O'Brien Makes a Strong First Impression

Penn State players finally got to meet their new coach Sunday. They came away impressed.

Are PSU players pulling for Bill O'Brien and the Patriots in the NFL playoffs?

New Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien met his players for the first time during a 45-minute meeting at the Lasch Football Building Sunday. To hear the players tell it afterward, the 42-year-old with no previous ties to the program won them over.

“Some guys had mixed emotions,” quarterback Matt McGloin said of the university's decision to hire O'Brien Friday. “But after the meeting we just had now, it's full go here. I think everyone is on board.”

O'Brien, who will maintain his current position as New England Patriots' offensive coordinator as long as that team is still alive in the NFL playoffs, did not meet the press after the meeting. According to player accounts, O'Brien spoke for most of the session and opened things up for questions at the end.

There were very few questions asked because, “most of them were probably answered when he was talking,” center Matt Stankiewitch said.

The Penn State players had been without a head coach since Nov. 9, when Hall of Famer Joe Paterno was fired in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley took over on an interim basis as the university searched for Paterno's replacement, a process that took nearly two months.

Players admitted that the uncertainty over the coaching situation and the constant questions about it were draining. When the school finally settled on O'Brien, there was a sense of relief, even if the players were not yet back from semester break when it happened.

The spring semester starts Monday. Most players returned to campus Sunday just in time to meet O'Brien before he headed back to New England.

“It feels really great,” tailback Silas Redd said. “The monkey is off our backs and we can just worry about playing football and not who is steering this thing. We have our guy now and I know the guys are extremely excited.”

Added linebacker Mike Mauti: “We just wanted (a hire) to happen. And now that it's happened, we can all start moving forward. We can get the ball rolling on the winter program and what we need to do to be a better football team, and get away from all this media and nonsense about who's going to be this, who's going to be that. We can strictly worry about what we came here to do, and that's play football.”

Many players used the word “charisma” when discussing their initial impressions of O'Brien. Another common theme was his no-nonsense approach.

“He's very enthusiastic,” offensive guard John Urschel said. “He sounded like a good guy, a tough football coach. We were all excited to talk to him.”

The offensive players were really beaming. During the NFL's regular season, the Patriots finished second only to the New Orleans Saints in total yards with an average of 513 per game. Pro Bowl quarterback Tom Brady finished second in passing yards, with 5,235.

Asked what he liked about the Patriots' offense, McGloin smiled and said, “I don't know, the fact that Brady threw for over 5,000 yards, maybe.”

On the defensive end of things, players learned that current PSU linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden will be joining defensive line coach Larry Johnson in being retained on the staff.

“I'm excited about that,” Mauti said. “They're familiar faces.”

The players were not told of any other additions to the staff, though.

In the meantime, getting to know O'Brien on a more personal level is going to have to wait. New England has a bye in this week's first round of the NFL playoffs before getting back into action against Denver next weekend.

But McGloin said the new coach left them with plenty to think about while awaiting his permanent return, saying when O'Brien was talking about the offensive and defensive approaches he intends to use, “We got chills.”

“There's some exciting stuff going on here,” McGloin said. “I'm very anxious to get started.”

Fight On State Top Stories