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You’re Nuts: Is Bill O’Brien the right guy to be Ohio State’s new offensive coordinator?

Your (almost) daily dose of good-natured, Ohio State banter.

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Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

Today’s Question: Is Bill O’Brien the right guy to be Ohio State’s new offensive coordinator?

Jami’s Take:

When Ohio State announced last month, they were bringing in Bill O’Brien as their new offensive coordinator, and given O’Brien’s success at both the collegiate and professional levels, many fans were ecstatic.

I was not one of them.

Now before you jump down my throat, let me state that I would love nothing more than for O’Brien to prove me wrong. O’Brien’s success translates to the Buckeyes’ success, and we should all be actively rooting for him to excel. I’m rooting for him!

I also don’t think he’s by any means the worst hiring choice Ryan Day could have made. But that doesn’t make him the right choice, either, and to that end, all the celebrating feels a bit premature.

For starters, I’m not sure Bill O’Brien actually wants to coach at the collegiate level. Though he has bounced back and forth from college to the pros and back again, history tells us his end game is the NFL. It’s tough to imagine him bringing long-term value to a program we’re not even sure he’ll stick around with for more than a season or two.

Since 2007, O’Brien has alternated between NFL and NCAA jobs, spending only two seasons each in his NCAA roles. Most recently, he finished a one-season stint as offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, marking a return to the team with which he started his NFL coaching career as an offensive assistant back in 2007.

In 2011, he began a two-year stint at Penn State, taking over as head coach after Joe Paterno’s dismissal (and, credit where it’s due, he managed to lead the Nittany Lions to a winning record that far exceeded expectations despite the program being heavily sanctioned during his tenure, for which he was named Big Ten Coach of the Year). Still, it always felt a bit like he had one foot out the door, interviewing for NFL jobs after one season and ultimately jetting to Houston to become the Texans’ head coach after two seasons with the Nittany Lions.

From 2014-2020, O’Brien led the Texans to a 54-52 overall record (52-48 in the regular season, 2-4 in the playoffs), and he was fired mid-season in 2020 when the Texans got off to an 0-4 start, and he controversially traded DeAndre Hopkins.

So, back to college O’Brien went, this time to replace Steve Sarkisian as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Alabama. And while this was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to him, it’s hard to imagine he would have chosen to return to college had things not gone south in Houston.

But let’s dive into his time at Alabama, which, on paper, was extremely successful. In fact, this is something many folks are citing as evidence for why he should excite Buckeye fans. After all, it was during this time that O’Brien himself played a pivotal role in developing quarterback Bryce Young into a Heisman Trophy winner, and as we all know, Ohio State needs, erm, some help developing a quarterback. Plus, at face value, the Crimson Tide’s 24-4 record over his two seasons with them would indicate the team excelled under his offensive leadership.

But when you dig in a little deeper, many of the challenges his Alabama offenses faced mirror Ohio State’s offensive shortcomings in many ways. It is this factor that concerns me. I have no doubt he is a talented offensive coordinator—he has a knack for developing players. But I don’t think he can fill in the critical gaps in Ohio State’s offense as those tend to be the critical gaps his offenses share.

His first season with the Tide was Young’s Heisman year, and in 2022, Bama players and fans alike seemed optimistic about the offense heading in. But throughout the 2022 season, the offense underperformed, particularly in the ground game. Young missed a game and a half with a shoulder injury, so the drop in his yardage is understandable, but not a single running back rushed for 1,000 yards on the season, nor did a single receiver net 1,000 receiving yards.

The Buckeyes’ rushing offense in particular dropped off last season. Though they rushed for an average of 138.8 yards per game, this was only about half of what they put up in Day’s first season as coach.

Additionally, Ohio State struggled with pass protection last year, with Kyle McCord being sacked 16 times, placing the Buckeyes at 46th in the country in sacks surrendered.

Oh, but 16 times feels like a dream compared to the 41 times Bryce Young was sacked in the 2021 season, the first time since 2010 that an Alabama team had surrendered more than 30 sacks. Though O’Brien’s Tide was able to cut that number about in half in 2022, pass protection could continue to be an issue for Ohio State, and without a veteran quarterback of Bryce Young caliber, I have my doubts.

None of this even gets into his disastrous 2023 season with the New England Patriots, a year in which the Patriots finished with a 4-13 record. They ended the season ranked 30th in total offense and 31st in scoring offense, out of 32 teams, all while boasting a top-10 defense. YIKES!

Matt and those who are fans of this hiring decision will point to the fact that the NFL and college games are different and Alabama still finished in the top 10 offensively during both seasons with O’Brien calling plays. But in a year in which OSU needs to turn its offense around fast, end the slump against Michigan, and hopefully bring home a title, I just don’t think O’Brien is going to do for our offense what Jim Knowles did for our defense, despite needing that caliber of overhaul.

Matt’s Take:

I understand Jami’s concerns, I really do, but Bill O’Brien is almost exactly the kind of coach that I was lobbying for immediately after the embarrassing Cotton Bowl defeat. At the time, I was thinking of this as a new quarterbacks coach who might be able to take over playcalling as well. That is essentially what O’Brien is doing, with the added benefit of him being the offensive coordinator.

In December, I argued, “Day needs to find a veteran, experienced QB coach to come in and completely take over that room, and potentially one with play-calling experience.”

Veteran: ✅
Experienced: ✅
Capable of taking over QB room: ✅
Play-Calling Experience: ✅

Now, I’m not saying that Ryan Day read my diatribe article and went through it piece by piece and enacted nearly every item on my list, but I’m also not not saying that.

To me, this hiring is about far more than just who coaches the quarterbacks and who calls plays. This is about how Ryan Day views his main responsibilities as the head coach of the Ohio State football program. In my opinion, over the last few years, Day has spent way too much time trying to hold on to the thing that made him a hot coaching commodity in the first place: His ability to coach QBs and call plays.

While I still believe that Day is excellent at both of those things, he now has the far more important duties of... you know, running a multi-million dollar organization with increasingly complicated rules and circumstances necessary to be successful.

Like all big-time head coaches, Ryan Day has an ego; that’s not an insult, it is practically required to even attempt to succeed at the level that he is. So if he was ever going to trust someone enough to give up responsibilities that he sees as being so core and fundamental to who he is as a coach, then it had to be someone who has proven that he can do those things at a very high level, which BOB clearly has.

I’ve written before about Day’s obvious trust issues, but if the OSU head coach has found someone to whom he is comfortable to turn over some of the most important aspects of the program, then I can do nothing but celebrate it. Will it work out? Maybe, maybe not. But I am encouraged by Day’s willingness to finally make this move nonetheless (also, I think it’s going to work out).

Let us know who you are agreeing with:


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