The NFL had come calling. Bill O’Brien listened, but he chose to stay with Penn State back in January.
In a press conference that followed in State College, the Nittany Lions coach said he made no financial demands in order to return.
“I have never asked anyone for a raise, and no one has ever even brought up the fact that you get a raise,” O’Brien said on Jan. 7. “Hey, look — six months down the road, if I get a raise… Would you like a raise? Everybody would like a raise every once in a while. Yeah, of course I’d like a raise. I’m just like everybody else. But I have never asked anybody for a raise.”
Five months and 13 days later, he got a raise.
Just before O’Brien was scheduled to receive an annual 5 percent bump in his base salary, Penn State upped the figure by nearly $1 million as part of an amended contract that was released on Thursday.
Over the next four years, O’Brien will make nearly $2 million more than originally scheduled when he signed the contract in January 2012.
“In the face of great adversity, Bill did a tremendous job with all facets of the Penn State football program,” Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said in a statement. “This rightly recognizes Bill’s outstanding achievements in guiding our student-athletes on and off the field.”
O’Brien’s base salary of $950,000 was originally scheduled to become $997,500 on July 1 as part of an annual raise. His new base salary for 2013 will be $1,932,779. It will dip to $1,137,096 in 2014 before rising to $1,650,994 for 2015. The annual 5 percent figure will return after that.
The base contract runs through the 2016 season.
Including appearance fees and an annual stipend from Nike, O’Brien’s total compensation will average roughly $3.2 million over the next four seasons. That figure places him third in the Big Ten behind only Ohio State’s Urban Meyer ($4.3 million) and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz ($3.9 million). Michigan’s Brady Hoke also receives total compensation of $3.2 million.
In addition to an increase in base salary, the amended contract includes:
• A reduced buyout for O’Brien should he leave for an NFL job. Under any other circumstances, O’Brien would have to pay Penn State his full compensation — the base salary, appearance fees and Nike stipend — for each year he had remaining on the contract.
But if he leaves specifically for “a head coaching position with any National Football League team,” he is only required to pay the base salary for each remaining year.
• A way to claim performance bonuses that were made unreachable by NCAA sanctions. For the next three seasons, O’Brien can’t qualify for bonuses for bowl game appearances, conference titles or national titles because Penn State is ineligible for the postseason.
The amended contract allows for O’Brien to earn up to $200,000 per year that Penn State “estimates that Coach might have earned had such sanctions not been imposed, taking into consideration the team’s record, records of other teams in the Conference, estimated chances of success and other relevant factors.”
• Use of a private plane for recruiting and other university business for up to 85 hours per year, 35 of which can be for “personal use.”
All of this comes 11 months to the week that the sanctions hit the program.
Since then, O’Brien has been tasked with keeping the Nittany Lions from outright collapse, as players were permitted to transfer without penalty. He also had to keep in line a recruiting class that faced the prospect of not being able to play in a bowl game or compete for conference and national titles during their college careers.
Through it all, Penn State went 8-4 in 2012 and O’Brien won the Bear Bryant Award for national coach of the year. He received the same honor from the Maxwell Football Club and ESPN and was also voted Big Ten Coach of the Year by coaches and media.
All of that led to speculation about O’Brien’s future in the offseason, as he interviewed with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cleveland Browns about their vacant coaching jobs. But O’Brien quickly recommitted to Penn State when word of those meetings leaked in January.
Penn State revealed Thursday that the possibility of a bump for O’Brien was discussed last winter.
“Dave and I had talked about revising Coach O’Brien’s contract at the end of the season,” Penn State President Rodney Erickson said in a statement. “And these discussions moved forward with my blessing and involvement.”
The Big Ten Network reported Thursday that O’Brien recently switched agents from Joe Linta to Neil Cornrich. Among Cornrich’s clients as an agent and an attorney is O’Brien’s former boss, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.