Then again, that's what many said about his first season at the helm of a program in tatters.
O'Brien won the 2012 Paul "Bear" Bryant College Coach of the Year Award on Thursday night, beating out five other finalists.
O'Brien led the Nittany Lions through an 0-2 start and NCAA sanctions to an 8-4 finish in his first season at Penn State.
"It means so much to the kids and everyone else who stuck with us," O'Brien said. "This was a program award. But we've got a long way to go to get Penn State back to what it once was."
The man he replaced last January, the late Joe Paterno, was the first Bryant Award winner in 1986.
O'Brien won his third national coach of the year award after previously winning the Maxwell Club and AT&T ESPN awards last month. Penn State's season began with an 0-2 record before the Nittany Lions won eight of 10.
In July, the NCAA sanctioned Penn State with a four-year postseason ban and loss of 40 scholarships over a four-year period. O'Brien said winning the award was a testament to those who remained with the program.
"It's not going to be easy," O'Brien said. "This first year was a good start that gave us a good foundation, and hopefully, we can come out of the sanctions in decent shape."
Other finalists for the award were Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Kansas State's Bill Snyder, Stanford's David Shaw and Vanderbilt's James Franklin.
Snyder, Sumlin and Shaw were each finalists at the end of last season.
O'Brien said he thought Sumlin, who led Texas A&M to an 11-2 season in the school's first season in the SEC, would be the winner. Instead, Sumlin was denied for his third time as a Bryant Award finalist.
"I'm a big fan of `All My Children,"' Sumlin said with a grin in a speech shortly before O'Brien was announced the winner. "I'll be very proud to be Susan Lucci. You can invite me back every year because it must mean we're doing something right."
Former Brigham Young coach LaVell Edwards was the ceremony's other honoree, receiving the Bryan Lifetime Achievement Award given by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.
Edwards retired in 2000 with 257 victories, 22 bowl appearances and one national championship in 1984.
The awards were given in conjunction with the American Heart Association.