New England Patriots' offensive coordinator may very well end up staying in Happy Valley. After all, it's tough to walk away from a multi-million-dollar gig that gives him job security through the next eight seasons for a few more million and the chance to prove himself in the NFL, where he could be ousted in a couple years if things don't go well?
But it's understandable that Penn State fans are worried about O'Brien leaving. Like any coaching change at a top college program, the Lions would suffer a setback should O'Brien opt to take his talents to the pros. In the end, though, the program would eventually be OK. The 2012 season has taught us that much.
Overcoming it all: O'Brien had spoken about it himself over the last week when referring to this year's group of seniors. The group went through the Sandusky scandal, Joe Paterno's firing and death, a head coaching change and the NCAA sanctions, which resulted in some talented players leaving. Those who stayed put together one of the most remarkable seasons in Penn State history.
Worries that donors and fan support would drop off dramatically were put to rest, too. In July, the university reported $208 million in donations were received for the fiscal year that ended in June. It marked the second-highest total in school history.
ESPN.com reported Saturday night that Penn State's seven home football games in 2012 averaged 96,730 fans, the worst average since the 2001 Beaver Stadium expansion that brought the capacity to more than 107,000 seats. Although it marks the fifth straight decline in year-to-year attendance, Penn State still ranked fifth in the nation in average attendance in 2012.
Coaching change: That's why the possibility of O'Brien leaving shouldn't be viewed as a potential death knell for the Nits. Sure, Penn State's incoming recruiting class would take a big hit. Plus, all current Lions' players still have the option this offseason of transferring to another school without having to sit out a year, an option still remaining thanks to the NCAA sanctions.
Following Saturday night's 24-21 overtime win over Wisconsin, many returning Penn State players made a commitment to finish out their careers with the school. A coaching change, though, would likely change some minds. The ensuing player defections would only hurt a team that is already looking at replacing 30 seniors from the 2012 squad.
Future: O'Brien leaving for the pros would be another blow to Penn State on top of the NCAA sanctions. In the end, though, the program would be OK. The Lions might be terrible for a few seasons, but the Lions would eventually recover.
Well, Penn State is always going to pull in a ton of money. Tens of thousands of fans will continue to fill the Beaver Stadium seats on Saturdays. And as the last 12 months have shown, the program is always going to strive to be competitive no matter what obstacles it has to overcome.
-- Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.