LAKE BUENA VISTA– Bill O’Brien spent five years learning under Bill Belichick in New England before taking over at Penn State during the most tumultuous time in the program’s history. O’Brien has guided the Nittany Lions through that period, leading his team to a respectable 15-9 record and the success can largely be attributed his ability to recruit.
Now, with the Houston Texas searching for a new coach, rumors swirl that O’Brien is their man and he could potentially head back to the green pastures of the NFL, which is affecting Penn State’s 2014 recruiting class.
One commit in particular has put his recruitment into a holding pattern while the coaching rumors sort themselves out is defensive tackle Thomas Holley (6-4, 299, Brooklyn, NY Abraham Lincoln).
Holley narrowed a long list of suitors down to just Penn State and Florida before ultimately pledging his services to O’Brien but says that if the head coach were to leave, it would affect his decision to stick with that commitment.
However, Holley isn’t stressing over the uncertainty that surrounds the most important decision of his life to-date.
“Yeah, I haven’t really been stressing it too much, whatever happens, happens,” Holley said. “Whether I talk to him or not, I can’t control if he’s going to stay or not. So I’m kind of just laying back, watching to wait and see what happens. I’m taking everything step by step.”
But what if O’Brien bolts for the Texans opening? Does that mean Holley would automatically decommit? It’s not that simple. Through his recruitment, Holley has built a strong relationship with defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who — if he was retained on the new staff — could keep Holley in Happy Valley.
“If Coach Johnson is still there I’d probably stay, but you gotta see who they’re bringing in because things can change” Holley said. “There are a lot of factors going in to whether I stay or leave. When I get there I’ll sit down and talk with my family, get their thoughts and see where we go from there. You never know.”
New coaches usually want to bring in their own staff. With how competitive college football is, most coaches need to win and win now, which means they want people that they are comfortable with around them.
If O’Brien does leave, Florida is in great standing to get Holley to flip his commitment.
“If I was to decommit,” Holley said. “Florida would probably be at the top of my list.”
Holley isn’t an early enrollee so he has time to make a final decision on where he will attend school. But if O’Brien bolts, you have to feel very good about Florida’s chances at landing the talented player from the Bronx who has only been playing football for two years.