Agent:?O’Brien plans to stay put

UNIVERSITY PARK – After reportedly being interviewed by the Cleveland Browns, it now appears that Penn State football coach Bill O’Brien will remain with the Nittany Lions.

O’Brien’s agent, Joseph Linta, said Thursday night that the Nittany Lions’ head coach garnered interest from several NFL teams for vacant jobs at the next level.

But Linta said the “heartstrings” of O’Brien’s experience from Penn State’s 8-4 season in his first year outweighed the potentially big raise he could have received as an NFL head coach. He said O’Brien made the decision to stay at Penn State and not move forward with potential NFL opportunities Thursday.

CBS Sports NFL insider Jason LaConfora announced through social media on Thursday night that O’Brien informed the university that he is staying.

Several sports-news gathering agencies came out with similar reports later in the evening, ending nearly a week of rumors that O’Brien would leave University Park after just one season.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer posted a report on its website earlier in the day that O’Brien had interviewed with Browns officials earlier in the week and that the team also was set to talk to Syracuse coach Doug Marrone and Oregon coach Chip Kelly, citing league sources.

O’Brien also has been linked to the opening with the Philadelphia Eagles.

However, by mid-evening, Sports Illustrated posted an article on its website that Penn State was making a push to keep O’Brien and “has received positive indications that he’s strongly considering staying,” according to an unnamed source.

Shortly after, reporters from the Philadelphia Eagles website and the Philadelphia Inquirer sent out via Twitter that O’Brien would not take further interviews and intended to stay at Penn State. LaConfora then tweeted that he received word that O’Brien had told the school.

The decision wasn’t hard in the end, Linta said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “His loyalty to the team and those kids was a really strong bond … Although he loves the NFL and loves coaching, the experience this year with those kids was the opportunity of a lifetime for him.”

At least five teams reached out to O’Brien, but the discussions weren’t thought to have reached a serious level.

Linta declined to identify the teams showing interest in his client. He said there would probably be discussions about O’Brien’s current contract.

“The leverage he has at Penn State is his integrity,” Linta said.

O’Brien was in line to receive a $1.3 million raise to be funded by a private donor, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the person did not have authority to discuss the matter.

The bump in salary would increase O’Brien’s total compensation package to about $3.5 million. He arrived at Penn State almost exactly a year ago, leaving a successful stint as the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator.

O’Brien guided Penn State to an 8-4 record, was named Big Ten coach of the year by both the media and coaches and was a finalist for several national coaching awards after the Nittany Lions were hit with heavy NCAA sanctions related to the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.

Reports came out late in the season that NFL teams might have interest in O’Brien. Those died down a bit in December before ESPN announced on Sunday that teams still had O’Brien on their lists and the Nittany Lions coach would consider offers – ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said he was told by a source that O’Brien was assured by university officials when he was hired that no NCAA penalties would be forthcoming because the Sandusky case was a criminal matter.

However, in July, the NCAA hit the Lions with a bowl ban and scholarship restrictions that will be in effect over six years. Current players also were allowed to transfer immediately without having to sit out a year.

As a result of the sanctions, O’Brien’s contract automatically was extended, giving him a deal that covered nine years.

There also was a buyout of somewhere between just under $10 million and just under $20 million for anyone trying to hire O’Brien away.