Bill O'Brien Responds To Sports Illustrated article
May 15, 2013
"Before we get started, I have some things I want to say. No. 1 is, I can't talk in specific detail about personnel. I will not talk in specific detail about personnel. Just so we are clear on that. But here is what I will talk about. I was brought here to run one of college football's finest programs at one of America's finest universities. I view that responsibility as very, very large; a big responsibility. When I was hired here, I was asked to make observations on the program right away; some that took longer than others. Some observations were right away. Some took 14 or 15 months to make. And then to make recommendations to my bosses, I take that responsibility very seriously. But at the end of the day, I am a big boy and I have understood from the outset that responsibilities are mine. At the top of that responsibility list, at the top, is taking care of this program's players. The student-athletes in this football program are the No. 1 priority to me. Their health and safety is the No. 1 priority to me. It's not near the top. It's not around the top. It's at the top. And for anyone to suggest or perhaps outright accuse that anyone in Penn State's athletic program would do otherwise is irresponsible, reckless and wrong. And you may believe I'm only sitting here addressing the media with that comment. But I mean for anyone - anyone at Penn State, anyone in the media, anyone to state such a thing is preposterous. In order to fulfill my role as the head football coach, I need to assemble what I feel is the right team, the right team of coaches, the right team of strength coaches, the right team of academic people, my recommendations there, the right team of administrative assistants, the right team of recruiting personnel, the right team of janitors. These are the things that are under my responsibility as the head football coach at Penn State, and including my recommendations and observations of the medical staff. That is part of my responsibility as the head football coach at Penn State. And I want people to understand something here. This does not mean that I always choose who is the most qualified or recommend who is the most qualified in a particular craft or role. But I do, and will always recommend as it pertains to my coaching staff, who best fits into the organization and supports our direction and way of doing things. That's what I want to say right off the top. Now, I'll take questions."
Bill, how does the level of care at Penn State compare to places that you have coached previously?
O'Brien: "It is the same, if not better, than everywhere I have been at numerous schools around the country as we speak right now. We will have a primary care physician at every single practice. We will have a primary care physician even in the off-season that is located right near here. We will have an orthopedic surgeon that will be here quite a bit. They won't be out there at every single practice, but they will be in the office, they will be in the training room. They will be around. They will be here all the time in some instances. That to me is comparable or better than just about everybody in the country and everywhere I've been."
Dr. Sebastianelli had been in his role for 21 years and a lot of people didn't understand the reasoning when he was replaced back in February. Can you shed any light on what your working relationship was with the doctor for the last year and why you decided to move forward? O'Brien: "I believe that there was no problem with the medical care last year, 20 years ago or now. I believe that there was no problem with the medical care. I said that over and over again to my bosses. Again, what I try to do is assemble the right team that believe in the same things and behave the right way that I see the way the program should be run. I make those observations and make those recommendations. I'm not going to get into all of the things I observed or recommended. That is a personnel issue. At the end of the day, what needs to be said here is that Wayne Sebastianelli is still the head of Penn State Sports Medicine. He is in charge of Penn State Sports Medicine. So, I'm not going to go down the road of personnel decisions or personnel observations. That's not to fair to anyone involved. So, that's my answer to that question."
Bill, you have referenced several times over the last month about the importance of the Penn State community being unified. I'm wondering how you view this story in light of some of the broader issues not related to football that are referenced in the article?
O'Brien: "Look, I appreciate the question. For the past 16 months that I've been here, along with my staff and everyone that works in this building, along with the players at Penn State, we're just trying to do our best. We are trying to do our best in the classroom. We are trying to do our best in the weight room. We are trying to do our best on the practice field. We are trying to do our best on the game field. That's what we are trying to do. We are recruiting what we think are fantastic kids. We have fantastic guys in this program. We've got a hell of a coaching staff. We've got people working in this building that are the best I've ever been around. And we are just trying to do the best for Penn State. At the end of the day, I just wish people would see that and understand that. That's what we are trying to do. At the end of the day, it can get frustrating. But at the same time, I want people to understand that the No. 1 priority for myself and our staff here at Penn State are our players. We have a deep connection with our players. We are at 67 scholarships. Do you think for one second that I would jeopardize the health and safety of this team with 67 scholarship players on the team? That's preposterous."
You have a wealth of experience at the college level being at Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke before Penn State. But you've also been at the Patriots for a number of years. I was wondering, is there a difference in the dynamic in the relationship between the head trainer and the team doctor on the NFL and college level? And is the NFL model something you would like to move closer to?
O'Brien: "I think the model that we have right now, which is really the same model that we had last year during my first year here, is appropriate for Penn State. I believe in that model. I believe in the model that we have right now, which we sent to Sports Illustrated. You guys that know me and have been around me now for a year, I'm not sitting in this office trying to hide. What we sent from Penn State, our medical synopsis to Sports Illustrated, that was not in the article. We had our Dean of the Medical School had a significant amount of quotes. That was not in the article. I spent much of my time on Sunday on the phone with Sports Illustrated back and forth. I didn't have any quotes in that article. To me, what that article was to me, was a character assassination on Dave Joyner. That's what that article was. And it wasn't anything other than that. The care for our players medically is superb."
Bill when you took the job, did you anticipate some level of undermining because of the situation that existed when you got there? And has it exceeded that?
O'Brien: "I didn't anticipate anything. I came into the job with significant experience, albeit no head coaching experience. I came into the job with a lot of experience having worked for a lot of great people. And I had just worked for the best head coach in the National Football League. And I had worked for some fantastic college coaches. So all I tried to do was come in here and be myself, try to observe and do what was right for the players every single day. How could anyone anticipate being undermined? I mean we are all trying to win football games and graduate players. Who would undermine that? I don't even think in that world. I'm not even in that realm."
But do you feel you are being undermined?
O'Brien: "No. I come to work everyday. I work with our staff. I work with our players. I try to do the right thing for Penn State. I guess I'm naïve. Why would anyone undermine us? What would they want to undermine?"
Could you address the Garrett Lerner part of that story?
O'Brien: "You read the story. Garrett Lerner obviously was burned with a stim machine. We treated Garrett Lerner. I believe that Garrett Lerner believes in the fact that we treated him well at Penn State. I'm not a doctor, so I can't get into the specifics. I just know that Garrett Lerner is a fantastic kid that believes in the way he was treated here at Penn State."
Bill, this is about as proactive as I can remember Penn State, the Athletic Department towards any controversy, in terms of forcefully saying stuff. Is this a change in your view from maybe the way things had been handled?
O'Brien: "At the end of the day, I'm just a guy, along with our staff, we are just guys and women in this football program that are trying to the best for Penn State. So, when we feel there are things out there that just aren't accurate and just are way off base, I believe that as a University we need to argue that and not take that lying down. And that's the way I feel about this. And so somebody told me to call into you guys, so I called in. I'm here to answer questions, and that is what I have done. I do not hire and fire doctors. I don't know anything about being a doctor. I just know that I am in charge of this football program. And I have to observe every single aspect of our football program to do what is right for our players. That's what I've done from the day I got here. I make recommendations up the chain."
One of the issues raised in the article is that Dr. Lynch can't have a practice at Mt. Nittany (Medical Center), but as I understand it, it isn't a complicated to have standing at Mt. Nittany Medical Center. Is there any push to allow him to be able to practice there?
O'Brien: "I don't get involved in that. That's not my realm. That's not my job description. All I know is that Dr. Lynch or whoever we will have in place over at Mt. Nittany (Medical Center), which is three minutes away from our field, we will have people here at a moment's notice if we need that. The operation of our medical staff here is no different than it has ever been."
Bill, can you comment on the reaction of your players when they heard about the article?
O'Brien: "Having been here for 16 months and having to deal with a lot of things, I give a lot of credit to our players. I've said it time and time again; the main reason why I am here is our players. I absolutely cannot state that enough. I feel these are fantastic kids. I feel like they do a great job focusing at the task at hand. And right now, that is developing their own individual skill sets, their own individual strength levels, their own individual conditioning levels so that they can be the best they can be at training camp. And also, many are taking classes so they can get ahead academically. These players ignore the noise. They feel to a man, they feel like they are being well taken care of in our training room."
What in your power do you think you can do to precipitate or endorse the unity the best that you can?
O'Brien: "Look, I answered that with Genaro. I'm not the unity coach. I'm not the coach of unity. I'm the football coach. It is my job to do the best job I can for the football program as long as I am the head coach here. I'm not the unity coach."
What do you feel is the motivation for this? I know you said something about a vendetta against Dr. Joyner, but what do you think... O'Brien: "Wait a minute now, I didn't say anything about a vendetta against Dr. Joyner. I just read the article just like you guys did, and I felt like Dave Joyner, who is a first class individual; I think he is doing the best job he can in a very difficult situation, and I feel like his character was attacked in that article. Don't put words in my mouth. Don't put words in my mouth. I didn't say a word about a vendetta."
Have you had to do much damage control with the guys you signed or are recruiting now? O'Brien: "No."
With the information released, it seems like Penn State compares very favorably with other Big Ten schools and top schools. I'm just curious if you had any role in that process of reaching out to other schools to get a benchmark for their medical plans? O'Brien: "No, I didn't have any role in that. I always urge Tim Bream, and I always urge our medical staff to always look for the best way of doing things. That's all I do. I'm not a doctor. I'm not in charge of the doctors. I just urge them to always be cutting edge looking for things to help our players."
How did the transition go to the new medical team go during spring practice?
O'Brien: "I thought it was fantastic. I thought these guys were here. I thought they were very receptive to our players. I thought our players were very receptive to them. And I think it was very, very smooth. Our players were well taken care of, as they will be well into the future."
I'm going to read you a quote from a couple of hours ago from Anthony Lubrano, I didn't talk to him, this is what he said, he said he is concerned by what he sees as a turn more towards an NFL-like model and this is his quote, `The fear is that in becoming more like the NFL there might be more of a rush to get the student back on the field. Is that a risk we are willing to take?' Do you have any reaction to that at all?
O'Brien: "I don't know where anyone can just say a quote about something they know nothing about. I don't understand. I don't comprehend it. I don't understand how someone can make a quote about something that they know nothing about. And then the quote is not true. It is not true. We have a model that is used by many, many Division I schools across the country. It is the model that we have used here. So I don't know why anyone who is not involved with this program can make a quote like that. I can't even comprehend that."
Does that constitute the undermining that someone mentioned?
O'Brien: "Who in the world would try to undermine us? If there is someone trying to undermine us, they need to look in the mirror. Why would you try to undermine something that is good? We've got fantastic kids here. We've got great academics. We've got a fantastic fan base. I can't even comprehend that. You'd have to ask somebody else."
In the time you've been at Penn State since you got here 16 months ago, have parents or players' families about how the medical facilities are and do you take them around the facilities? And what type of feedback have you gotten?
O'Brien: "Whether it is recruiting or our current players and their parents, they are more than welcome. I have seen parents in the training room. Kyle Carter's mom has been in the training room. You can go right down the line. Michael Mauti's mom and dad have been in the training room. You can go right down the list of guys who have been injured or parents who have had questions. We are very open to the parents. On other subjects alone today, I have spoken to three parents. Yeah, we definitely educate our parents as best we can on all aspects of the program."