As NFL owners and executives revisit the success of college coaches at the pro level, Penn State's Bill O'Brien may be on more short lists than Oregon's Chip Kelly and that would include the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles, according to league sources.
O'Brien would not necessarily jump at any NFL opportunity but if he did leave Penn State it would qualify as a surprise after the former Patriots offensive coordinator was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year in his first season as the Nittany Lions coach in 2012.
However, sources say teams that have gauged his interest have been informed by a third party representative that when O'Brien accepted the task of being the late Joe Paterno's successor, he was told by school officials that the Jerry Sandusky scandal was a criminal matter, not an NCAA concern. That proved to be bad information as Penn State was dealt a four-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions as part of its penalties.
O'Brien could not be reached for comment but the sources emphasized that he would not leave Penn State for just any NFL job.
He bypassed an opportunity to interview for the Jacksonville job last January.
Sources say that he has a significant buyout of $9.2 million but it is unknown whether it pertains to an NFL opportunity. The NCAA sanctions that O'Brien did not anticipate also could become a point of contention as it relates to a buyout, sources added.
Top-rated quarterback prospect and Penn State recruit Christian Hackenberg said Sunday he's confident that O'Brien would not leave the school for opportunities in the NFL.
"I mean, I'm hoping," Hackenberg said as he prepared to begin workouts on Monday for the Under Armour All-America Game at Disney's Wide World of Sports. "I've got my fingers crossed."
If O'Brien left before signing day on Feb. 6, Hackenberg said he would reconsider his options.
"I'd think about it," Hackenberg said. "He was a big part of it. He's the guy who's going to develop me. That's one of the big things I looked at. I'll see what happens."
ESPN.com sports business reporter Darren Rovell and NittanyNation's Mitch Sherman contributed to this report.