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 coach of the Houston Texans. He was an offensive assistant under Bill Belichick at New England 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 child sex abuse scandal that cost the late Paterno his job.
He was introduced on Friday, taking 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 come 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."
O'Brien said he planned to meet with Houston's assistant coaches on Friday and begin making decisions on who will make up his staff.
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."