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September 10, 2013Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien met with the media Tuesday afternoon at Beaver Stadium in advance of his Nittany Lions' weekend matchup against former mentor George O'Leary and his Central Florida Knights.
Check out the transcript, below!
* Transcript provided courtesy of ASAPSports.com
Bill, how would you describe your relationship with George O'Leary, and did you know him before he hired you at Georgia Tech?
O'Brien: I have a fantastic relationship with Coach O'Leary. No, I didn't know him before he hired me.
It's kind of an interesting story. I was basically a graduate assistant at Brown. When I graduated from Brown, I went to work at Brown. The first year at Brown, I worked for Mickey Kwiatkowski. I was basically the tight end something‑‑ I don't know what I was, but I was helping out on offense.
Mark Whipple came in, and he got the job after Mickey was let go, and I moved over to defense, and I was like a defensive graduate assistant for Mark Whipple. Then I started to apply for graduate assistant jobs for that year. I want to say it was '94‑‑ I think it was '94.
Jimmy Bernhardt, who works for us here, had a relationship with George O'Leary from being a high school coach on Long Island. George was an assistant college coach at Syracuse and used to recruit Jimmy's high school. There was a big New York/Long Island connection there. So Jimmy coached me at Brown. This is a long story.
Jimmy coached me at Brown, and I said, Jimmy, I want to be a graduate assistant. So Jimmy called George, '94 thereabouts, and said, hey, look, I‑‑ actually, George called Jimmy, I think it was, and said, Do you know anybody that's smart enough to get into graduate school at Georgia Tech and dumb enough to want to coach?? And Jimmy said, I got just the guy for you.
So I then began a relationship with Doug Marrone because Doug Marrone was the Director of Operations at Georgia Tech at the time, and he was the guy that I worked through to all the logistics, and finally George O'Leary hired me, and I started there in, I think it was, May or April of '95. So that's how it happened.
Yeah, Bill. I had a question for you about explosive plays. I think you call them chunk plays, plays that are 20 yards or more.
What has the UCF defense done to really limit that?? I think they've only allowed two, and you guys have been pretty good on creating them this year on offense.
O'Brien: UCF, they're very sound on defense. They're going to line up, and they're going to know what to do. They're very physical. They're well‑coached.
And that has a lot to do with, you know, obviously the players that they have and the coaching staff they have, but the type of defense they play, again, it doesn't really lend itself to giving up explosive plays.
So in order to get an explosive play, we're going to have to work real hard to come up with something we think will work and then execute it on gameday. This is a very difficult defense to go against, and you can see that every snap on the tape.
Bill, how important of an example has Glenn Carson set for your defense?? Not just with the play but as a guy who never missed a game, almost never misses a practice for you guys.
O'Brien: Derek, you can't say enough about Glenn Carson. He's a guy that received the game ball‑‑ we can't give him the game ball, but he was the player of the game for the Syracuse game, and then in this past game, he received special mention from our staff, from me, for how he played against Eastern Michigan. He's a tough guy. He's improved. He's quicker. He's faster. He's stronger.
He loves playing for Penn State. He believes, and I believe, he has a future in football. So he's gone out there in the first two games and done an excellent job of playing good, tough, physical Penn State football.
It seems like a lot of the guys you worked with at Georgia Tech in some form have influenced not only the way you coached but also your coaching staff. Why for you was this such an influential time in your coaching development?
O'Brien: One of those‑‑ I don't know. Probably more than one of those years, but I know‑‑ one of those staffs, I should say‑‑ we had a lot of really good coaches on those staffs.
George was the head coach. We had Ralph Friedgen. We had Doug Marrone. We had Stan Hixson. At times we had Mac McWhorter. Randy Edsel was on there at times. We had a laundry list of some really good, topnotch coaches, many of whom went on to become head coaches. Danny Crossman, who's Doug's special teams coordinator in Buffalo now.
We just had a lot of good coaches there, and I learned a lot from them, and I contributed what I contributed to that staff, but I think we all learned from Coach O'Leary.
And I think every one of those guys would say we owe a lot to Coach O'Leary because he taught us about tough, physical football, great organization, things like that.
But, yeah, there were a lot of great coaches on those staffs.
Hi, Bill. After two games, how would you kind of evaluate your offensive line play, running and protecting the pass?? Are they where you thought they would be?? Where are they headed the next week or two, do you think, those guys?
O'Brien: I think that some certain individuals up front have played really well. I don't want to get into the specifics, but I think that overall we need to play more consistent up front. I've talked to these guys about that. Mac feels the same way.
And, again, I think we've played decent. I don't think we've played poorly, but I know we can play better. I think the guys understand that. We hold our offensive line to a very high standard here at Penn State, and you know those guys know they can play better, and we expect them to.
But, again, it hasn't‑‑ it's not a fact that it's been poor. It's just that we know we can be better and more consistent than the way we're playing right now.
Hi, Bill. Coach O'Leary obviously has been probably a sounding board for you over the years. I was just wondering how much advice he's given you in terms of your development through the years as an assistant and what kind of encouragement did he give you when you were considering the job at Penn State?
O'Brien: Certainly, I've kept in touch with Coach O'Leary over the years. Neither one of us are real big phone guys. You know, when‑‑ especially after I became the head coach at Penn State, I called him a few times, just on different subjects, like practice and different things he did, schedule‑wise, travel‑wise, with what he did at Georgia Tech and Central Florida, and he's been very helpful to me.
Probably the most I learned from Coach O'Leary, though, is when I worked for him, and the most I talked to him is when I worked for him. Coaches are busy, and everybody has busy lives and things. But those, I think it was, eight seasons I worked for him is where I really learned a lot from Coach O'Leary.
It seems like you have a lot of depth at wide receiver, an awful lot of guys who are contributing there. I wonder how you‑‑ how you sort that all out in terms of who plays when. Do you go with strengths or weaknesses?? Do you try to rotate guys and get a lot of guys in the game?? Is that a challenge for you?
O'Brien: I think we have basically‑‑ that's a good question. It is. It's about six guys that are in the rotation right now at wide receiver.
And what we try to do is by personnel‑‑ we have a lot of different personnel groupings. So by personnel, we try to get as many guys into that rotation. Now, some of the personnel groupings are two wide receiver personnel groupings, some of them are three, some of them are four, some of them are five wide receiver groupings, which we haven't even used yet.
So we try to make sure that we're rotating guys in and out, and I think that does a lot. It gets guys on the field that are good players. It helps morale because a lot of guys are playing, and I think a lot of different guys have caught passes from Christian this year, which is good.
So I think we just need to continue to do that and just‑‑ it's not hard, no. It's actually fun to come up with personnel groupings and where to put guys and things like that.
Bill Belton said he feels like he's a more mature player and person this year. I'm wondering what kind of changes you've seen in him, not just as a running back but as a person, and how his attitude has changed approaching that position switch last year in the running back spot.
O'Brien: Billy's come a long way. Billy and I have had a number of conversations about a lot of different things, not just football. I just‑‑ I really‑‑ you know, I just have a connection with Billy, and I think he's a great kid, and he's working extremely hard in the classroom. He worked extremely hard this summer to be where he's at right now.
He had a good summer in the conditioning and all those things that he did in the weight room, and he's come on strong here in the past couple of games, especially against Eastern Michigan, and that will continue because he's going to continue to play.
He's running the ball better. He's being more decisive running the ball, and his pass‑catching ability out of the backfield is good. I think his protection needs to improve, but I know he's going to work on that this week.
Overall, he's a much better player, and he's turned the corner off the field too, I believe.
When you talk about your running game, would you like to see one of them really kind of emerge as your go‑to runner. You had 9, 13, 7 carries out of your top three. Or when you're getting 108 yards from two guys, are you happy with spreading the carries around a little bit more?
O'Brien: I like all three of these guys playing. I think one of the things that we try to do is, if a guy gets really hot, we'll stick with a hot back. I do think‑‑ I think it's hard for these guys to‑‑ one of these guys to come out of the game and not play.
On the Syracuse game, Akeel didn't play, and I think it's important to get all three of these guys in the game and give them a shot.
Like I said, if one of them gets hot, more than likely, we would stick with that guy. Running back by committee isn't so bad when you have three good running backs.
Coach, can you just talk about, obviously, to the naked eye, people can see Allen Robinson is an athletic guy, a big guy. For a receiver he's fast. What is it about him that's made him the top receiver in the Big Ten?? Is it route running, intangibles, that type of stuff?? Can you talk about some of the hidden, under the radar stuff about Allen?
O'Brien: He's a very smart guy. He's very football smart, and he's very smart off the field. He's just an intelligent guy. He really, really worked hard this off‑season to improve his individual skill set, and so he's another guy like DaQuan Jones, like Glenn Carson, who have taken their game to the next level.
So he came back with better knowledge of the offense. He was stronger. He was faster, and he's shown that. Now, as the games go on here, it's going to be more and more difficult because, obviously, people, starting with Eastern Michigan, they really put a safety over the top of him.
But that helps other guys out. That helps other guys become one‑on‑one and things like that. So it's just going to be up to us as a staff to make sure we continue to move him around and he understands where we're moving him and how he can execute the play from where he's at. That's what we'll continue to do.
Bill, I'm wondering with some of the third down problems, how much of that stems from things that may or may not be happening on first and second downs as opposed to just third downs?
O'Brien: A lot of it is, you're right. We talked yesterday, and we'll talk about it again this afternoon. We've got to get off to a better start on first down. We've got too many‑‑ whether it's a penalty to put us back or a lost yardage play. So now you're in second and long, and you're already off schedule. It's not a good thing.
Once we get to third down, we have to execute better. I thought on Saturday there were plays to be made there. Whether it was a protection breakdown or a poor throw or whatever it was, we just didn't make the play.
It will get better. I can't guarantee it. I'm not into guarantees, but I do believe we're working on it, and it will definitely‑‑ in my opinion, it will improve. It needs to. There's no question about it. It has to improve.
Bill, with Christian's arm strength, how does like one continue to improve upon that throughout his college career, and also how much of it is just natural?
O'Brien: Well, a lot of it has to do with mechanics. He's able to use the proper footwork, and he's able to finish his throws and have his elbow in the proper place and have the proper grip on the ball.
You're right, he's a strong guy. He's a big, strong guy, and he's got a strong arm. His arm strength will continue to improve as he becomes stronger himself. He's only 18 years old.
As he gets‑‑ he's only had one month in our weight program. As he continues to get stronger and leg strength is better and upper body strength, you'll see his arm strength improve. But that's where he's got to really understand how much he has to work on his touch passes, his underneath passes, his throws to backs.
Usually, backs are recruited to run the ball, not catch the ball. So you've got to give them good throws. You have to have nice touch on those balls. So hopefully that will continue.
But you'll see his arm‑‑ I think you'll see his arm strength improve as he plays.
You get so many questions about Allen and the tight ends. How important is Brandon Felder to what you're trying to accomplish, especially him being kind of a possession underneath guy?
O'Brien: He's very important to what we do. Again, he probably should have some more catches in the time that I've been here. Whether it was we didn't read it right or maybe his route could have been better, but he's very important to what we do.
He's one of those unsung guys. He practices every day. He's a very smart guy. He's a really good route runner, very smooth route runner. Really enjoy coaching him, and he's very important to what we do.
He didn't get a lot of playing time early last year. When did you kind of start to see that he could develop into that role for you?
O'Brien: I don't really remember. I'd have to go back and look at that. I just remember in practice, just watching him improve in practice early on last year and just saying, This guy's getting better and better. We've got to get him on the field.
I'm not sure when that really happened, but I saw the improvement in practice and told Stan we've got to get this guy on the field more.
Coach, with Mike Hull expected to return to the field this week, how do you see the reps at linebacker playing out?? Do you see Obeng's role affected at all by that?
O'Brien: No, I don't think so. I think, if Hull can go, it would be Hull, Carson, and Wartman, more than likely. If Hull has some issues throughout the week, we'll go with whoever we have there, whether it's Obeng or somebody else. But Obeng will play, and he'll have a role in the game just like he's had the past two weeks.
Bill, the university's been on a pretty good run with defensive linemen. What is it about L.J., his coaching style, that helps create this?
O'Brien: He's‑‑ first of all, he's a great person. So they're around him a lot. They like to be around him. His office door is always open.
Defensive line coaches and offensive line coaches, they kind of have their own world. Those are‑‑ those are very, very tough positions in football to play. Those are‑‑ like I always say, those are about 100 car crashes a game. So it's a little bit different than playing corner and wide receiver, just a little bit.
So there's a very deep bond with your coach at those positions, wherever I've been. Wherever I've been. And Larry is no exception to that because of the type of person he is.
And then when he coaches, he's very, very technical in how he coaches these guys. He understands pad level. He understands hand placement. He understands the work ethic that it needs‑‑ that that position requires. So when you watch him at practice, those guys really don't take a drill off. They are going, and if they're not going the way he wants them to go, they're going to do up‑downs.
So he demands a lot of his position. Great family guy, has them over the house, things like that, whatever's allowed by the NCAA. They're very, very close to their coach.
And I'd say the same thing about Mac McWhorter.
Christian's play action fake is something I've noticed over the first two games, how effective it's been. Is that something he had coming in?? Is that something you had to work with?? How valuable is that for a young quarterback and as a play caller as well?
O'Brien: That's great‑‑ that's really good that you noticed that. It is‑‑ it's something that he had. I think we've worked on him a lot, just based on how we fake the ball, the different play fakes that we have.
But right from day one, he came in‑‑ you know, it's not easy to understand how to fake the football, and great quarterbacks, whether it's Brady, Manning, Rodgers, and these young guys, Kaepernick, and last night Vick‑‑ these guys are great fakers of the football.
Looks like Christian‑‑ he's not there yet. That's not what I'm saying, but I think he's got a good start in that department, and we just need to keep working with him and reminding him how important it is.
Bill, Donovan Smith played a lot for you guys last year as a younger guy. What did he do last season specifically to kind of show you guys that he was ready for that responsibility, protecting the quarterback's blind side as a younger guy?
O'Brien: It started in practice. He practiced very well. He was a little inconsistent last year. I think he's a lot more consistent this year. He's a big guy, 315‑pound guy, who's very nimble, very athletic. Smart guy, instinctive player. So he's a guy that has done a nice job for us.
And coming into this year, another guy that I think's taken his game to the next level, he's improved. Think he gave up a couple of pressures this week, but overall he was the‑‑ Mac calls it the Boss Hog. He was the Boss Hog of the Syracuse game up front, and he deserved it. So he's an improved player. Fun guy to be around too. Great guy.
Bill, you always say you're constantly evaluating how you do things in the program. With some of the scrutiny that a lot of the stars in college football come under for things they put on the internet, have you evaluated like training programs or things you can say to your guys to avoid the same kind of mistakes?
O'Brien: Sure, we have. We've brought in different people. We have different people here in the athletic department. Jeff Nelson's crew here that come over early in the season and talk to us about tweeting and Facebook and all that stuff.
And then, obviously, I think it's just about daily that I'll stand up in front of the team and just talk to them about‑‑ maybe it's some story that's out there, or maybe it's something that one of our guys put out there, but just to constantly remind them that you're a representation‑‑ you're a representative, excuse me, of Penn State and the Penn State football program, and you're a high profile person. That's just the way it is. That's what we all signed up for.
So it's important that you understand whatever you Twitter out there is out there for everybody, you know, to see. And the same thing with the Facebook. So we try to educate our guys all the time on those things as best we can.
You've had some guys that cut a lot of weight this year, DaQuan Jones being one of them. How hard is it to get these guys to buy into a dietary program like that, getting the right sleep, getting the right nutrition?
O'Brien: That's an interesting question. I think, when you're talking to a young guy, a young big guy about losing weight, it's not always the easiest thing, especially when these college guys who are rushing from class to come over here to the team meeting to the position meetings, you know, and they're just grabbing a Big Mac or a Snickers bar or whatever they're grabbing at the hub, that's when it's hard.
When you're in pro football, those guys, they have the three meals right there, and they've got a nutritionist watching them. We have a nutritionist too in Kris Clark, and she's done an excellent job in meeting with all these guys one‑on‑one, especially the guys we wanted to talk to that about.
I think that's part of it, having a professional talk to them about it and then spelling it out for them. This is what you should have for breakfast. This is what you should have for lunch. This is what you should for dinner. This is what you should have for snacks. I think that's a big part of it too. DaQuan's a guy that's taken that to heart.
Can you just evaluate UCF as an opponent and what challenges you guys are going to face this Saturday?
O'Brien: Yeah, we face a big challenge. They're an excellent football team. They're very well‑coached. They're sound. They're physical. They're physical at all positions. It's not like they're just physical on the offensive and defensive line. To me, they're a physical team at every position.
Our players better be ready to come and show up for a physical football game because this isn't a game‑‑ this won't be a game for the faint of heart, and that's a Coach O'Leary trademark.
So one of the things that you have to understand on‑‑ with their offense is they've got a really good quarterback. So, again, it's hard to totally stop a guy like that, but you've got to try to contain him. He's very, very good. He's a pro prospect, Bortles.
Defensively, they're tough, they're physical. They do some different things that are not easy to go up against, and we're going to have to have a great practice week. Like I said, we have to limit our mistakes on Saturday. Right now, going in, Central Florida, I don't believe, has turned the ball over. We've turned it over way too much.
Again, if we go in there and we turn the ball over, we're going to have a long night. And commit line of scrimmage penalties and things like that, we're going to have a long night. So we've got to understand that and have a great week of practice and be focused and ready to go on Saturday.
Bill, being an 18‑year‑old college student and starting quarterback at a school like Penn State can be extremely overwhelming. What have you as coaches done to try to simplify‑‑
O'Brien: Try being a head coach. Go ahead. I'm just kidding.
What have you guys done to try to simplify things for Christian both on the field and off the field?
O'Brien: You know, it's interesting. That's something I think about a lot, obviously. 18 years old, like you said, being the starting quarterback at Penn State, that's a big deal, everybody understands that.
But he's a guy that is very calm. He's got a good demeanor. School's important to him. So he‑‑ I mean, he can't miss a class with us. But I mean, he won't miss a class. He'll be in every class. He'll sit in the front row. He'll work hard at it. When it's time to do football, he'll do football.
I don't think he's like this guy who's kind of all over the place. He's a very focused guy. He works at whatever the task is that he needs to accomplish. He's shown me to date that he's been able to get it done. So I don't think he allows all that stuff to really enter in. He's very, very focused.
It's been fun to watch. Hopefully, we can keep talking to him about that, staying focused, winning the day, taking it one day at a time, and he'll continue to be that way.
O'Brien: Yeah, definitely. And there's other guys like that too in that freshman class, like Breneman. These guys like ‑‑ that's recruiting, though. That's what happens in recruiting. They're on all these websites. That's great. That's good for the recruiting websites, but those kids haven't done anything yet in college.
Once they get to the campus, in some ways, they're like rock stars, which is ridiculous when you think about it because they haven't done anything on the football field in college to deserve that.
Now, obviously, Adam and Christian have played in games, and Christian especially has done pretty well. So that's‑‑ now I understand what you're saying, but, again, I'm not with them on campus.
I do talk to them every single day, two or three times a day, about different things like class and football. Keep your head down and just keep working and don't worry about all the stuff on campus. The biggest thing is to make sure you get off to a great start academically and play as good as you can on Saturdays and prepare during the week.
So I think he's taken that to heart.
Bill, what are some of the things that you learned from last year to now as far as how it relates to trying to balance redshirting young guys when depth concerns come up and that kind of thing?? Have you kind of learned anything from that or kind of formulated any kind of a plan if there is such a thing?
O'Brien: We do. We talk about that all the time. We do have a plan for it. We have a deal where basically on Thursday mornings as a staff, we sit down and look at our depth, where we're at injury‑wise and those kinds of things and say, Okay, is this guy a red light, a green light, or a yellow light?
If he's a red light, that means that we're not‑‑ as it relates to freshmen, that we're not playing him no matter what happens. If he's a yellow light, that means that, hey, look, it depends on what happens. Two or three guys go down, then this guy's going to have to play. And if he's a green light, he's playing.
And we definitely communicate with the player and try to communicate with the parents on what we're thinking as it relates to that player, especially the freshmen is what you're asking about mostly. So it's a difficult deal.
So that's the plan, but that plan changes every week because of your depth at that position. You take, for instance, a kid like Brandon Bell, who we think is going to be a really good player for us. Because of the linebacker depth issue there a little bit, he played last week.
He was on special teams and other positions maybe that freshmen‑‑ like a kid like DaeSean Hamilton, who's injured right now, he's redshirting, so that's good because we have some receivers there that can play. But at other positions we can't.
And that will be an evolving process as we go through these so‑called sanction years. That's just the nature of the sanctions really.
Bill, you said you learned a lot of lessons from O'Leary when you were a graduate assistant and assistant coach. What's the most important lesson that you think you took away from him, and at least what's part of the philosophy that you adopted from O'Leary?
O'Brien: I think that probably I took two big lessons from him that I'll always have for me in coaching that I've always kept with me.
One was organization. He was a very organized guy, like there wasn't a wasted moment during the day, and that had a lot to do with work ethic. We worked extremely hard, all of us did, when we worked for him. He demanded that of us. So I learned a lot about that.
And then I just learned about how important the physical toughness, resiliency of your football team is. Like that's a very important part‑‑ characteristic of a good football team. And when you don't have that, then you're going to struggle. I'm not saying you're going to lose all your games, but it's not going to be easy.
But when you have that, when you have a physical, resilient, tough football team, then you've got a chance to win games. So those are two things that I learned from him.
Bill, you had mentioned the staff that you guys had at Georgia Tech, and a lot of those guys had gone on.
Can you talk about your philosophy of, as a head coach, how much you felt mentored along the way to move up?? How much patience was stressed. Just the overall make up of a staff.
O'Brien: Yeah, I‑‑ that's an interesting question because I've had some really just fantastic veteran coaches that have taught me a lot as I was coming up the ranks.
And Coach O'Leary, Coach Friedgen, they always stressed a do a great job at the job you have. Don't worry about the next job. And the next job will happen as long as that program you're working for wins and you're doing a good job and you're a good person and all those things. So they really stressed patience.
Both those guys, Ralph and George, they were probably passed over for many head coaching jobs on the way up the ladder. They didn't get their first head coaching job until they were probably almost 30 years into their career. So they stressed patience, those guys did.
And it was the same thing with Coach Belichick in New England, saying, Hey, look, do a great job for us here. Work your butt off every day, and good things will happen.
So that's what I try‑‑ you know, I don't talk to our guys a lot about this, but my philosophy is, if your program's doing well and you're winning, every coach who strives to be a head coach someday should be given that opportunity. The head coach of that program, in my opinion, should not stand in the way of somebody that can improve his own ring on the ladder, so to speak, whether it go from a position to a coordinator or a coordinator to a head coach.
So I think everybody wants to be promoted and things like that. So I would never stand in the way of things like that.
Coach, last week it seemed like, when you got in your NASCAR package, it really calmed the offense down and you got in a rhythm in the game. Can you talk about that going up against a tough defense in UCF this week and maybe a little bit about that nationally as it's catching on in the NFL. You see a lot with Chip Kelly last night, an amazing first quarter that he had.
O'Brien: It was unbelievable. It was great.
It's kind of a fine line that you walk with your tempo. You're trying to control the tempo of the game. A lot of it has to do with how your defense is playing.
With the way our defense has been playing in the last couple games, it was probably appropriate for us to be in more fast tempo because our defense was playing pretty well. I think you have to get the flow of the game to see how the game's going.
I think the big thing is you really‑‑ it's hard to start a drive with ultra‑fast tempo right away. It's important to gain the first first down, and that kind of gets you flowing from there.
So we haven't‑‑ we've been kind of inconsistent offensively with that, but when we've been able to do that, we've been able to play at a faster pace. I love to play at a fast pace. I think it's a lot of fun for the kids. It's fun in practice. They enjoy it. They have a lot of confidence in it. So we'll try to keep mixing it in there.
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