Did the biggest upset in the NFL this season affect the Maryland football coaching search?
The 10-6 road victory Monday night by the Houston Texans over the previously-unbeaten Cincinnati Bengals put second-year coach Bill O'Brien's team into a first place tie in the AFC South with a 4-5 record.
Asked by a Houston Chronicle reporter after the game about reports that he might be interested in returning to college football in College Park next season, O'Brien initially declined to answer, saying he wouldn't respond to speculation that Under Armour CEO and founder Kevin Plank wants to bring the former Penn State coach to Maryland.
"I know you have to ask that and it's not directed at you, but anyone can say anything," O'Brien told reporters. "They can just throw it out there and say anything. All I know is that I'm head coach of the Houston Texans and we just had a great win. And I'm damn proud to be the head coach of the Houston Texans."
O'Brien, who is 13-12 in two seasons with the Texans, has three years remaining on a contract that reportedly pays him $5 million annually.
If O'Brien is out of the picture, it would leave Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson with one fewer viable candidate who would "excite the fan base," something Anderson and university president Wallace Loh said the Terps would try to find in replacing Randy Edsall.
Maryland is 2-7 going into Saturday's home game against Indiana and has not won under interim head coach Mike Locksley. After losing to Penn State, 31-30, at M&T Bank Stadium in Locksley's first game as head coach on Oct. 24, the Terps have lost to Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State.
According to a source familiar with the search process, Maryland would like to find a way to retain Locksley in order to keep a strong 2016 recruiting class – led by four-star quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., the No. 2 rated pro-style quarterback in his class – intact.
Locksley was said to be a candidate for the job after Edsall was fired on Oct. 11, but he is now 2-30 as a head coach at Maryland and New Mexico.
It is also thought that Anderson would like to hire Maryland's next coach as soon as possible after the team's season ends Nov. 28 at Rutgers and not wait as long as he did after firing Ralph Friedgen in 2010.
In that case, he had to wait until Friedgen coached his last game in the Military Bowl in late December and then had to wait until Edsall's Connecticut team played in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day.
Given the number of jobs that have already opened and those that would be considered more prestigious than Maryland – Missouri is the latest with a vacancy after Gary Pinkel announced this week he is resigning to undergo treatment for cancer – Anderson might be forced to wait for other schools to make moves.
One potential candidate available now is former Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who was fired two weeks ago.
According to media reports, Hamilton was caught in a power struggle between head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson. Hamilton was made the scapegoat in the team's slow start and third-year quarterback Andrew Luck's struggles. The Colts, who are tied with the Texans for first place, won their first game without Hamilton, beating the Denver Broncos.
Hamilton, who has not spoken publicly since the firing, was brought to Indianapolis two years ago specifically because of his relationship with Luck, whom he had coached and helped develop as quarterbacks coach and later offensive coordinator at Stanford. Hamilton had briefly worked for Locksley at New Mexico before being hired by then Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh.
Hamilton, 41, played and later coached at Howard. His wife is from Maryland. Except for the five years he spent coaching at Howard and the three seasons at Stanford, the rest of his coaching career has been in the NFL. Hamilton has not returned telephone calls or text messages from The Baltimore Sun seeking comment about his interest in the Maryland job.