By Kristie Rieken
---- — Andover’s Bill O’Brien has gone from perhaps the toughest coaching job in college football to a coveted gig with one of the NFL’s most respected teams.
Less than two years after replacing Joe Paterno as coach at Penn State, the 44-year-old O’Brien has returned to the NFL as head coach of the Houston Texans, officially hired last week. He was an offensive assistant under Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots from 2007-12, but the Penn State job was his first as a head coach.
Now he gets the Texans, who spiraled to an NFL-worst 2-14 record last season.
“He showed that he has the ability to step into difficult situations and turn them around,” Houston owner Bob McNair said. “He did that at Penn State under very difficult circumstances and did an outstanding job there. We expect to see good things happen immediately.”
O’Brien was 15-9 at Penn State, hit hard by NCAA sanctions levied for the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal that cost the late Paterno his job.
He takes over for Gary Kubiak, who was fired with three games left in the Texans’ dismal season. Despite Houston’s collapse, many believe it is a plum position because the Texans have many talented pieces in place and could make a quick turnaround. Houston won consecutive AFC South titles before this year’s disaster.
O’Brien said he spoke to many people he trusted throughout the NFL before deciding to go to work in Houston.
“These people were unanimous in one thought, and that is that the Houston Texans are a top-flight organization that does things the right way,” he said. “It’s rare enough to be a head coach at the highest level of football. What makes this opportunity special and put it over the top for myself and my family was to work for an owner like Bob McNair.”
After his first season at Penn State, O’Brien interviewed with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns, among others, only to stay in state college. This time, the lure of the NFL was too strong to resist.
“I love the players at Penn State and I respect their toughness and their resiliency and everything that they’ve demonstrated on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “I do regret not being able to continue with the great kids on that team. While I tried never to mislead anyone, I understand that some people feel let down. But again, it was a decision that was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.”
O’Brien, who graduated from St. John’s Prep in Danvers and Brown University in Providence, was an assistant at Brown, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke, before joining Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady in New England.
With the Texans, O’Brien follows Dom Capers, who led the team from its expansion season in 2002, and Kubiak as the only coaches in the tem’s history.
“I think that’s a fantastic position to coach because of all the things that go into it,” O’Brien said. “The quarterback has to be a great teammate, a hard worker, a leader, a really good practice player, a guy that’s always striving for perfection ... it’s a job that’s never-ending. It’s a job that you can always improve if you like coaching quarterbacks and it’s a lot of fun to do.”