Over the next few days, BamaInsider will provide a breakdown of the Alabama coaching staff. Today we continue the series with Bill O’Brien, who will be entering his first season as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator.
Click the video above for a breakdown of O’Brien. Below are five things to know about the first-year assistant.
Previous breakdowns: Nick Saban
This won’t be his first time breaking in a five-star quarterback
O’Brien is known for having orchestrated offenses around Tom Brady and Deshaun Watson in the NFL. However, he also has experience with a talented quarterback at the college level. In fact, when Bryce Young takes over Alabama’s offense in his first season as a starter this year, it won’t be the first time O’Brien has broken in a former five-star recruit behind center.
One of O’Brien’s biggest recruiting wins came in the 2013 class as Penn State was able to hold on to five-star quarterback Christian Hackenberg despite facing sanctions from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. O’Brien only spent one season with Hackenburg but was able to help him earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors as the quarterback went on to complete 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns with 10 interceptions over 12 games.
Hackenberg started all three of his seasons at Penn State before being selected in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the New York Jets.
He’s won the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award
One of O’Brien’s biggest achievements came in 2012 when he earned the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award presented to college football’s coach of the year. The honor came in his first year taking over Penn State following the Sandusky scandal. Despite facing heavy NCAA sanctions and getting off to an 0-2 start to the season, O’Brien turned things around for the Nittany Lions, finishing 8-4, including a 6-2 record in conference play.
Nick Saban earned the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award last season after leading Alabama to a 13-0 record en route to its 18th national title. It was the second time the head coach has received the honor after earning it in 2003 while in charge of LSU. Alabama is currently the only team in the nation with two Paul “Bear” Bryant Award winners on its coaching staff.
He’s already coached a game in Bryant-Denny Stadium
Alabama’s home-opener against Mercer on Sept. 11 won’t be the first time O’Brien has managed an offense inside of Bryant-Denny Stadium. However, the current Crimson Tide coordinator is hoping he’ll have a bit better experience than he did during his debut game inside the venue.
O’Brien served as the offensive coordinator for Duke during the 2006 season when the Blue Devils visited Tuscaloosa, Ala. to take on a middling Crimson Tide team. Duke went into the half with a 14-10 lead before Alabama responded to come away with a 30-14 victory. While O’Brien’s offense was only able to put up 74 yards through the air, it rushed for 201 yards on 41 attempts — an average of 4.9 yards per carry. Blue Devils running back Re’quan Boyette led the way with 97 yards on nine carries.
Duke went on to finish that season 0-12 while Alabama went 6-7 with a loss to Oklahoma State in the Independence Bowl. O’Brien moved on to the NFL the next season, the same year Alabama hired Nick Saban as its head coach.
He played defense in college
O’Brien has spent the majority of his coaching career on the offensive side of the ball. However, he lined up on defense during his playing days. The Dorchester, Mass. native was a three-year letterman as a linebacker and defensive end at Brown from 1990-92.
Following his playing career, O’Brien spent the 1993 season coaching tight ends for his alma mater before coaching inside linebackers the following year. O’Brien’s lone season as an inside linebackers coach is the only defensive role he’s had in his coaching career.
He got his big break at Georgia Tech
After spending two seasons as an assistant at Brown, O’Brien moved on from his alma mater to serve as a graduate assistant at Georgia Tech from 1995-97. He was promoted to running backs coach in 1998 and proceeded to help the Yellow Jackets finish no lower than third in the ACC team rushing rankings the following three seasons.
O’Brien’s first opportunity to call an offense came in 2001 when took over as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach for Georgia Tech. His first offense with the Yellow Jackets featured the ACC’s leading passer in George Godsey (3,085 yards) as well as running back Joe Burns, who rushed for 1,165 yards on the ground. Georgia Tech went 8-4 that season, beating No. 11 Stanford in the Seattle Bowl.
O’Brien remained in charge of Georgia Tech’s offense the following season before leaving to become the running backs coach at Maryland in 2003.