Alabama Coach Nick Saban, speaking shortly before he won a coach of the year award named for Crimson Tide legend Paul “Bear” Bryant, sounded like the hiring was all but done. “I think he’ll do a great job with our players here,” Saban said Wednesday of O’Brien.
“I’ve always tried to have the best knowledge and experience I can for our players and their development,” Saban added, “and I certainly think he can contribute to that in a very positive way.”
The 51-year-old O’Brien was fired in October, four games into a Texans season that began 0-4 and ended with a 4-12 record. Over six-plus seasons at the helm in Houston, he went 52-48, won two playoff games, and captured four AFC South titles.
The Texans hired O’Brien after he spent two years as the head coach of a Penn State program trying to get back on its feet after a scandal rocked the university and forced the ouster of Joe Paterno. O’Brien received widespread praise, and a Paul “Bear” Bryant award in 2013, for his work with the Nittany Lions.
As with Saban, O’Brien has ties to Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, having served as an assistant coach in New England from 2007 to 2011. Before that, he cut his teeth at the college level, including stints with Brown — where the Massachusetts native had played as a defensive end and linebacker — Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke.
Assuming O’Brien does join the Tide, he will become the seventh offensive coordinator at Alabama since Saban took over the program in 2007. Four of his predecessors — Major Applewhite, Jim McElwain, Lane Kiffin and Sarkisian — quickly became head coaches at other college programs, while Brian Daboll, now the offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, may well get the top job with another NFL team this offseason.