A Sign of Things to Come?

First-year Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said increased LOI day access to the media is part of a new approach for the staff and the program. It was a significant change from previous years, especially for holdover assistant Larry Johnson.

The big news at Penn State on signing day had little to do with the high school prospects who faxed their Letters of Intent to the Nittany Lions. PSU went into Wednesday expecting to lock up 19 prospects and did just that.

Afterward, however, there was a significant change. For the first time anyone in these parts can recall, Nittany Lion assistant coaches and even players were made available to the media to discuss the recruiting haul.

“This is different,” said veteran defensive line coach Larry Johnson. “Seventeen years (in the program), and it's my first time ever doing this. So it is different.”

Under Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno, Penn State was extremely secretive about recruiting, even after prospects signed. For years the athletic department would not even release the names of signees, let alone allow coaches to talk about them on the record.

Paterno was dismissed in controversial fashion in November in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. He died of lung cancer Jan. 22.

New England Patriots' offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien took over as head coach in early January. While going out of his way to pay tribute to Paterno at every turn, O'Brien is also doing many things his own way.

That includes dealing with the press.

“I think it is very important for us to talk to the media as a staff,” O'Brien said. “Not just me. I think this is about Penn State. We have to get out and talk about Penn State.”

O'Brien was speaking on a conference call from Indianapolis, where he is helping the Patriots prepare to face the New York Giants in the Super Bowl Sunday. He plans to arrive at Penn State for good Monday night and said the media can continue to expect greater access than it had before.

“As spring practice rolls around, and winter workouts, we have to be available,” O'Brien said. “Look, we can't do it every day. But we've got to be available to the media, because I think it's important for the people -- especially the people of Pennsylvania -- to see how hard we're working as players and coaches. And to see the type of players we have there and the character and commitment they have to the football program.”

Senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill laughed when he was asked about the signing day press conference, which was held in the lobby of the Lasch Football Building. Dozens of reporters showed up.

“I didn't see this coming at all,” Hill said. “But it's a nice change. Something different. More people to see what's going on up here at Penn State, and get a chance to learn about the new guys who are coming in and the guys who are still here.”

Added senior linebacker Mike Mauti: “I didn't even realize we didn't have a press conference (before). But I'm sure there will be some changes around here, and that's Coach O'Brien's call.”

Johnson is one of two holdovers from Paterno's staff. He was OK with the old way but seemed to be enjoying the change, too.

“I think it's refreshing,” he said, a crush of reporters surrounding him. “It's good in that it helps recruiting. And it helps in that our players know we appreciate them, because we have not said things about them in the process (before).”

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