Coach O'Brien, Nittany Lions Laying the Foundation for 2012
April 13, 2012
By Tony Mancuso
That is what he told a room full of 25 sports editors and reporters earlier this week at the Penn Stater Hotel, a place Coach O'Brien grew to know quite well while living there in Room 253 before his family moved from Massachusetts at the end of March.
Coach O'Brien did put his clothes away, but he has left the task of unpacking to his wife, Colleen. The O'Brien family's belongings rolled into Happy Valley three weeks ago, aboard the same blue and white clad moving tractor-trailer that carries the Penn State football equipment to all of its road games. The O'Briens' two sons, Jack (9) and Michael (6), have both started school, and things are beginning to settle down.
But the work on the field is just beginning for the new leader of Penn State football.
Coach O'Brien and the Nittany Lions are more than halfway done with the 15 allotted spring practices, but he would probably like an additional 15 days of on-field work to get through everything he wants to this spring.
Nonetheless, the Lions have made obvious progress on the field from practice one to practice eight. The players are beginning to understand the pace at which Coach O'Brien wants to practice at and how much pre-practice preparation goes into learning the new schemes, signals, and lingo that come with a Penn State's new offense and defense.
"Things are progressing at a decent pace," Coach O'Brien said. "We have a long way to go, but we're looking forward to the Blue-White Game, summer conditioning and then training camp. We feel decent about where we are right now."
It is a tall order to implement a completely new, complex, pro-style system in 15 practices. The learning curve has been steep for the Nittany Lion players with a plethora of new things to pick up each day on the field. Additionally, practice moves at a swift pace because that is the tempo at which Coach O'Brien wants the Nittany Lions to play at in the fall.
He wants to play fast.
As one period ends on the practice field an air horn sounds, and the players sprint to the next location on the field. Getting the maximum number of reps during each drill or scrimmage in the allotted period of time is important this spring.
So too is teaching.
That's why you often see Coach O'Brien and the rest of the staff frequently pull units or individual players aside for one-on-one instruction during practice. The players have responded well, and they have worked hard throughout spring practice.
"I have been very, very impressed with the players," Coach O'Brien said. "These are kids that want to be coached, that want to be good, that want to get a degree...I have been very impressed with how they practice, how they've caught on to our tempo of practice, their intelligence and how they carry themselves in the football building and outside the football building."
No one has faced a steeper learning curve than the quarterbacks. At the focal point of Coach O'Brien's offensive philosophy is the quarterback position. Senior Matt McGloin, junior Rob Bolden and sophomore Paul Jones have split reps throughout spring practice.
Coach O'Brien calls all of the plays during practice, and he spends a great deal of time talking with, critiquing and teaching all three quarterbacks. While he wants to see continued improvement in decision making, accuracy and grasping of the offense, Coach O'Brien has been impressed with the group's willingness to learn and work ethic.
"The thing that I have been impressed with about these three guys is that they come in for extra film, they want to be coached, they want to be good and they all have the tools," Coach O'Brien said. "I have really enjoyed working with them during this first few spring practices. I am looking forward to the journey ahead."
In addition to the players learning new schemes this spring, Coach O'Brien, himself, is transitioning back into college football after spending the last five years in the NFL. Among the list of things he noted as adjustments - the depth of recruiting and the way it is covered by the media, field dimensions with wider hash marks and rules, namely a defensive back's ability to make contact with a receiver more than five yards down the field.
There is one significant constant between the way things operated for Coach O'Brien at the New England Patriots and now at Penn State - the value of teamwork.
"Teamwork is something that we will make sure our players always understand," Coach O'Brien said. "We play as one unit. We play as one team. No player will ever be bigger than the team. No coach will ever be bigger than the team. The team is what will lead us to victories."
With Coach O'Brien, what you see is what you get. He is a hard-working, organized, ultra-competitive, straightforward guy with a fiery intensity level and a deep passion for the game of football. That is apparent every time he steps onto the practice field with a whistle around his neck.
A typical day for Coach O'Brien begins early in the morning, before most of the staff gets into the office.
"I am an early morning guy," Coach O'Brien said. "I try to get a lot of things done early in the morning. I try to budget my time so, what I try to do early in the morning is recruiting. Then I do what I call check-ups on our academics to see how our kids are doing in school. In the afternoon, it is football."
Outside of football, what does he do for fun?
"I like to laugh, so we have good humor in my house," Coach O'Brien said. "My wife gets a little sick of it sometimes (laughter). I like to read. I love to play golf. I stink, but I love to play. Obviously, number one would be hanging out with my family."
While there is a lot of work to be done between today and the season-opener on Sept. 1, Coach O'Brien and the Nittany Lions are off and running in a new era of Penn State football.
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