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May 10, 2012When Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien sat down with a small group of reporters in Richmond last week, the first question posed asked whether or not he'd gotten any time off since the Super Bowl.
That morning's breakfast function, the fifth of six stops on the first leg of his three-week Coaches Caravan tour around the East Coast and Midwest, had gone well just like the others, but O'Brien wore the look of a man needing some much-deserved rest.
The question, a not-so-subtle attempt by a friendly Virginia reporter to tell O'Brien to relax, was met with a quick smile and laugh.
He's working, all right, but he's not complaining.
O'Brien said he'd been able to spend time with his family on the weekends now that his wife, Colleen, and two sons, Jack and Michael, have moved into the area. In fact, despite the heavy hours accompanying one of college football's most prestigious jobs, with his family frequently on the sidelines at Penn State's spring practices, O'Brien has even said he's had more opportunities to see his family now than in New England.
It's good, because, if he's being honest, those are the two things O'Brien loves most deeply: his family, and (winning) football.
When the two are in harmony, O'Brien - a man who might come across as a perfectionist at times - actually does find a sense of personal satisfaction.
"There's definitely moments of satisfaction when you teach a player that has made a few mistakes and you kind of work on his technique and you watch him go out on the field and figure it out," O'Brien said. "We saw a lot of that this spring. We had a couple of bad days and then we'd come back and we taught them differently and they learned it, and now they went out and they were able to execute it better. Those were satisfying days.
"Obviously, winning is hugely satisfying. There's not many things in the world better than winning. Next to your family, the best thing as a football coach is being in a winning locker room. That's a tremendous feeling. I've been in a lot of winning locker rooms, and that's a great feeling. Hopefully we have a lot of those feelings."
Judging by the work ethic he has put on display so far, Penn State fans have good reason to believe the Nittany Lions will have plenty of winning locker rooms for O'Brien in the coming years.
He, unlike other coaches, doesn't appear to be fixated on a pinnacle, though.
Whereas lifting the national championship crystal ball or even a series of Big Ten conference titles would be worthy of a coach's dreams, O'Brien says he doesn't think about those things.
"I do want to win every time we step on the field, whether it's a seven-on-seven drill or a scrimmage or obviously games or a one-on-one drill and I'm coaching the receiver and Coach Butler is coaching the DB, I want to beat that coach. I want to win that drill for our players," O'Brien said. "But, I don't think about down the road. I really don't.
"I do look at the big picture, but I also try to say, 'OK, what are my tasks today? What do I have to get done next week? What are the things that are important that point toward winning and making sure that our guys are doing the right things off the field?' So, I really don't get into thinking too much about the future like that."
Instead, O'Brien has been thinking about the here and now. The process.
He says he loves the competition. He loves the end of a long practice when his players are coming off the field, worn out and dirty from an emotionally grueling day at work. He loves the same from a game, an emotional one that his players have come out on the winning end of.
"There's no better feeling than that. That's the reason why you coach football," he said. "These guys here at Penn State, that's what I see. We had some long practices and you'd watch them walking into the locker room and they're trying to figure things out and you're trying to teach them in different ways, but they have such a passion for football that it's fun to be around these guys.
"They like to laugh, they want to have fun, but at the end of the day, the best feeling is winning. That's really what we're in it for."
In turn, O'Brien's successes are his players' successes, and the coaches alongside him.
If and when Penn State wins under O'Brien's leadership, those are the people he's going to be crediting for the success, rather than himself.
Even in the midst of this three-leg, 18-city tour around the Eastern Seaboard - a tour designed specifically to show off Penn State's new head coach to some eager, some skeptical alumni and fans - O'Brien hesitated to talk about what makes him a good football coach.
The question was simple enough, but seemed to make him as uncomfortable as the suits and ties he's worn throughout the trip.
"I appreciate the question. I work very hard. I've always been surrounded by great people, I really have," he said. "I've worked for great head coaches. I've coached a lot of great players, whether college players or obviously in the NFL, and really, at the end of the day, you have to be a good teacher, a good communicator. You have to have a passion for what you're doing, but, when you hit the field, the players have to make the plays. So, you have to give the players that I've coached, the coaches that I've worked for, a ton of credit.
"I'm just a hard working guy that feels like he's a good fit for Penn State and I'm thrilled to be here."
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