Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien speaks during the Big Ten media day at the McCormick Place Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Reid Compton-US PRESSWIRE (Reid Compton / March 3, 2013)
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien was in Orlando Saturday as part of the NIKE Coach of the Year Clinic and I got a chance to sit down with him to discuss several topics.
Do you feel part of your job is public relations?
Bill O’Brien: “As the head football coach at Penn State, you have an obligation not only to your players and your staff, but also the fans and the alumni especially to get out there and shake hands and talk and let people have a chance to get to know you.”
“Part of the job here right now is to make sure that the people of Penn State have pride in their university. They do and we are moving forward and how are we doing that. So I get out there and talk about my philosophy and how I see things in the future. I think that’s a good thing for Penn State because there’s a lot of great things about Penn State that we need to make sure and understand and see and hear and that’s what I try to do when I go out there.”
Was there any hesitation on your part about following a legendary coach?
BO: “There was no hesitation as far as following a legendary coach. When I took the job there really was not hesitation. I felt honored and humbled to be offered the job. I knew there were some bad, bad things that had happened there, but that if I could put together a good staff, I knew we would have the ability to attract good players. That you could win there and that you could win that way you want to win. Then, as time wore on, and the sanctions came out. That was a tough situation for us, but we have a good staff, a good group of guys. Players who chose to stick it out, but there was no hesitancy when I took the job.”
How did you feel about getting interest from several NFL teams in the offseason?
BO: “Obviously, I have a great amount of respect for that league. I’ve coached in that league with a fantastic organization. I owe a lot to that organization. I love the NFL. I love college football. At the end of the day, I thought I owed it to my family to hear what some of these teams had to say, but it didn’t go any much farther than that. I knew that I made a commitment to Penn State and the players that are there now and the recruits that decided to come so I decided to stay. I was never offered a job.”
Have you received any really good advice during your first season?
BO: “I talked with Coach [George] O’Leary. I’ve stayed in touch with him. He’s been a great mentor to me. I learned a lot from him. I worked for him for eight or nine seasons and we won a lot of games. I’ve talked with him quite a bit. [New England Patriots] Coach [Bill] Belichick. I talked with [Alabama] Coach [Nick] Saban. I have a relationship with him. Not a ton of guys, but guys I have a ton of respect for.”
“Nobody’s even been in that situation. I think they felt bad. They felt that it was a tough situation. Every guy said that there’s nothing you can do about it now, you just have to move forward. Make sure the kids understand what their roles are and coach the crap out of them and let the chips fall where they may.”
What do you think about playing against your former mentor, George O’Leary this season?
BO: “It’s great. It’s a fantastic opportunity for Penn State. Coach O’Leary called me and said what do you think about playing and I said, I would love to do it if we could find a way to maneuver our schedule and we did. Virginia, they wanted out so that opened up a date for us so we got it at Beaver Stadium, which is what Coach O’Leary wanted. He’s a guy that’s meant so much to my career. He promoted me all the way through so I was like a graduate assistant for him and I was a running backs coach and then running backs coach and recruiting coordinator and then I was offensive coordinator … He just gave me all my shots. So, I owe a lot to that guy. To go out there and coach against him now is just pretty humbling for me.”
Did you expect the college landscape to change so much?
BO: “I don’t know if I ever expected it to be at the degree that it’s been, but now that’s it happening, I can see where it’s going. I think it’s headed down the road of four or five super conferences. I’m just glad that in the Big Ten that we have a fantastic commissioner in Jim Delany, who understands that road and is a really bright guy whose stayed one step ahead of the posse on that thing. I can see where it’s headed now.”
“I’m just cognoscente of the fact that times are a changing. We just brought Rutgers and Maryland into our conference so we have … 14 starting in ’14. I would say that the Big Ten probably will probably expand again. Just like all of these other big conferences.”
Did you think it’s the right decision for the Big Ten to drop FCS opponents?
BO: “I’m not sure where that came from. I know Coach Alvarez mentioned that and I have a ton of respect for him, but we didn’t talk about that in the head coaches meeting that we had in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. I think at Penn State, we have to do what’s best for Penn State over the next three years. I wouldn’t say that we are eliminating FCS foes off our schedule.”
“As you move forward with the new Championship Bowl System with the way that it’s going to be, I think your strength of schedule is going to be taken into account. I think we have to remember, when we play those schools … not only are they competitive games, but they count on those games to make money for their athletic programs.”
Was there one highlight from last season that stands out for you?
BO: “When we beat Wisconsin. The locker-room after that game was really awesome. It was a fun thing to be a part of. Those kids were just overwhelmed with joy that they won that game. It meant a lot to those kids. It meant a lot to us as a coaching staff.”
Is it hard for you to separate the off the field and on the field stuff at Penn State?
BO: “That wasn’t hard at all. You are very focused on the football team and the task at hand. I have a ton of respect for what Coach [Joe] Paterno did on the field and academically here, but when they start talking lawsuits and this report and that report, that’s not my deal so I just try doing a good job coaching the team and coaching our staff and working with those guys.”
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