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May 17, 2013A few times during the course of Penn State's spring practice session in March and April, reporters were invited to Holuba Hall to check it out.
Typically limited to the stretching period, brief special teams work and a few minutes of individual drills, the types of things seen by reporters remained remarkably consistent to the team's limited open practices throughout the 2012 season.
The things that were heard, however, varied wildly.
From the stylings of AC/DC, to rap mogul Rick Ross, to indiscernible country tunes, and even an operatic version of 'God Bless America', the team's loudspeakers blared music from the sidelines directly onto the playing fields.
A self-imposed sick and twisted plot to annoy and irritate head coach Bill O'Brien?
According to O'Brien, the technique of using music at practice has a unique history for him and, more important, a variety of important purposes toward the team's improvement.
"I'll tell you what I've learned about music. I learned a lot about this. When we were at Georgia Tech and Maryland with George O'Leary and Ralph (Friedgen), it was white noise. You know, the old UHF, static. It was just the worst headache by the end of practice," O'Brien said during a tour stop on the Penn State Coaches' Caravan.
Upon his arrival in New England, O'Brien went on to explain that the mind-numbing white noise switched over to music compiled by players and coaches on tapes or CDs.
The results were doubly beneficial.
Not only did the players love the music, O'Brien explained, but also, it forced them to improve their communication skills beyond the verbal.
"Football now, more and more than in the past, is about communication - in the past, I mean like 20 years ago. It's about players talking to each other on the field, and it forced them to use hand signals and read each others' lips," O'Brien said. "It's really something that I thought was pretty interesting, and so when I came to Penn State, I feel that one of the things that we have to do is play fast. And so, in order to play fast, we have to use code words and signals and just do that to a guy, and he knows what that means. When the music is blaring, it forces them to communicate.
"Then, what I found when I coached in the Ohio game, I couldn't believe how loud it was in Beaver Stadium when we were on offense. In pro football, when you're on offense at home, it's like a library. That's why you hear the quarterbacks in that league, you can hear all their things. So, we played the music more last year and I think it really helped our team. That's a long winded answer, but it's not just to have fun. But, I also see the young players, these guys, they love the music. They get into it. It's pretty neat."
Of course, though there seems to be a pronounced frequency of hip-hop and rap music, O'Brien insisted that on a team comprised of wildly different backgrounds and musical tastes, an effort is made to constantly switch it up.
"You said we play rap music, and, we try to switch it up, in all seriousness. (The players) kind of choose the music," he said. "I know last year, Stephon Morris would choose the music sometimes and some of our younger coaches choose the music. I know Larry Johnson has a disc that he plays every once in a while. So, we switch it up.
"Some guys would play country sometimes, sometimes we'd play rap, sometimes there's gospel music when it's Larry's disk, and things like that. It's pretty interesting to see, but the kids really enjoy it."
As opposed to some of the techniques he's seen used in his previous coaching stops, O'Brien went on to explain that the current method he uses is a much preferable one, all things considered.
"I can remember George O'Leary, we'd be getting ready to play Georgia and he'd play the Georgia fight song over and over and over again," he said. "We'd all say we hoped we didn't hear it that many times on Saturday. So, ever since I've been in Division I coaching, that's something that the coach has done."
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