According to reports on both ESPN.com and NFL.com, Patriots first-year offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien is interviewing on Thursday with Penn State about the university's open head coaching job.
On ESPN, Adam Schefter sites an unnamed source as saying, "Penn State has identified O'Brien as the coach it wants to succeed Joe Paterno."
On NFL.com, Jason La Canfora writes, "O'Brien has been a top candidate for the job, and he's interested in it. Negotiations haven't yet begun, but the potential to strike a deal is very real."
O'Brien has been in New England since 2007, when he joined the team as an offensive coaching assistant. He moved on to coach wide receivers in 2008 before taking over the quarterbacks job in 2009. Though he's called plays for the Patriots on game days during each of the last two seasons, he didn't actually get the coordinator title until this season. He also continues to coach the quarterbacks.
O'Brien's contract with the Patriots reportedly runs out at the conclusion of this season.
Prior to arriving in New England, the Massachusetts native spent his entire coaching career at the college level. That experience, which included stops as the offensive coordinator at both Georgia Tech (2001-02) and Duke (2005-06), along with O'Brien's work with Tom Brady and one of the NFL's top offenses is likely what has drawn the interest of the Nittany Lions.
If O'Brien were to leave New England for either a job in college or for an NFL head coaching job – reports indicated that the Jaguars requested and received permission to talk to O'Brien about their head coaching vacancy – it would leave a hole on the Patriots relatively young coaching staff.
Bill Belichick has often promoted from within to fill vacancies over the years when losing coordinators like Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini and Josh McDaniels. Under that philosophy, it would seem that first-year tight ends coach Brian Ferentz – son of Iowa head coach and former Belichick assistant Kirk Ferentz – might be in line for a larger role on the offensive coaching staff although it would appear unlikely that he would jump right into the coordinator role. More likely is that Belichick would take even more responsibility on offense to groom O'Brien's successor. Current offensive assistant George Godsey could also be in line for a promotion to quarterbacks coach and a bigger role on the offensive staff.
Regardless of how this process works out during New England's bye week, O'Brien's agent told ESPN that his client is committed to the task at hand.
"Bill is focusing on another Super Bowl run," Joe Linta told ESPN this past Sunday. "However, if an NFL team or Penn State seeks permission from Bill Belichick, then Bill will speak to them."
That process has apparently already begun, with these reports that O'Brien is meeting with Penn State on Thursday and will have/has had contact with Jacksonville.