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To call Bill O'Brien's first year as a head coach "great" would be a vast understatement.
A thesaurus is unable to contain all the superlatives that could be used to describe the overall efforts by O'Brien, his staff and the Nittany Lion squad members during his thrilling, challenging and memorable first season as head coach at Penn State.
Named the Nittany Lions' 15th head football coach on January 6, 2012, O'Brien quickly and effectively established the foundation and shared his passionate vision for the new era of Penn State Football during his initial eight months on the job.
After two narrow losses to open the season, the resilient Nittany Lions responded the following Monday with one of their best practices of the season to set the tone for the final 10 games. A 34-7 victory over Navy in Week 3 not only was O'Brien's first career victory but served as a launching pad for the remainder of the season. Penn State won eight of its final 10 contests and earned a 6-2 mark in the Big Ten Conference, finishing second in the Leaders Division.
Penn State capped its remarkable season with a 24-21 overtime victory over eventual Big Ten Champion Wisconsin on an emotional Senior Day, with 31 committed and dedicated seniors introduced before the game. O'Brien's eight wins were the most by a first-year Penn State coach in the 126 years of the program and led to a plethora of accolades for his leadership, coaching acumen and commitment under unprecedented conditions.
In his 20th year of coaching, but his first as a head coach, O'Brien was selected the 2012 Bear Bryant Coach of the Year, ESPN Coach of the Year and the Maxwell Football Club Collegiate Coach of the Year. He also was a finalist for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year and the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). O'Brien also was among the finalists for the 2012 Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year, a prestigious honor presented to a metropolitan Pittsburgh sports figure.
O'Brien also was named the Big Ten's Dave McClain Coach of the Year (media) and Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year (coaches). The Brown University graduate was just the seventh first-year head coach to earn the Big Ten-Dave McClain Coach of the Year in the 41 years it has been awarded.
Penn State reeled off five consecutive victories after the 0-2 start, as O'Brien tied George Hoskins (1892) and Dick Harlow (1915) for the most consecutive wins by a first-year Nittany Lion coach. Among the wins was a 22-point fourth quarter explosion to hand No. 24 Northwestern its first loss. Penn State also won its initial three Big Ten road games, making O'Brien just the fifth Big ten coach since 1950 to win his first three conference away contests.
The Nittany Lions' offensive coordinator, O'Brien engineered a dynamic, fast-paced offense that featured the Big Ten's passing leader (Matt McGloin), top receiver (Allen Robinson) and a running back (Zach Zwinak) who gained 100 yards six times in eight Big Ten games and 1,000 yards for the season. McGloin broke nine school passing records and won the Burlsworth Trophy and Robinson shattered the Penn State season record with 77 receptions.
Penn State led the Big Ten in total offense (437.0 ypg) in conference games and was second in scoring offense (32.6 ppg) and second in pass offense (283.1 ypg) against Big Ten foes during the 2012 the season. The Nittany Lions gained more than 500 yards of total offense three times in conference play, topped by 546 yards vs. Indiana, its highest total against a Big Ten foe in four years.
O'Brien's teaching and tenacity helped Penn State earn two All-America honorees (Jordan Hill and Michael Mauti), two freshmen All-Americans (Deion Barnes and Kyle Carter), six first-team All-Big Ten selections and three individual conference award winners:
- LB Michael Mauti - Big Ten Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year;
- WR Allen Robinson - Big Ten Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year;
- DE Deion Barnes - Thompson-Randle El Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
"Bill O'Brien has been an outstanding addition to Penn State athletics and to our University community," said President Rodney Erickson. "His leadership has been exceptional as he has rallied fans and players in their support of our team and delivered a winning season. Coach O'Brien's commitment to both athletics and academics continues Penn State's long-standing tradition of achievement bothon the field and off, and hisfirst year as head coach of the Nittany Lions has been one of tremendous success and positive impact on the entire University."
"He's an educator and he's a very humble guy," said Dave Joyner, Director of Athletics. "He is a coach who is really a teacher and an educator. He really serves that purpose very well, and he's able to greatly enhance the experience for his student-athletes. What motivates him is working at a great university and being able to coach these great young men, and working with all the coaches together as a great One Team. That's what motivates Bill O'Brien."
During the 2012 Fall semester, O'Brien saw 47 squad members earn at least a 3.0 grade-point average, with a program record 20 Nittany Lions earning Dean's List recognition by posting a 3.5 GPA or higher during the semester. A program record 28 football student-athletes earned Academic All-Big Ten honors in 2012 for owning at least a 3.0 grade point average and being a letterwinner In addition, senior defensive end Pete Massaro and John Urschel earned first-team CoSIDA Academic All-America honors, as Penn State and Notre Dame were the only FBS schools with multiple first-team honorees.
O'Brien is a tireless worker, with an emphasis not only on hard work in the classroom, practice field and weight room, but on the importance of character, respect, integrity, honesty and competition for all members of the football squad and staff.
Immediately after the 15 allotted 2012 spring practices that culminated in the Blue-White Game, O'Brien spent the next week meeting individually with every squad member to discuss where they stood in his eyes and what they needed to work on academically or related to football in order to improve or earn more playing time this season.
The following Monday at 6:30 a.m., O'Brien was on a customized bus en route to Philadelphia for the start of the ambitious and unprecedented Penn State Coaches Caravan. Over the course of nine days in the first half of May, O'Brien met with Penn State alumni, fans and former players at 18 events in 17 cities across seven states and Washington, D.C. He did nearly 80 interviews with local and national media over the three weeks to assist in introducing himself to Penn Staters, potential recruits and the nation and spreading his vision of Penn State Football.
From the day he was introduced to Nittany Nation, at each of the Coaches Caravan events and every day since, O'Brien has emphasized the four cornerstones of the program he is leading: Academics, Football, Integrity and Respect. During each of the evening Coaches Caravan events, O'Brien introduced himself and the rest of the foundation of the football program with an enthusiastic and well-received PowerPoint presentation titled "Penn State Football: A Championship Program On and Off the Field."
His vision includes building a "big, fast, physical football team able to play in all kinds of weather." And it will be a football program that is part of One Team, with the football squad and staff, Intercollegiate Athletics, the University, Penn State alumni and fans, residents of State College and all communities that are home to a Penn State campus working in unison to continue to build upon Penn State's mission to improve the lives of the residents of Pennsylvania and beyond.
O'Brien's personality, vision, passion, work-ethic, respect for the past, excitement for the future, and no-nonsense approach have resonated with and enthused every constituency he has met, from prospects and their families, to the football lettermen, Penn State alumni and fans and communities across the Commonwealth.
O'Brien's experience as a former collegiate player and a college and professional coach and the knowledge gained by working with some of the nation's premier offensive minds has prepared him for his first season as a head coach. His coaching experience includes 14 years at the collegiate level and five years spent as an offensive assistant coach with the National Football League's New England Patriots.
O'Brien has worked with some of the game's most successful and innovative coaches and players, with Bill Belichick, Ralph Friedgen, Chan Gailey and George O'Leary among the coaches he has worked alongside and learned from. Tom Brady, Deion Branch, Kevin Faulk, George Godsey, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Randy Moss and Wes Welker are among the players he has mentored during his coaching career.
A Brown graduate, also the alma mater of his College Football Hall of Fame predecessor Joe Paterno, the engaging, detail-oriented and intense O'Brien spent 14 years coaching college football at Brown, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke before spending five highly-successful years on Belichick's staff.
A member of the Patriots' coaching staff from 2007 until coming to Penn State, O'Brien served as the Patriots' wide receivers coach in 2008 and was the quarterbacks coach in 2009-10 prior to his promotion to offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in 2011.
O'Brien was instrumental in helping New England reach two Super Bowls in the past five years, including Super Bowl XLVI. From 2009-11, O'Brien coached the Patriots' quarterbacks, being promoted to offensive coordinator for the 2011 season, when New England led the AFC in scoring at 32.1 points per game. During the 2011 campaign, O'Brien was instrumental in New England earning a 13-3 record, the No. 1 seed in the AFC and advancing to Super Bowl XLVI. The Patriots scored 513 points, the AFC's highest total and No. 3 in the NFL. New England was second in the NFL in total offense (428.0 ypg) and passing yards (317.8 ypg).
Under O'Brien's tutelage, Brady threw for 5,235 yards (No. 2 in NFL) and 39 touchdowns during the 2011 regular season, as the Patriots won their final eight games. Wide receiver Welker led the NFL with 122 receptions and his 1,569 receiving yards ranked second in the NFL. Welker and tight end Rob Gronkowski (90-1,327) ranked No. 1-2 in the AFC in receiving yardage in 2011. Gronkowski led the NFL with 17 touchdown receptions and was second with 18 overall scores. Tight end Aaron Hernandez also was prolific in the passing game with 79 receptions for 910 yards and seven touchdowns during New England's AFC Championship season.
From 2009-11, O'Brien coached Brady and the quarterbacks. Brady was selected the first unanimous Associated Press NFL MVP in 2010 after leading the Patriots to an NFL-best 14-2 mark.
O'Brien began his coaching career at his alma mater, working with the tight ends in 1993 and the inside linebackers in 1994. He joined George O'Leary's Georgia Tech staff in 1995 as a graduate assistant, helping the Yellow Jackets to bowl appearances in each of his last six seasons, including bowl wins over Notre Dame, Stanford and West Virginia. In his first year as running backs coach, O'Brien helped the Ramblin' Wreck to the 1998 Atlantic Coast Conference championship, just their second ACC title, and a Gator Bowl win over the Fighting Irish.
Working with then-offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, O'Brien served as the Yellow Jackets' running backs coach from 1998-2000, with GT finishing no lower than third in the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing all three seasons and beating rival Georgia three consecutive times. O'Brien was promoted to Georgia Tech's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2001 and assistant head coach in 2002. In 2001, he helped George Godsey break school season records with 3,085 passing yards and 249 completions and lead the ACC in passing yards (257.1 ypg). He completed 64.8 percent of his passes, threw 18 touchdown passes and ran for four scores in 2001.
O'Brien was reunited with Friedgen in 2003, joining his Maryland staff as running backs coach. The Terrapins finished second in the ACC in rushing in his first season and defeated West Virginia, 41-7, in the Gator Bowl. Following two years in College Park, O'Brien served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Duke in 2005 and '06 before joining the Patriots' coaching staff.
Born in Dorchester, Mass. O'Brien was raised in Andover, a Boston suburb. He played linebacker and defensive end at Brown from 1990-92, graduating in 1992 with a double concentration in political science and organizational behavior management.
O'Brien and his wife, Colleen, have two sons, Jack (10) and Michael (7).
What They're Saying About Bill O'Brien
"They're getting a great man, I'm so sorry to see him leave. They're getting the real deal. He's a passionate guy. He knows the game and is a great people person. He's not afraid to speak up, whether it's (Bill) Belichick, (Tom) Brady, myself or something isn't right and that's what you need. He's one of my favorite people to come through this system. He and his wife (Colleen) and their whole family are just first class. Whoever chose him at Penn State is a very wise person."
- Robert Kraft, New England Patriots Chairman and CEO
"Over the course of his long coaching career, Bill O'Brien has met every personal and professional challenge head on with great passion and competitiveness. I expect Bill to draw on his deep background in college football and the NFL to continue attracting and developing top players. For five years, Bill's outstanding work with our quarterbacks and entire offense has led to record-setting performances. His presence and command before our team has grown into that of a inspirational leader. This is a great match between a storied program and a old-school football coach. Bill will be up to the task and I couldn't be happier for him, Colleen and the O'Brien family."
- Bill Belichick, New England Patriots head coach
"Billy has been a great coach and friend. We have a great relationship; probably a very unique relationship in that we communicate all the time. I always enjoy working with him and he's done an incredible job with this team and this offense. He expects nothing less than our best."
- Tom Brady, New England Patriots quarterback
"Coach O'Brien is a great coach to play for and I'm very fortunate to have played for him these first two years of my NFL career. He has helped me immensely."
- Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots tight end
"Bill O'Brien brings a lot of energy and fire to an organization. I think being in a head coaching position, that type of personality will allow him to do very well."
- Wes Welker, New England Patriots wide receiver
"As an offensive coordinator you can have a little fire. You can have a little passion about the game, and that's what he has."
- Kevin Faulk, New England Patriots running back
"For me to know him personally and understand what kind of person he is and what kind of coach he has been while I've been here, I think it's a great move. He's an extremely passionate coach. This is important to him and I think you can expect great things out of him."
- Rich Ohrnberger, New England Patriots guard/Penn State All-American & All-Big Ten honoree
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Bill O'Brien. Having been around him, I could tell that he eventually would be discovered and move on to great things. A few characteristics that I admire most about Bill O'Brien are his accountability, his professionalism and his ability to motivate. Penn State has found a spectacular coach."
- Tedy Bruschi, former New England Patriots linebacker
Coach O'Brien Connects With Penn State Football Lettermen
Several Penn State Football lettermen had an opportunity to meet and/or speak with new head football coach Bill O'Brien when he was introduced on campus on January 7. Below are their thoughts after speaking with the Nittany Lions' 15th head football coach in the program's storied 125-year history.
"I recently had an opportunity to speak with Coach O'Brien. I was impressed during our conversation by his passion, his values, the respect and understanding of Penn State football he possessed and his enthusiasm about leading the program in the future. In addition, the fact that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, two men who in my opinion are at the top of the football world in their respective professions, speak so highly of him as a coach and play caller says a great deal to me about our new football coach at Penn State."
- Todd Blackledge, Penn State letterman, 1980-82
"I had an opportunity to speak with Coach O'Brien and am thoroughly impressed. He has great knowledge of the tradition and history of Penn State football. He is going to reach out to the former players. He has great presence and leadership qualities and it was easy to tell he is committed and can't wait to get started. I'm excited and I am going to support Coach O'Brien and the program any way I can. I think Bill will do a great job."
- Shane Conlan, Penn State letterman, 1983-86
"As a football alumni and a member of the Nittany Lion Club I was very impressed with the thoughts and strategies that Coach O'Brien shared with us. I was especially glad to hear the respect he has for our previous players, culture and traditions."
- Dan Delligatti, Penn State Football Letterman's Club
"After having a chance to meet Coach O'Brien I believe our program is in good hands. He values the same things all the former players do -- tradition, graduating players and winning the right way. It was apparent that Coach O'Brien would have fit in well as a player in our locker room."
- Justin Kurpeikis, Penn State letterman, 1997-2000
"My brother (Larry) and I had an opportunity to meet Coach O'Brien and we were thoroughly impressed. We wanted him to know the lettermen fully support him. He understands the traditions of the program, going all the way back to my grandfather (Bob Higgins) through what Coach Paterno accomplished. He brings a great deal of infectious enthusiasm. He is excited to get started and we are excited to support him and the team."
- Paul Suhey, Penn State letterman, 1975-78
"Congratulations to Coach O'Brien on his selection as the head coach of the Penn State Football program. We are fortunate to have someone with his academic, athletic and coaching credentials leading our program and continuing the Penn State tradition of success in the classroom and on the field. Coach... you have already proven yourself already and we are delighted to have you as part of the Penn State family. We Are...Penn State!!"
- Tim Sweeney, President, Penn State Football Letterman's Club
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