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Nearly every year when the coaching carousel begins its ruthless spinning in early January, there’s at least one rockstar college mastermind being hotly pursued. Last year it was Chip Kelly, and few years back it was Jim Harbaugh, and this year it was Bill O’Brien.

And nearly every year when said coach inevitably departs for the NFL, those who covered him at his now former big time college outpost dig up quotes — and often relatively recent quotes — when he professed his love for the university, its players, the football program, and the god who watches over it all while saying this word repeatedly: commitment.

Instantly, that’s what happened even when the initial reports surfaced late Tuesday night (when we were all deep into the bubbly) that O’Brien would be leaving Penn State to become the next head coach of the Texans. It should not have been a move greeted with remote surprise after O’Brien was a hotly rumored candidate since the moment Gary Kubiak was fired, and a coach who had spent far more time in various offensive positions with the Patriots than he had at State College surely still had an NFL itch.

But yet this quote from September keeps surfacing

“The players who are here now and the guys who were here last year could’ve gone anywhere. They didn’t have to stay at Penn State, but they committed to each other, they committed to Penn State, and they committed to our coaching staff. I felt it was important that they understood that I was committed to them. What are you if you’re not a man of your word?”

Like many before him and so many after, O’Brien publicly made promises rooted in things like loyalty and commitment, because that’s what appeals to the followers of a college program who are true fanatics, and not just fans. Evidence: this guy…

“To me it was our 9/11. I just saw planes crashing into towers”

College coaches know that loud lunatic fringe exists, but with O’Brien the volume was a different pitch following the heavy sanctions placed on Penn State, and his status as the guy who came after Joe Paterno. That’s why this quote is getting just as much play, and it should be the one we focus on.

“You can print this: You can print that I don’t really give a —- what the ‘Paterno people’ think about what I do with this program. I’ve done everything I can to show respect to Coach Paterno. Everything in my power. So I could really care less about what the Paterno faction of people, or whatever you call them, think about what I do with the program. I’m tired of it.

“For any ‘Paterno person’ to have any objection to what I’m doing, it makes me wanna put my fist through this windshield right now.”

O’Brien’s seemingly desperate venting rant to Penn Live’s David Jones was followed up with this. Note the last sentence.

“I’m trying to field the most competitive football team I can with near-death penalty —-ing sanctions. Every time I say something like that and somebody prints it, it’s skewed as an excuse. And I’m not an excuse-maker. I’m trying to do the best I can for the kids in that program. That’s all I care about is the kids in that program. As long as I’m the head football coach here.”

He then said he isn’t leaving, an assurance that understandably was difficult to believe given all the angry words that came before it.

Despite those sanctions and the looming shadow of Paterno, O’Brien somehow finished his tenure with a 15-9 record. But underneath it all, his ultimate departure was motivated by a simple desire which grew stronger because of complicated factors at Penn State. Bill O’Brien is a football coach who primarily wants to focus on the job of being a football coach, a luxury which often doesn’t exist at the college level, and especially not at Penn State due to the events of two years ago.

Now he can do that in Houston, and with the first overall pick he can focus on shaping the still nameless quarterback of the future, while keeping complacent veterans accountable. Sort of like this…

More notes, reading, stray thoughts, and other such randomness

Elsewhere on the spinning carousel

As New Year’s hangovers were mercifully subsiding yesterday afternoon, reports began popping up about Lovie Smith, and the contract he’s now finalizing to become the next head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then as if prompted by a Pavlovian bell, it was noted that Smith will undoubtedly bring the Tampa 2 — the zone coverage scheme he used with great success in Chicago — back to the place where it was born. The potential problem? Darrelle Revis is a man coverage shutdown specialist, and was already moaning about playing too much zone.

For Mike Florio then, this is a chance to cut Revis and save a whole whack of money:

Given a contract that pays him $16 million per year with no guaranteed money or frills that would trigger a cap hit, the Bucs could walk away from Revis and save $16 million in both cash and cap space for 2014.

But intelligent coaches — which describes Smith, but certainly not the guy he’s replacing — don’t solely lean on scheme and disregard personnel entirely. One adjusts to the other, and Smith surely knows that a defense with Darrelle Revis is much better than a defense without Darrelle Revis.

Revis can quickly become Smith’s version of Charles Tillman. He excelled in the Cover 2, but like Revis his physicality that creates fumbles is also ideal for man coverage. During Smith’s final season in Chicago, Tillman played plenty of both and gave up an overage of only 7.5 yards per reception.

Winter is coming

I’ll be breaking down the weekend’s four playoff games later today and tomorrow, and it’ll be great. For now, know that your calendar indicates it’s Jan. 2, which means it’s winter, and it’s therefore cold outside (hashtag analysis).

That won’t change between now and the weekend, when the weather for three of the four playoff games will very much be the opposite of warm/pleasant. A mix of rain and snow is expected in Cincinnati, while temperatures could reach -18 in Green Bay.

Blake Bortles is coming?

Speaking of calendars, draft season accelerates into full out hearsay and speculation mode pretty much immediately after the Super Bowl in about a month. And right now as bowl games conclude, we’re waiting on the primary college prospects to see if they’ll declare. So what say you, Blake Bortles?

With his combination of size and athleticism, Bortles has been compared to Ben Roethlisberger, and both of those attributes were on displayed last night when he added 93 rushing yards and a touchdown on just eight attempts to 301 passing yards with three scores through the air and two interceptions during UCF’s Fiesta Bowl win. Todd McShay ranks Bortles as the second best quarterback prospect behind only Teddy Bridgewater.

He has until the Jan. 15 deadline to declare, and although it’s still widely believed that Bortles will turn pro, any uncertainty is concerning. Brett Hundley is also waiting and thinking, and if they both join Marcus Mariota in that decision, what was once considered a deep quarterback class will be the opposite.

That sound you heard was Matt Barkley telling both of them to bolt NOW NOW NOW.