Don't deify Bill O'Brien.
Don't bestow sainthood upon him.
Don't make him out to be anything but what he is -- a very good football coach.
Penn State has been down this road before with Joe Paterno.
In the eyes of many of his supporters, "Saint Joe" could do no wrong, on or off the field. That reputation was built with decades of success on the scoreboard, in the classroom and through the character of the players he produced. At different times it was called the "Grand Experiment" or "Success With Honor."
Then the Sandusky scandal dropped like an anvil and Paterno's once-pristine image was forever tarnished. We were reminded, time and again, that Paterno was a flawed man, just like every other human who
O'Brien stepped into the void Paterno left behind. At first, he was not welcomed with open arms by all in the PSU community. They grumbled about his lack of Penn State ties and his lack of head-coaching experience. But he quickly won them over and almost single-handedly helped restore the roar in Happy Valley.
He seemed to say and do all the right things. He held the program together when it seemed poised to spiral into the abyss after draconian NCAA sanctions were imposed. He was a charismatic leader and, most importantly, he became an unexpected winner.
Somehow, some way, he managed to cobble together an 8-4 record in 2012 when most pundits, including this one, were offering predictions of gloom. National Coach of the Year honors deservedly followed.
In less than one short year at Penn State, he went from an unknown interloper to a beloved icon.
Not surprisingly, the NFL took notice. He was very familiar to pro football's honchos after nearly helping New England win a Super Bowl in 2012 as the Patriots' offensive coordinator.
Pro teams expressed interest in O'Brien and he not only listened, but he talked with them about their head-coaching openings. That was the smart move for O'Brien. After all, his stock may never be higher than it is right now.
There's no guarantee that next year's PSU team will repeat this year's success. The 2013 squad must find a quarterback and some playmakers on defense. And perhaps most importantly, the Nittany Lions must replace some of the best senior leaders in school history. That will be no easy task, especially given the scholarship limitations imposed by the NCAA.
Still, O'Brien ultimately chose to stay at Penn State -- a decision that led to sighs of relief throughout Pennsylvania. Some members of Nittany Nation, however, were disappointed in their new coach. How could O'Brien express his unwavering commitment to his players and the university one month, and the very next month explore other coaching options?
Then came the reports that O'Brien used the NFL interest to leverage raises for himself and his assistants, as well as structural changes in the football program. On Monday, O'Brien vehemently denied those reports.
True or not, those reports undoubtedly sullied O'Brien's image in some corners. He was even portrayed by some as a carpetbagger. That seems harsh.
You can believe what you will, but the truth probably resides somewhere in a gray area. That's usually the case. Few things in life are black and white.
This entire episode, however, should have taught the Blue-and-White faithful one important lesson -- don't become too invested in O'Brien.
He is, without a doubt, a very good football coach. As a result, he will likely always have suitors, both at the pro and college level. He also has no long-term ties to Penn State. If you combine those two factors, it's hard to imagine O'Brien still coaching at Penn State a decade from now. That's just not the way the coaching game works these days.
O'Brien is an ambitious guy, and if a better offer comes along, he'll most likely take it. It didn't happen this year and it may not happen next year, but it may happen sometime over the next few years. That doesn't make him a bad person, it just makes him a typical successful football coach. In fact, that makes him a typical successful human being.
He owes it to himself and his family to explore all his options.
Penn State fans, meanwhile, owe it to themselves to enjoy O'Brien while he's in Happy Valley. He's a very good coach who has succeeded under very trying circumstances.
Just don't become too invested in him. Don't deify the man or make him out to be a saint.
That may only lead to heartache down the road.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dis patch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdis patch.com.