Coach Bill O'Brien Introductory Press Conference
Jan. 7, 2012
PENN STATE PRESIDENT RODNEY ERICKSON: Thank you, Jeff, and good morning, everyone. Welcome. Thank you for being here. I'm very pleased and proud to be with you this morning for an exciting moment in Penn State's history. The Penn State football program has a great legacy and has contributed tremendously to our University over many years. I'm personally very proud of that legacy and all that it's meant to our students, to our faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the University across the nation and across the world.
A football program of this caliber requires a special kind of leader, a leader willing to embrace the best of that legacy while forging a path for the future. After a careful and deliberate search, we've found the right man to lead our football program. He's a person of great integrity, leadership and skill who will lead the Nittany Lions and our fans to many more winning seasons.
His commitment to the game and his record of success is impressive. Equally impressive is his commitment to educating and building character among our student athletes. He understands the relationship between athletics and our core educational mission, and he's committed to continue our tradition of academic excellence.
We're confident that he will serve as an inspiring leader to our young men and ensure that the Penn State football program maintains its high standards for graduation, athletic achievement and post-graduation success.
I personally look forward very much to working with him to achieve these goals.
My thanks to the members of the search committee, led by acting athletic director Dr. Dave Joyner, and I'll now ask Dave to share his perspectives on our new coach. Dave?
PENN STATE ACTING ATHLETIC DIRECOR Dave Joyner: First of all, I won't take too much of your time because I'm not the most important person here today by any means. I do want before I start to also thank the selection committee who did a terrific job, worked very diligently and very hard, so they deserve all the credit for this, and so I want to thank them very much.
But obviously this is a very important day. This is a very important hire for Penn State for many reasons. The search committee set out to find the right fit for Penn State, someone who will extend our legacy of academic and athletic excellence. We have found that person who has Penn State integrity and Penn State ideals, who can mold young men and lead our program to compete and win, to continue to compete and win at the highest levels, who comes with the expertise and passion to lead this important next chapter in Penn State football and Penn State history.
Ladies and gentlemen, Penn State's head football coach, Bill O'Brien (applause)
PENN STATE HEAD FOOTBALL COACH Bill O'Brien: This is unbelievable. You just look out here and just see the interest in the program and how -- what a special program it is. It's unbelievable.
I'm really thrilled to be the head football coach at Penn State. I cannot tell you how excited I am to get started, meet the team, meet the football alums, and meet all the people that make this University so special. I have already begun that process by meeting with many different people over the past few days.
I'd like to start by thanking people. I know that's a little boring, but I do have some really important people that I have to thank. Number one person would be my chief of staff, my wife, Colleen. Colleen, if you'd please stand up and wave to everybody, I'd appreciate that. A couple quick things about Colleen. She's the brains behind the operation. Magna cum laude from BC, top five in her law school class, so obviously I have a pretty good idea how to recruit, I can tell you that.
I have two sons. My oldest son Jack is nine years old. He's home with grandma and grandpa right now, Colleen's parents, Don and Clare Corron, and I appreciate them doing that for us. He's a very special little boy and you'll get to meet him soon. And Michael, stand up, he's already got his Nittany Lion gear picked out, and I'm going to steal that hat from you pretty soon because obviously I need one.
I have two older brothers, Jack and Tom. Jack is on his way to a business trip in Dallas and couldn't be here today, but my brother Tom is here. Tom, if you'd stand up, please. I'm really happy that he's here.
Quick note about Tom: In 1983 he was a sophomore at Brown, and most people here probably remember this: Brown played Penn State in Beaver Stadium, and he claims as a sophomore to have made a tackle on the kickoff team. We've got to go check the film and see if that's correct, but that's a pretty neat little nugget about him.
My parents, who aren't here obviously, who I owe so much to, John and Ann, they're down in Florida right now, enjoying Naples, Florida, and I wish they were here, but I owe a ton to them and love them very much.
I would especially like to thank Rod Erickson, who I spent a good deal of time with two nights ago. It was easy to tell how lucky we are to have you leading the University. You're a man of integrity, and you have conviction in your beliefs, and I can't wait to get started working for you. As a side note on that, we had a lot of great conversations the other night, and there were some tough questions, for me and for them, and I appreciate his honesty, and like I said, I can't wait to get started working with him.
I'd really like to thank the search committee. The committee was a diverse group of University representatives led by Dave Joyner, and we had some serious, focused conversations about Penn State, which will remain among us. I promise that. But I can't thank them enough for their honesty and forthrightness. I think it's really important that I say a special thanks to that group of people. That committee was led by Dave Joyner, and I can't tell you for all the Penn State people out there how proud you should be to have a man of Dave Joyner's caliber, his integrity, his honesty, leading your athletic program. I just really appreciate it, Dave, and I appreciate your honesty and open lines of communication with me during the process.
I can't go any further without thanking the New England Patriots organization let by Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick. They have been nothing but supportive of me during this whole process. Their friendships mean very, very much to me. Their mentorships mean very, very much to me, and I can't wait to see them again and thank them in person.
As the head football coach of this special football program, it is my responsibility to ensure that this football program represents the highest level of character, respect and integrity in everything we do. That includes my coaching staff, our players, everyone involved in the football program. We will take very seriously our duty to interact in an exemplary fashion with our great alumni, our students, our faculty, our fans, our media and members of the community. There is so much pride in Penn State, and we will never, ever take that for granted, ever.
That will also include the NCAA and how we go about competing at a championship level within the rules set forth both on and off the field.
I will also carry that message to our top recruits and ensure that they know that the standard for Penn State football remains very high and always will. As it relates to football, we will strive every day to be a smart, tough, physical football team. We will work extremely hard to be a good situational football team. As a team, we will always strive to play good, competitive football, I promise that.
Defensively we will continue the great tradition of defenses that have gone before us here. It will be a multiple defense. It will be a defense that's creative, and it will be a defense that creates multiple looks for the offense and makes it very difficult on the (opposing) offense. Offensively, we will be a gameplan offense. The offensive philosophy will be to find out what our players do best, and we'll get going on that as soon as we can, by film evaluation and getting to know our players, and put them in position to take advantage of these strengths....football philosophy.
Before I go any further, I have to say my feelings about Coach (Joe) Paterno. As a young football coach -- well, I look like I'm 50, but I'm only 42...follicularly challenged. But I grew up following the Penn State football program. I was the type of person that always loved to watch them because of the helmets, the uniforms, the black cleats, no names on the back of the jerseys, and also because of the man on the sidelines, Coach Paterno.
There will never be enough words to say what he did for this program as far as wins, as far as off the field graduating kids, graduating student-athletes every single year. I can't wait to meet him, and I look forward to that as soon as I can get that done.
The last thing I'd like to do is send a message to the Penn State football family. This is something that I worked on over the last two nights on my own, and I feel like it's very important. In order to get this football family moving in the right direction, and I'm the leader of that, and it's my job to bring both sides together or all the different sides together, and I understand that there's some controversy out there right now. I can see it. I understand that. But it's my job to head it in the right direction.
So what I did was a put together a letter, and I'd like to read it to you right now. "We respect the right to one's opinions" -- this is again from my football staff and myself. "We respect the right to one's opinions, beliefs and contributions to Penn State. We admire one's loyalties to Penn State, Penn State football, its grand tradition, Coach Paterno and all of his football staffs and present and former players.
"We respectfully request the opportunity to earn your trust through communication and feel that through our abilities, ethics, beliefs, work ethic and commitment to Penn State, in time we will find that we have more common interests and goals than not. We are here now with you. You should be proud of Penn State's numerous accomplishments. You should be proud of Penn State's football program. You should love this school. You are why we want to be here.
"We want you to know that you will always be welcome and a part of our program because we are Penn State."
Thank you. I'm open to any questions.
Q. When will you begin coaching full-time at Penn State? Are you going to coach with the Patriots throughout the playoffs?
Bill O'Brien: Sure. One thing -- in thinking about this day and how important this day is to Penn State, I want to address that question in this way: There is no way that I can stand up in front of our football team and our recruits and talk about loyalty and commitment and then leave the Patriots in the middle of a playoff run or the start of a playoff run. I have committed to the New England Patriots to see them through that playoff run. That's my loyalty and my commitment to that organization and what they've done for me.
I will also continue any break I have, which there's not going to be a lot of sleep over the next two to three weeks, any break I have to make sure that I am full-time as much as I can for Penn State and do the things necessary for Penn State.
I'm in the process of putting together a staff, okay, in the process of putting together a staff. I'm going to put together the best staff for Penn State, the best staff that fits what we need to do at Penn State. And once I get that staff in place, which will be very quickly, over the next two or three days, those guys will hit the ground running and they'll get going as far as recruiting and those types of things.
I will say this about our staff: I'm going to obviously talk to all the guys that are on the current staff, and I look forward to that. I was fortunate enough to meet one last night, Larry Johnson, the defensive line coach, who's been here for many years and coached many great defensive lines, and I don't know if he's here today, but I would like to say that he's committed to coaching on my staff, and I look forward to working with Larry (applause).
Q. You obviously had a feeling that there was a certain sentiment among a certain sector of fans here that you're an outsider or they're treating you that way, and that's not proper around here. Why did you feel the need to proactively say what you just said?
Bill O'Brien: I'm in charge of this family now, the leader of this family, the football family. When you step on campus here, you immediately feel how special this place is, whether it's the facilities -- you have a 108,000-seat stadium here, the indoor facility...But, most importantly the people. I can't tell you how many great people I've met over the last two or three days that I've been here.
So I know that I have a lot of confidence in my ability to lead us through what some people would say is a tough time right now, but I feel like a pretty mentally tough guy. I feel like I can do this and lead this program, and I can't wait to get started. So I felt like it was necessary for me to say the things that I just said to try to start to get guys on the same page and all moving in the right direction.
Q. Dr. Joyner, former players have said that they wished they had been consulted; they wished you had talked to them about this. Is that fair a criticism? And did you reach out to anybody as a sort of consultant to the search committee?
Dave Joyner: I've talked to numerous lettermen, previous lettermen. I've talked to them and I continue to talk to them. I talked to them today, and I've done that throughout this search, taken their counsel, and I've -- some of the counsel is different than my feelings might be, but I've listened to them, and I've engaged with these folks all -- anybody that wanted to talk to me as a letterman, I'm not saying I couldn't have dropped an email somewhere, you know how the electronic world is, but on the other hand, I've attempted and believe that I've gotten back and talked with every letterman that I can remember that wanted to chat with me.
So I've done that numerous times, and I continue to do it. I did it today even after all this has been completed. I've listened and talked to them many, many times.
Q. Can you describe some of the things that you learned working for Bill Belichick, with Tom Brady, and would you care to disclose what was said during the altercation with Tom on the sideline a few weeks ago?
Bill O'Brien: Not regarding the altercation that -- you call it an altercation, but how long do you have as far as what you learn from Bill Belichick? I think the first thing you learn from Bill Belichick is to leave no stone unturned, and the one thing that I'll always take from Bill Belichick is that he allows his coaches to coach, to be creative, to come up with their own play designs and their own ways to attack defenses, their own game plans, and I will always be grateful for that. He's the most challenging guy that I've ever worked for, and I can tell you right now, I've learned so much from him, and I'm going to apply some of those things here at Penn State, and then I'm obviously going to be my own man and do some of the things I think are necessary to move Penn State forward in football, but again, I can't say enough about what I learned from him.
As far as Tom goes, as a coach, coaching is about the players, and so when you have the opportunity to coach a guy like Tom Brady, who makes you right quite a bit, it's just a very, very fortunate deal for me that I was able to coach him. We had a good talk the other night, and he's a special, special guy and a special friend of mine, and he always will be. And we had a unique relationship. It was like two brothers, I can tell you that. So there were times where things got heated, and most of that was probably my fault. But I'm an intense guy and he's an intense guy, and we're two competitive guys. And so that's what happens in football sometimes. It's an emotional sport.
But I can't thank Tom enough and I can't wait to get going on our game plan for whomever we get to play in a week.
Q. There's so much negativity around this program now, and you're going to have to face this Jerry Sandusky issue. So many people turned their back on this program and didn't want this job. What makes you think that you're going to be the guy to take it forward?
Bill O'Brien: I believe in myself. I believe in Penn State. I believe in the academic diversity of Penn State. I obviously believe in the football traditions here and the past football successes. What is not to sell about Penn State?...atmosphere, facilities, 108,000-seat stadium, which I've already said. I can't say it enough. What an incredible stadium. Grass field, which I really believe in. The people here, the faculty, the students, the passion that they have for football, the ability to get a meaningful degree, to graduate from Penn State and make something of your life.
And one of the things we'll try to do here when they enter the door here as a freshman student-athlete, football player, we're going to try to teach them what it means to be a Penn State man. So that's the reason why I wanted the job, and that's the reason why I'm thrilled to be standing up here today.
Q. There were reports earlier this week that you were also interested in the Jacksonville Jaguars' head coaching job. Had you considered a college head coaching job before Dr. Joyner and others from Penn State contacted you? And why this job over maybe an NFL job?
Bill O'Brien: I was a college football coach for 14 years, and I have a passion for college football. I love pro football, and the New England Patriots' organization has been one of the best things to happen to me in my football career. But I felt like some of the relationships that I've developed over the years in college football that mean so much to me, watching a young man come in as a freshman, teach him how to play football the way we want him to play football, teach him how to get a degree, a meaningful degree, is something that I really feel I can have a good effect on a bunch of kids that come through Penn State along with my staff.
Whatever other jobs were out there, hey, I've been coaching for 20 years, jobs come and go, jobs come up all the time. I can't tell you again how excited I am to be the leader of this football program now and how thrilled I am going forward. I know there's going to be some ups and downs, but we're going to try to smooth it out along the way by communication and being open and being transparent and then making sure that people know our mission and putting a good football team out there on the field every Saturday.
Q. Dr. Joyner, transparency has been a big topic going back two months now. The New England Patriots aren't exactly the most transparent team in the NFL. Is this a topic that was addressed during the interview process?
Dave Joyner: Integrity and honor and doing the right thing were addressed from the very beginning. Transparency doesn't necessarily mean that you can release things that are illegal or not appropriate. Transparency means being up front and honest and saying the things to people that are true and real, and you're probably commenting a little bit about the search, too, and I'm breaking a principle. You don't give an answer you aren't asked for, but I think it's important. People have said that we've been secret, but that's not meant to be disrespectful to you at all. It's meant to be -- and people who have interviewed me know if I don't know an answer, I say I don't know or I can't give you that answer, but it was out of respect for the process, for the people that interviewed, just like you would do in a major corporation, even in a position here in an academic position. We conducted this search very similar to normal academic searches for a dean or a chairman of a department. So that was the mirror for this type of search.
And so the reason that -- it wasn't that I wasn't forthcoming, but I felt an obligation to the people that applied to this program to respect their right to privacy is really what I was doing and what the whole committee was doing. So to get that out, I just wanted to let you know.
Q. This is going to be your first job as a head coach, I believe. What are the challenges you face establishing yourself as a head coach at such a volatile situation? And who are your models as head coach that you will take something from in setting up this model?
Bill O'Brien: Well, I'll tell you something. I've thought about that a lot, and one of the things I'll say to that is everybody has got to start somewhere, and what better place to start than Penn State as your first head football coaching job. Again, I know there's many challenges ahead. I'm going to surround myself with really good people. I think that's really, really important, to make sure that I surround myself with not a bunch of guys that are just going to nod their head yes, but a bunch of guys that we can bounce ideas off of each other and make sure that at the end of the day it's one voice but we're all heading in the right direction. I can't wait to get going on that.
As far as models, I appreciate that question, because I would be remiss without mentioning many guys that I've worked for. I started out working for Mickey Kwiatkowski at Brown, so I have to tell him thank you very much for giving me my first job. He has a passion for football, and we stay in touch to this day.
Then I worked for Mark Whipple, who's now the quarterback coach of the Cleveland Browns. What a great friend; great offensive mind, and one of my true friends in coaching.
At that point I went to work for George O'Leary at Georgia Tech, and I learned so much about creating a tough football team, organization, and all the things that he does with a football program, and one thing about George that he did for me, similar to Bill, is I worked hard for him, but he promoted me all the way through, so I was a G.A., I was the running back coach, I was the recruiting coordinator, I was the offensive coordinator, and I really appreciate -- I talked to him this morning and I told him that.
And then I was able to go work for Ralph Friedgen at Maryland, and that was an unbelievable experience for me, because again, Ralph and I are very close friends, great offensive coach, and I learned a bunch about offense there. And then after that I went to Duke and I worked for one of my closest friends, Ted Roof, as the head football coach at Duke. We didn't win many games, but we sure fought as hard as we could.
And obviously now I'm at the Patriots with one of the greatest coaches of all-time who I've already said I owe a lot to. I know that's a little bit of a long answer, but those are the guys that I've worked for that I really feel strongly about.
Q. Could you talk about the contact process? Did you contact Penn State? Did they contact you? And at what point after Coach Paterno was let go did you start to maybe look at this as a possibility?
Bill O'Brien: Yeah, I don't want to -- I really would rather not get into all that. I can tell you this: We've had very, very serious, focused discussions with the search committee, with President Erickson, and I feel really strongly about not only taking the job here but the people that are in charge here. And so, again, to all the people out there who are Penn State people, whether you went here or not, because I know there's millions of people that didn't go here, you have to be so proud of the people that are in charge of this University. I can only tell you that they've been great communicators. They've been honest people. And I can't wait to get started working for them and with them.
Q. You talked about the questions related to the lettermen and their criticism. There's other questions around the program related to Sandusky investigation, NCAA inquiry, even the tenure of how long acting athletic director Joyner might be around. How did those uncertainties affect your decision to take this job?
Bill O'Brien: Again, I'm not going to get into the specifics of all those conversations. Those conversations will stay between myself and the people that I spoke with. There were a lot of tough questions. Again, very, very honest answers. I'm here now. I'm the football coach here now. It's my job as the head football coach of Penn State to have the best football program both on and off the field, a championship-type football program, and I look forward to getting going on that.
Q. National signing day is February 1st. The Super Bowl is February 5th. Given your commitment to the Patriots, how many recruits have you been able to speak to, and do you feel that you'll be able to keep the ones in line given your commitment to the Patriots?
Bill O'Brien: I'll tell you, the first thing I have to do is take the test (in order to recruit). It's been five years since I took that NCAA test, and I heard it's gotten a little tougher, so I've got to study for it, and I'll take it probably sometime today or tomorrow before I can even contact any protective student athletes.
Again, first of all, at the New England Patriots we don't talk about the Super Bowl. It's a one-game season. We find out who we play here in a little bit this weekend, and then we'll start preparing for that team on Sunday night and Monday. And as we go forward, we'll go with the flow on that as far as how we're doing in the playoffs.
Obviously we want to do as well as we can in the playoffs and get to the final game and try to win it. But, right now, it's a one-game season.
As far as recruiting, when I get the staff in place, which, like I said, will be fairly quickly, I've told them there's some things that we've got to get done. We've got to make sure that we secure the guys that are committed right now. You know that I can't mention any names right now as far as the NCAA rules go, but make sure that we secure those guys. I think the other thing we have to do is we've got to get out in the mid-Atlantic states, our bloodlines, Pennsylvania, Maryland, (Washington) D.C., Ohio. We've got to get out there and we've got to make sure that our coaches are out there in those high schools getting to know those coaches and talking to them about the direction of the Penn State football program right now.
And then after that if there's anybody else out there that we feel like we can get in on based on connection, or maybe it's somebody that de-committed or wants to get back, is interested in getting back because they're happy to have Bill O'Brien as the head coach, then we'll certainly go after them, that's for sure. We'll have a very good plan in place for recruiting going forward.
Q. Bill, are you going to retain any other current members of the coaching staff, and have you targeted any outside assistants to potentially join your staff?
Bill O'Brien: Again, I'm going to go back to what I said before. I'm going to put together the best possible staff for Penn State, and what I'm going to do over the next couple days here is I'm going to meet with the current staff members. Okay, I've definitely got to do that. Those guys have worked their butts off for Penn State and won a lot of games here, and I'm going to talk to them. And then from there, we'll go from there and we'll put together the best staff possible for Penn State and it will get put together at a fairly rapid pace as we move forward through the weekend and into next week.
Q. You were talking about the lettermen and all these other guys and the current coaching staff. Have you spoken to any of the current players on the team? A lot of them as of last night had no idea if this was official or not. Have you spoken to any of those guys, and when do you plan on doing that?
Bill O'Brien: I believe we had a conference call last night at 9:30 with the team. I was not a part of that conference call. I was getting ready for this to be honest with you. I will speak to the team tomorrow at 5:00, and I can't wait to get started doing that. Again, like I said before, as long as I've been in coaching, which is several years, 19 years, it's about the players, and the one thing that I always take from coaching is my relationships with the players that I coach, and I cannot wait to meet these guys. Just in speaking with Larry last night, it's a great locker room with a bunch of guys that want to be good and want to win, and we have the foundation here. Coach Paterno laid the foundation of football success and academic success, and we really just need to get going and building on that. I can tell you I can't wait to get going and meeting them.