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July 24, 2012Penn State beat writers were given an opportunity to speak with Nittany Lions' head coach Bill O'Brien Tuesday afternoon via teleconference.
How's he holding up following the devastating news? Read the complete transcript, right here:
Are you more worried about losing players this summer or after the season?
OB: I don't really think about it that way. I reiterate every single day to this team and individually to these players why they came here, what Penn State stands for, which is a world renowned education, the ability to come here and play football on TV in front of 108,000 fans and play for a fantastic football coaching staff. So, I don't think about down the line, tomorrow, when it comes to that stuff. I just think about continuing to communicate with our players.
Did the severity of any of the sanctions surprise or disappoint you when you first got the specifics yesterday morning?
OB: I would say that in coaching, one of the things that you learn right away is that you always have to be ready for anything. Whether you're calling plays in a game or you're in a meeting with Bill Belichick, you better be ready for anything. So, at the end of the day, these are the rules that we play under now and this is what we've already started to implement is our plan for these new rules and where we're headed and that's what we're doing right now. So, that's the approach that we're taking and we really can't wait to start practicing football, to be honest with you.
What's your gut feeling on the 2012 seniors sticking around for this season?
OB: I feel good about this team right now. I've had a couple of team meetings with these guys. I think we've got a bunch of standup, tough, smart Penn State kids that care about this university and that care about this football team. They've developed a lot of chemistry over the last six months with this university, with this coaching staff and I feel very good about where we're at right now. Now, at the end of the day, we'll find out what type of team we have when we start practice on August sixth, but as it stands here right now, we continue to communicate with our players and we feel good where we are right now.
How much will this change your recruiting philosophy?
OB: Of course it changes it based on the numbers, but the philosophy that I brought here based on my experience with the New England Patriots does not change, meaning that we're looking for high character guys that are good students, that are tough football players, and we're going to find different ways to do that. But, at the end of the day, these are the rules that we play under, and to me, it's very much like an NFL roster. That's the way we're looking at it and that's the way we're going to approach it, without getting into details, which I'm not going to get into with you guys. We're moving forward and we're looking forward to recruiting and coaching for Penn State.
What would your message to Penn State fans be right now? A lot of them are trying to figure out if they should renew season tickets. Some are saying they're all in. What's your message to them?
OB: 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 with a new era of Penn State football. I would tell them to continue their belief in this fantastic university that offers people a fantastic education. I would tell them to remember that they've got a football team here that is working extremely hard for this upcoming season. And, I would tell them to remember the mission of Penn State, which, as it relates to football, is the value of a world-renowned education with the ability to play great football. I would tell them to jump on board.
Are you confident that you can keep your staff in tact after this season?
OB: I'm very confident about this staff and our ability to work together and stay together.
It sounds like the NCAA has created a free agency system with the players on your team. How would that compare to what you dealt with in New England?
OB: That's a good comparison. Obviously, in professional football, you're talking about money and paychecks, which we're not talking about here. What we're talking about here is the value of an education, the ability to play football in front of 108,000 people, on TV. In my opinion, to be able to play six or seven bowl games a year right here in State College, in front of great fans. And so, there's a lot of things in the NFL that we would tell free agents as to why they should stay with our team, and in a similar way, we're telling our football team to remember why you came here. Remember the relationships that you've developed here, how you feel about this football staff, how you feel about the guy you play next to, and how you feel, most importantly, about this university and the ability to take this degree and go out into the real world when you graduate, whether it's in the NFL or the business world or the medical field or be a teacher or doctor, whatever you want to do. This degree holds a lot of weight, and so, I think there's a lot of things that we can talk to our guys about as to why they should stay at Penn State. I believe that's what's going to happen.
As of right now, have any current players informed you they're going to be leaving via transfer?
You called the sanctions harsh yesterday. How important was it that TV was not taken off the table and that will be a part of Penn State football moving forward?
OB: I believe in the chain of command here at Penn State, and so the communication is me, to my boss, Dave Joyner, to his boss, Rod Erickson, and the lines of communication there was that I asked for two things. I basically 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 passionate fans, and you want your fans, if they can't get to the game, to be able to see you on TV. We've got that. We're able to play football and I understand that we can't go to a bowl game. I understand that. I really do, believe me. But, like I said earlier this morning, I'm not sure there's many bowl games that are played in front of 108,000 fans. So, I feel good about where we are right now because we do have the ability to play football on TV.
Were you conferred with at all about the decision not to appeal the sanctions? What do you think, generally, of that?
OB: Again, what I've done since I've been here is, I'm here to talk about the football program. I will say this, that we have really, really fine leaders here at the university, men that I respect a lot, starting with Dr. Erickson and Dave Joyner. They've had to make some tough decisions over the last six months, and I respect that because that's what I do in the football program. I try to make decisions. Make quick, educated decisions, and that's what they've had to do. At the end of the day, I respect the decisions that they've made, and I'm here to run this football program.
What was it like for you in that first meeting with the players yesterday morning?
OB: I can tell you that it was a really good meeting. It was a positive meeting. I told the guys why I came here. The reason why I came to Penn State was because I believed in the ability to play good football and to graduate with a world-renowned degree. That's why I came, and that's why my wife and I came. I talked to these guys about adversity. I talked to them about my own adversity within my own family, what my wife and I went through when my oldest son was born and we found out that he was handicapped, that life is filled with adversity and, the way that you travel through life is how you handle adversity. That's how you're defined as a man. So, I talked to the guys about why they came here and I told them to think about the guys that they're sitting next to in that room and who they're playing next to. I talked to the guys about our football staff, guys that are some of the best coaches I've ever coached with and that I'm proud to be associated with. I talked to them about how proud I am to be their head football coach. So, I told these guys a lot of things to think about. I met with them again this morning. I reiterated some of the same things and I feel really strongly about this football team, that we've got a bunch of kids here that are good, tough, smart, football players that care about education. And so, again, we just have open lines of communication, and that's what we're doing right now.
How much have you and your staff made an effort to reach out to the class of 2013? Has your message to them been similar to what you've told the guys on the team right now?
OB: I'm not going to get into all of the recruiting because of the rules and what I'm allowed to comment on, but I will tell you that we've obviously been involved in a lot of different areas of this football program over the last two days and we feel very good about where we're at recruiting-wise. We continue to tell everybody involved in the Penn State football program that this is what Penn State is about. It's about, again, a top-level university where you can come in here and choose from over 100 different majors, you have some of the best faculty in the world to teach you, you've got a chance to play for what I consider one of the best staffs in the country, a staff that's going to develop you to play in the NFL, and also develop you for your next stage in life if it's not the NFL. So, those are the things that I've talked about to everybody involved with the Penn State football program the last two days.
Some people have suggested that the sanctions are worse than the death penalty. What are your thoughts on that? Is this worse than the death penalty?
OB: No. We are playing football. We open our season on September 1 in front of 108,000 strong against Ohio University, and I couldn't feel better about that. We're playing football. We're playing football and we're on TV. We get to practice. We get to get better every day as football players. And, we get to do it for Penn State.
You asked to be able to play football and be on TV. What was the context in which you requested that? Did they ask you?
OB: I just knew that they were in talks with the NCAA and I knew that what was important to me was to make sure that we were playing football and would like to be able to do it on TV so that our fans that can't get to the game can see the game and those are the things that I just talked about with our athletic director and our president. And so, that's just what we talked about.
Have you met with players just in the team setting or have you met with some or all of them individually? Also, do you have a number in mind that if you were to lose X number of players, it would really hamper your ability to put a competitive team on the field this year?
OB: I've met with the team in the team setting and I've met with individual players. Right now, I'm dealing with what we have right now as far as our football team, which is in tact right now. So, at this point in time, I don't even think about those things. I think about talking to these kids every single day, every single hour of the day. Right now, I'm talking to you guys, so I'm wasting my time here, I should be talking to our players. But, I'm talking to these guys all the time about Penn State and the values of this football program and the new era of Penn State and the education that they can receive here. That's what I'm talking to them about.
What's the greatest challenge you've faced in football and how did you try to overcome it?
OB: The greatest challenge that I've faced in football? Well, football is a challenging sport to coach. I can't tell you one major challenge over another. I mean, I've worked for some great guys that were great teachers and demanding boses and I've coached some players that demanded the best out of you. So, I think every step of the day in football coaching is a challenge. I can tell you this. I've faced challenges personally, and at the end of the day, that's what's most important to me. This is football. We're going to play football. We're going to do right by these kids. And, we're going to continue on, like I said, our philosophy for Penn State football moving forward, and we're going to do things the right way.
You have a five year contract and a four year bowl ban. How tough is that going to make your job and do you think you have enough time to prove yourself?
OB: Again, I'm the type of person that I don't really worry about contracts too much. I just really concern myself about doing the best job that I can every single day. I'm committed to this football team. I told our players that. At the end of the day, I'm not out here just to prove myself. I'm out here to do the best job that I can for Penn State and for these kids that have played here and for this coaching staff. So, that's what I try to do every day.
Can you describe any special plans you've made to make your teams as competitive as possible for the next few years?
OB: I appreciate the question but I'm not going to get in all the specifics of what we've talked about already. We obviously have a plan and it involves a lot of different things. But, we've got a very bright staff here. We've got a staff that's been involved in a lot of different types of programs. We've got a staff that's been at the top of the mountain. We've got a staff that's been in national championship programs, that's been to Super Bowls. So, we have a pretty good idea about what we're doing as a coaching staff. So, we've had some good discussions, and I'm going to keep those between my staff and I. But, you can rest assured that we have a plan.
When you talk about playing football, how important do you think that is to the healing process at Penn State that your team is out there twelve Saturdays a year?
OB: Number one is, I think that at Penn State, Penn State is about, obviously, what I've said all along is that it's a fantastic education. The football program is a big part of Penn State and the students love the football program and so, I'm sure that once we start football practice and once we play against Ohio, I believe that everybody is going to feel good about Penn State. Now, we've gotta go out there and win, and then they'll feel real good about Penn State football. But, I'm sure that will help people and get people moving forward, which is what we need to do.
When kids are thrown into a situation like this, does it give them a certain resolve?
OB: There's no question. Football is the greatest team sport out there. You've got a group of young men here that have put in a lot of time over the last six months, and they've also been through a lot over the last year. So, you've got a team here that feels really close to each other. You've got a team here that has a lot of fight in it. And, just like our coaching staff, just like the head coach, we've got a lot of fight. And so, there's no question that our football team is close and I think they have resolve.
In what ways, because you are accustomed to a 53-man roster, can that help you over the next few years, especially in practice situations?
OB: No question. The roster size in the NFL is 53 men and it's 45 on game day. So, you're talking about having experience in how to put that roster together, learning from the best in Bill Belichick. You're talking about how to practice, learning from the best in Bill Belichick. So, yeah, there's no question that my NFL experience, and Stan Hixon's NFL experience and Charles London's NFL experience is certainly going to help us with our roster.
You know how to work different kinds of practice and not work guys so hard so they stay healthy, right?
OB: Yeah, that's exactly right. You'd run it like a pro practice. That's something where, when we were in New England, we practiced hard, we did it the right way, and it's one of the main reasons why we won. We felt like we practiced efficiently. We weren't out on the field for three and a half or four hours. We were out there for a decent amount of time, but it wasn't overboard, and our guys were prepared to play games. So, there's no question that I take that experience here to Penn State.
You only have six weeks to go until the start of the season. Are you hoping there's some kind of time frame for players to make a decision so it doesn't get closer to the start of the season and camp? Does that create some logistical problems as things get closer?
OB: I've been very up front with these kids. I've told them what the rules state, what they can do, what's available to them. I've told them what I think is important about staying here at Penn State, that there's a lot of passion for this football program. This team has developed a lot of camaraderie the last six months. We've got a group of stand up young men. And so, I've also told them to act like men, like they've done since the six months that I've been here. Ninety-five percent of these kids have acted like men since the day I stepped on this campus. And, to make decisions in this time period that are good for them and are good with their families, and at the end of the day, we'll deal with it as it comes by. So, I don't really think about time tables or things like that. I just talk to our team about Penn State, why I'm here and why they're here.
What compels you to stay, particularly in the coming years, if somebody comes and wants to court you in this open season?
OB: I made a commitment to Penn State. I believe in Penn State. I believe in the people that hired me. But, I'll say two things. The two things that are most important to me are, I really feel great about this staff that I've put together. This is one of the best staffs in college football. The other thing that is very, very important, probably the most important, is, I feel very, very close to these kids that I'm the head coach of right now. I think we've got tough kids, smart kids, kids that care about each other, kids that care about their coaching staff. They've been dealt with honestly and openly, and again, we've got a bunch of guys here that want to succeed and want to do well both on and off the field and I feel close to them.
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