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First-year Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien hardly sounded like a man whose program had just been slapped with some of the harshest penalties in NCAA history. On a conference call with beat writers Tuesday afternoon, a confident O'Brien said he is steadfast in his commitment to the goals he set when taking the job in January.
I believe in the ability to play good football and (for athletes) to graduate with a degree from a world-renowned university, he said. That's why I came. That's why my wife and I came.
On Monday, the NCAA hit Penn State with what it described as unprecedented punishments stemming from the school's handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. They included a four-year bowl ban, a loss of 10 scholarships per year for four years, a cash donation to victims' rights groups, five years of probation and the ability of any player on the current roster to transfer to another FBS school and be eligible to play immediately.
O'Brien said as of Tuesday afternoon, no players had informed him they were leaving. He held team meetings Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, telling players, Life is filled with adversity, and the way you travel through life and how you handle adversity — that defines you as a man.
His schedule has also been packed with individual meetings with players.
Right now I'm talking to you guys, so I'm wasting my time, he joked to reporters. I should be talking to players.
O'Brien said he was not part of the discussion between Penn State and the NCAA regarding the sanctions. The school and the organization both agreed to a consent decree that outlined the punishments.
However, when talking to PSU athletic director Dave Joyner, O'Brien said he hoped the football program would be able to maintain a couple of key privileges.
I asked for two things, he said. Let us play football and let us be on TV. At the end of the day, that's all you want to do. You want to play football in a fantastic, beautiful stadium in front of fantastic fans. And you want the fans who can't get to the game to be able to watch on TV.
Penn State football did not receive the so-called death penalty which would have ended the sport at the school for at least one season. It is also still eligible to play televised games.
O'Brien insisted he was not down over the sanctions that were imposed.
We are playing football, he said. We open our season Sept. 1 in front of 108,000 strong against Ohio University, and I couldn't feel better.
Penn State opens preseason camp Aug. 6.
Asked what he would tell fans who are considering dropping season tickets after the sanctions, O'Brien quickly answered, I would tell them to renew their season tickets. I would tell them to move forward. I would tell them to turn the page and get on board for a new era of Penn State football.
O'Brien declined to discuss how the sanctions have impacted recruiting so far, saying he did not want to risk violating any NCAA rules on the topic. But he said the staff was working on ways to operate most effectively under the constraints of the penalties — both in recruiting and in management of the current team.
He did allow, however, that his previous job as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots prepared him to deal with a streamlined roster.
The roster in the NFL is 53 men, it's 45 on game day, he said. So you're talking about having precision in how to put that roster together. You're talking about how to practice. You would run it like a pro practice. That's what we did in New England. We practiced hard and did it the right way and it's one of the main reasons we won.
O'Brien signed a five-year contract with Penn State when he left the Patriots. It includes a hefty buyout clause should he decide to leave the university before the contract is up.
He said he has not given that any thought.
I made a commitment to Penn State, O'Brien said. I believe in Penn State. I believe in the people that hired me.