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December 30, 2013

Column: Wondering, waiting at Penn State

Sources have indicated to Blue White Illustrated that within the Penn State football program, preparations are being made for life without head coach Bill O'Brien.

Following more than two weeks of speculation regarding the future of the Nittany Lions' second-year head coach, multiple reports intensified this past weekend to claim that O'Brien's representation and the NFL's Houston Texas were in serious negotiations for O'Brien to become the next head coach of the expansion franchise.

Now, with ESPN's Chris Mortensen reporting Monday afternoon that a deal was "imminent" between the Texans and O'Brien, a new reality for Penn State is coming into sharp focus. After two seasons in which O'Brien helped to save a team ravaged by harsh NCAA sanctions leveled against the program, his career with the Nittany Lions - barring a reversal of current reports - appears to be complete with a 15-9 overall record (10-6 Big Ten).

As of Monday night, Penn State has not made any type of intimation about O'Brien's status as the program's head coach, and even more directly, O'Brien's camp had been completely silent about the issue for the entirety .

That said, multiple knowledgeable NFL insiders have relayed to Blue White Illustrated that O'Brien was fully expected to be the next head coach of the Houston Texans, even though a formal agreement had not yet been made. Without any direct or indirect input from O'Brien, his status and impending decisions remain somewhat unclear.

Should O'Brien in fact accept the Texans' advances though, the question immediately arises as to what Penn State will do to replace him.

Initial reports have suggested that Penn State brass are already lining up possibilities that include the likes of former Penn State players and assistants like Greg Schiano, Mike Munchak, and Al Golden, as well as the services of James Franklin, as reported by PennLive.com veteran columnist and reporter David Jones.

According to Jones, Penn State is, "compiling a list of possible new coaches to interview with expediency in hopes that the new guy could persuade current underclass players and verbally committed recruits to stay at PSU."

Whether or not a hire made from the candidates noted earlier would be enough to do so remains to be seen, but for a program and university still very much in flux, O'Brien's potential move raises many more questions than answers.

Specifically, with the resignation of Penn State president Rodney Erickson coming by the end of June 2014 and athletic director David Joyner's career an uncertainty, where does that leave the program moving forward?

What level of coaching candidate will be interested in taking on a position in which his bosses within the next year are a complete unknown?

Additionally, what does O'Brien's departure say about the status of the program as it exists currently and where it's headed in the future?

With the NCAA reducing its scholarship sanctions against the program and a lightening of the postseason ban seemingly on the horizon, certainly, the future of the program is much brighter than it'd been upon O'Brien's arrival two years ago. Still, coming off a 7-5 season in which Penn State's scholarship limitations led to direct and indirect complications and hindrances to the team's success, many of the challenges presented the past two seasons are expected to remain and, in some cases intensify, even in spite of the advances O'Brien has helped implement for the program.

From continuing issues with depth to remaining scholarship limitations both in recruiting and overall numbers for the 2014 season, issues that plagued O'Brien's overall success seem likely to remain at least next year and, more likely, for the next few years.

On the positive side for the Nittany Lions though, with a host of quality true freshmen including quarterback Christian Hackenberg, tight end Adam Breneman, and a plethora of other talented underclassmen remaining, the opportunity for winning games still very much exists for whomever takes on the role next for Penn State.

As the countdown toward an announcement nears (tentatively expected to come sometime on Tuesday, either way) all that's left to do is wonder and wait for the official word.

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