Ohio State’s offensive coaching staff appeared to be set for the 2024 season. Then Boston College’s head coaching job opened up.
When Jeff Hafley left Boston College on Wednesday to become the Green Bay Packers’ defensive coordinator, it didn’t take long for Bill O’Brien to emerge as a possible candidate for the job. Although O’Brien just became Ohio State’s offensive coordinator on Jan. 19, the smoke that O’Brien could soon be on his way back to Boston – the city he grew up in and where his family still lives – has grown stronger by the day.
Multiple reporters who cover Boston College, including Rich Thompson of the Boston Herald, have reported that O’Brien is the frontrunner for the job and that he could be close to finalizing a contract with the Eagles. Multiple national reporters, however, have reported that Boston College’s interview process is ongoing; ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported Monday that BC is still scheduled to hold multiple rounds of interviews this week, though a final decision is expected by the weekend.
Sources: The Boston College football search has two rounds of in-person candidate interviews scheduled for this week, with the first round coming on Tuesday. A final decision is expected by the weekend.— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) February 5, 2024
Seeing speculation on Bill O'Brien + BC. Is he a serious candidate? Yes. He's from the area, and his family loves the school in the region his special needs son attends. Is a deal done? No. Like @PeteThamel, I have been told there are in-person interviews scheduled for tomorrow.— Andrea Adelson (@aadelsonESPN) February 5, 2024
O’Brien, meanwhile, was reportedly at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center with the rest of Ohio State’s coaching staff on Monday, indicating that he remains the Buckeyes’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, at least for now.
Ryan Day and Ohio State certainly don’t want to lose O’Brien less than a month after hiring him. Ohio State’s offensive transfer additions expressed excitement about playing for O’Brien last week. It wouldn’t be easy to find another offensive coordinator with as many qualifications as O’Brien, who has been both a head coach and offensive coordinator at both the NFL and college levels. And while Day is expected to delegate offensive play-calling duties this year, he isn’t going to give that responsibility to just anyone.
“Every year, you have to look and identify the things you want to tweak and change. I felt like this was important for a lot of reasons,” Day said in a recent interview with ESPN Cleveland when asked about hiring an offensive play-caller. “The landscape of college football has changed. Where my focus needs to be has changed. Bill brings a tremendous amount of experience to the table. I wouldn't have done it with just anybody.”
That said, Ohio State should have plenty of viable options to replace O’Brien if it ends up needing to do so.
Candle, Kelly, Johnson among names to watch
While it’s never ideal to be thrust into a coaching search more than a month after the end of the season, Ohio State wouldn’t be starting from scratch in replacing O’Brien. Any coach who was a candidate for the job the first time around could re-emerge as a candidate, especially if they remain in the same situation they were in before Ohio State hired O’Brien.
One such candidate could be Toledo head coach Jason Candle, who reportedly drew serious consideration for the job before O’Brien was hired. While Candle has been linked to several Power 4 head coaching jobs (including the Boston College job) over the past two months, he has yet to land another job, which could make him consider taking a coordinator position at a major program.
Ohio State could give Candle a pay raise, as he made just $1.125 million at Toledo last season, and a successful run as OSU’s OC could improve Candle’s prospects of landing a future head coaching job at a bigger program. He has never coached in a major conference and has only two years of experience as a quarterbacks coach, but he is an Ohio lifer whose offenses at Toledo have consistently ranked among the best in the MAC.
A potential upside to making a new hire in February would be that it could make the Ohio State job more appealing to coaches who might have been holding out for a potential NFL offensive coordinator job the first time around.
That group could include UCLA head coach Chip Kelly, who was recently linked to the Washington Commanders’ and Las Vegas Raiders’ offensive coordinator jobs. It appears unlikely Kelly will land an NFL offensive coordinator job this offseason, however, as the Commanders hired Kliff Kingsbury while the Raiders are expected to hire Luke Getsy.
Leaving a job as a Big Ten head coach to become a Big Ten offensive coordinator would certainly be an unconventional move, but Kelly appears to be looking for an exit ramp out of Westwood. He would check the same boxes that O’Brien did, having been a head coach and offensive play-caller in both the NFL and college, and has a close relationship with Day dating back to when Kelly coached Day as New Hampshire’s offensive coordinator.
Hiring Kelly wouldn’t come cheaply, as Ohio State would have to pay a $1.5 million buyout to UCLA, but it certainly wouldn’t feel like a downgrade if Ohio State went from O’Brien to Kelly.
Another coach who was connected to the job before Ohio State hired O’Brien was former Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, who was fired by the Eagles four days after Ohio State hired O’Brien. While he’s never been a head coach like O’Brien, Johnson has been an offensive coordinator in both the NFL and college; in his most recent job as a collegiate offensive coordinator, Johnson led a Florida offense that ranked ninth in the FBS in total yards per game and 13th nationally in points per game in 2020.
Johnson’s lone season as the Eagles’ offensive coordinator fell short of expectations, and he’s still looking for a new job as a result. But the Eagles still ranked in the NFL’s top eight in both points and yards per game in 2023, and the 36-year-old former Utah quarterback was viewed as a rising star in the industry before this past season.
Other logical fits
Super Bowl-winning offensive coordinators Josh McDaniels and Frank Reich are both still looking for jobs after they were fired as NFL head coaches this past fall, so they could both be worth calling, though neither of them has ever been a full-time assistant coach at the collegiate level.
National championship-winning offensive coordinator Dan Mullen previously worked alongside Day when Day was a graduate assistant at Florida, though it’s uncertain whether the current ESPN analyst is interested in a return to coaching.
Akron head coach Joe Moorhead was an excellent offensive coordinator at both Penn State and Oregon and had a salary of just $620,000 last season, so he’s another coach with both head coaching and offensive play-calling experience that Ohio State could make a run at if it needs to replace O’Brien.
If the Buckeyes can’t get Kelly, it would be hard to replace O’Brien with another coach who has experience as both a head coach and offensive coordinator at both the NFL and collegiate levels. But there are plenty of coaches Ohio State could pursue that check at least a couple of those boxes.
Buckeyes have been here before
Should O’Brien leave for Boston College, it wouldn’t be the first time that Ohio State has had to replace an assistant coach just weeks after hiring him. A similar situation played out in Urban Meyer’s first year as head coach in 2012. Meyer initially hired Bill Sheridan that January to be Ohio State’s cornerbacks coach, but Sheridan left the staff in February to become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator.
Meyer replaced Sheridan with Kerry Coombs, who quickly established himself as one of college football’s best cornerbacks coaches, producing five first-round draft picks in a five-year span while helping the Buckeyes win the 2014 national championship.
Ohio State may not have to worry about replacing O’Brien if Boston College goes in another direction or O’Brien simply decides to stay in Columbus. But the Buckeyes should be well-positioned to find an effective Plan B – one that would still allow Day to delegate responsibility to his offensive coordinator and focus more on his many other responsibilities as a head coach – if O’Brien ends up shipping up to Boston.