By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS)—Bill O’Brien resurrected the Penn State program the first time he addressed the team. He beamed at his players, with no previous head coaching experience replacing the legendary Joe Paterno, and said in stark, brutal terms, “You (expletives) think you know everything about football, you don’t know (expletive).”
Behind closed doors, in intimate moments, it was classic O’Brien. Direct, emphatic, colorfully profane, an old-world, grainy black-and-white football coach without filler, filter or pretense.
That’s how O’Brien, apparently, viewed himself, and that’s all he wanted to view himself as, according to the piece on pennlive.com (http://www.pennlive.com/sports/index.ssf/2014/01/bill_obrien_the_outsider_arriv.html) done by the brilliant David Jones, a thorough Penn State authority.
Though O’Brien has raised the ire of many Penn State fans for leaving the Nittany Lions and returning to the NFL as the head coach of the Houston Texans, he was the program’s savior.
O’Brien took over what was perceived as the country’s most toxic team, the stench from the flotsam caused by the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal still hovering.
O’Brien implemented changes that were long overdue, and held a very deep caring for his players—even the players he was forced to discard. O’Brien had to shatter decades of stodginess that had borrowed deep into the program.
O’Brien did it with little things, like allowing a buffet in the locker room, where there wasn’t under Paterno. Players were allowed to play music in the weight room. They weren’t under Paterno.
O’Brien did everything to bring Penn State football into the new millennium, while also upholding what Paterno meant to Penn State football and the tradition he built in Happy Valley. O’Brien instilled a pro mentality, which had long since been adopted by SEC schools.
“I owe Coach O’Brien a lot,” said defensive end Shawn Oakman, who now plays for Baylor and was kicked off the team for violating team rules in the spring of 2012. “People don’t know all the obstacles Coach O’Brien was up against at Penn State. I know what he did for me and how he helped change my life, even after all the problems I caused him. I wouldn’t be at Baylor if it wasn’t for him and coach [Larry] Johnson.
“But I saw what coach O’Brien was doing his first year at Penn State. He really changed everything.”
The players saw a transformation coming and O’Brien was the fulcrum, preventing the program from falling into a dark age.
But more things at Penn State need to change if the school plans on keeping its next coach for more than two years. Penn State made a great choice in O’Brien. The school needed burly, strong shoulders to lean on and he provided them.
Wrote Jones, “Some of [O’Brien’s] frustrations revolved around what he saw as the lack of leadership at Penn State and his desire simply to fulfill his job description as the football coach, not university figurehead.”
Indications that O’Brien’s discontent with Penn State had been brewing for some time. The backlash he received after Paterno holdover Ron Vanderlinden, a recruiting stable in Pennsylvania, parted with the program stirred more consternation.
“You can print this: You can print that I don’t really give a
(expletive) what the ‘Paterno people’ think about what I do with this program,” O’Brien told Jones in the Pennlive.com story. “I’ve done everything I can to show respect to Coach Paterno. Everything in my power. So I could really care less about what the Paterno faction of people, or whatever you call them, think about what I do with the program. I’m tired of it.
“For any ‘Paterno person’ to have any objection to what I’m doing, it makes me wanna put my fist through this windshield right now.”
“I’m trying to field the most competitive football team I can with near-death penalty (expletive) sanctions. Every time I say something like that and somebody prints it, it’s skewed as an excuse. And I’m not an excuse-maker. I’m trying to do the best I can for the kids in that program. That’s all I care about is the kids in that program.”
It was a message the players absorbed loud and clear the first time they met O’Brien. In time, hopefully more Penn State fans will get on board with what O’Brien meant and the two years of good he supplied that went far beyond the field.