As fiery as he can be on the field, second-year Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien has proved to be a cool customer when it comes to dealing with the media.
That was never more evident than near the end of Big Ten Media Days in Chicago Thursday, when a Midwestern radio reporter hit O'Brien with what some others at the roundtable interview session viewed as an insult to the current crop of Nittany Lions and one of their best players.
John Urschel, PSU's All-Big Ten guard and arguably the nation's top student-athlete, was scheduled to speak on behalf of the conference players at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon later in the day.
The reporter's line of questioning began innocently enough, as he asked O'Brien if he worked with Urschel on the big speech. O'Brien, an Ivy League grad who almost always uses self-deprecating humor when asked about Urschel's intelligence, immediately smiled.
No, O'Brien said, nodding his head emphatically. I would screw him up.
There was laughter all around the table from reporters who saw the wisecrack coming. But that laughter -- and the smile on O'Brien's face -- did not last long.
Are you surprised the Big Ten is giving a Penn State player -- even though it's John -- an opportunity to speak today? the reporter asked.
The not-so-subtle implication was that Urschel's resume -- which includes a 4.0 career GPA, a master's degree in math (he is already working on a second master's), the Big Ten Medal of Honor and Academic All-America honors -- has been somehow sullied by the Jerry Sandusky scandal. And that Penn State players in general are unfit for individual honors because the program has been hit with NCAA sanctions stemming from the scandal.
Of course, neither Urschel nor any of his teammates (nor O'Brien, for that matter) had anything to do with the Sandusky mess.
As the question was being asked, the smile disappeared from O'Brien's face. He locked eyes with the reporter and gnawed on some gum. It looked like he might explode.
And then he brushed off the question as if it was no big deal.
No, O'Brien answered. I think he's, to me, a shining example of what college athletics is all about. Here you have it. You have a guy that's a heck of a football player and obviously a great student, too. He probably has a chance to play pro football. He's good.
A couple of hours later, Urschel was at the main lectern at the Kickoff Luncheon, addressing a crowd of more than 1,700. When he finished, the entire room gave him a standing ovation.
You can see the interaction between the reporter in question and O'Brien in the video above.