STATE COLLEGE —
The new Penn State football coach wanted to appear as a family man.
He proudly introduced his wife and 6-year-old son, Michael, who was sitting in the first row of the introductory press conference Saturday at the Nittany Lion Inn wearing a blue Penn State baseball cap — and a blue No. 25 Silas Redd jersey.
“My chief-of-staff, wife, Colleen. She’s the brains behind the operation,” a smiling Bill O’Brien said, speaking to Penn State Nation for the first time since the university announced his hire late Friday evening.
“She’s magna cum laude from B.C., top five in her law school class. So, obviously, I have a pretty good idea how to recruit, I can tell you that.”
He laughed and so did some of the more than 100 media members and Penn State officials gathered in the ballroom.
But another thing stood out about the 42-year-old, New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator trying to replace the iconic Joe Paterno:
He’s got an edge, an energy and aggressiveness different than Paterno or the Nittany Lions’ interim leader, Tom Bradley.
Or maybe any other of the “handful” of anonymous, leading candidates athletic director Dave Joyner and the Penn State search committee considered.
That side of O’Brien was shown nationwide a few weeks ago in the highly-publicized, highly-animated sideline debate he engaged in with future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.
“We had a good talk the other night,” O’Brien said, when asked about Brady. “We have unique relationship, we’re like two brothers, I can tell you that. So there were times when things got heated and most of those were probably my fault.”
A bit later Saturday afternoon, when meeting with reporters again, O’Brien talked about his own demeanor, his personality.”
“I’m an intense guy, I have an Irish temper. I grew up about 20 minutes outside of Boston. I’m a New Englander. If something gets me upset, then I’m going to let people know.”
And only a few minutes after he spoke those words, everyone gathered around him saw a glimpse.
A reporter asked about the struggles his offenses experienced at Georgia Tech and Duke.
O’Brien scrunched up his nose and then quickly cut him off.
That’s a misstatement,” he said sharply, before recounting a few particular accomplishments.
Then he looked away, that fire stoked just a bit but in control.
“So, next question.”
O’Brien was talking a day after signing a five-year contract, which will earn him about $2.3 million, including TV and Nike money, with another $200,000 possible in performance incentives. He truly was the only candidate offered the position and was a first and unanimous choice of the Penn State selection committee.
“I talked to him several times, individually, and every time I talked to him the more impressed I was,” Joyner said. “He’s a humble guy. He has a lot of fire in his belly.
“I was looking for a Penn State heart, if it makes any sense,” Joyner said.
O’Brien spoke confidently and cleanly during his introductory session, flanked on a stage by Joyner and new Penn State president Rodney Erickson.
He wore a dark suit and gray tie and mixed dabs of humor in his overall message of determination, understanding and appreciation for this opportunity, even in light of the child-sex-abuse scandal and firing of Paterno.
“This is unbelievable,” were his first words as head coach. “Just to look out here and see the interest in the program. … There is so much pride in Penn State and we will never ever take that for granted. Ever.”
He wrote a brief letter to Penn State fans, alums and former players and read it, asking them all for a chance to earn their trust.
He said he would continue coaching the Patriots through a playoff run because that is necessary to show his new Penn State players and recruits about loyalty and commitment.
He also talked about naming a staff of assistants over the next few days and announced how longtime defensive line coach Larry Johnson has agreed to stay on staff and lead recruiting.
Members of the crowd applauded.
Johnson got to know O’Brien years ago when both recruited Maryland. O’Brien was at Georgia Tech at the time.
“He’s a great recruiter, he’s relentless, he’s very passionate about what he wants to do,” Johnson said. “You hear him speak, he’s fired up every minute. He’s really into it, he loves this game. He’s committed to it, you can just tell.”
O’Brien said he will speak to each of the previous assistants and may retain more.
Rumors of hires have been floated, including possibly picking Charles London from the Tennessee Titans’ staff and making him a running backs coach, but nothing was confirmed on Saturday.
Of course, this will be O’Brien’s first staff. Despite 14 years of college coaching experience, he has never been a head man.
“Everybody’s got to start somewhere. What better place to start than Penn State?” he said.
“Everybody was an assistant coach sometime,” Joyner said. “Joe Paterno was an assistant coach for 16 years. Somebody had to believe in them at some point and think they’re special to make that jump.”
O’Brien said he considers Penn State a wonderful opportunity, despite the roiling atmosphere over the past two months.
He talked fondly of Paterno and looks forward to meeting him (both are Brown University graduates).
“I’m not here to be Joe Paterno. There’s only one Joe Paterno,” he said. “We’re going to show respect to coach Paterno and what he did here and we’re going to move forward into a new era of Penn State football, and hopefully he’s proud of it.”
O’Brien finally stopped talking and moved on with a most busy weekend in the most hectic, yet possibly most satisfying, time of his life.
He went away to form his new staff and talk to former players and take in a couple of Penn State basketball games.
He will finally address his new team tonight at 5.
Then he planned on flying back to New England to continue practicing and preparing his Patriots’ offense for the playoffs.
“I’m in charge of this family right now,” he said of Penn State football. “There’s not going to be a lot of sleep over the next two or three weeks.”
STATE COLLEGE —
The new Penn State football coach wanted to appear as a family man.
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