Sept. 24, 2013
Q: When did you find out about the NCAA Executive Committee's decision this morning and what is your initial reaction?
Coach O'Brien: I found out this morning that there was an announcement going to be made. I just basically listened to the announcement. We've got a long way to go here at Penn State. We're happy right now for our players; our student-athletes that are here and our football program. They're a resilient bunch of kids. We're happy for our people here at Penn State and the people that have worked extremely hard to implement the recommendations of the Freeh Report. We're just trying to take it one day at a time and working as hard as we can and continuing every single day to try to do the right thing. That's what we're doing here at Penn State.
Q: Have you met with the team yet and talked to the team about what's transpired today?
Coach O'Brien: They're in class so we're not going to disrupt their class day to meet with them. They'll be here at 2:45 p.m. and we'll talk about it briefly and then we'll move on to getting ready for our practice today and trying to get ready for a really, really tough Indiana team next week.
Q: How does this change your recruiting strategy for right now?
Coach O'Brien: I appreciate the question. The announcement just came out today. We're obviously looking at it and studying it just like we did when the sanctions came out last July (2012). It takes a while to digest everything and then to apply it to where you're headed. Even when we get that strategy in place I'm not going to talk about it publicly. Obviously, we're able to sign some more guys and be able to have a roster of 75 scholarship players next year so things will change and we'll see how that goes. But again, right now we're not going to comment on that or talk about that. That's between the staff, myself, and that's about it.
Q: You've been advocating since the sanctions came out for people to look ahead and not behind and just to take the medicine and do what you can and do the right thing. Is this decision an indication of what you've been saying for the last year and a few months?
Coach O'Brien: I just believe here at Penn State, since I was hired, we're just trying to do what's right for the student-athletes here and we're trying to do what's right for Penn State. We've made mistakes and we've owned up to those, like if we sent an improper text or made an extra phone call we've tried to report that right away. We just try to do things the right way. We're certainly not perfect. I think we have a good leader here in (President) Rod Erickson. He's shown us the way. Again, as a staff and our players here, we're just trying to do the best job we can for Penn State everyday.
Q: Could you maybe give a brief insight into how hard it was to recruit guys with the scholarship limitations in place? Just generally, how today could alleviate a little bit of the struggle?
Coach O'Brien: The difficult part came with the numbers. For instance, say that you could only take one "such-and-such" position - say it was an offensive tackle. That was difficult that you were only going to be able to take one kid in the class for that position. That was tough. As far as recruiting, we always felt that from the day we walked in here that once we were able to get a young man and his parents here on campus, that the place sold itself. It's just a place you can get a fantastic degree and a place where you can play in the Big Ten which is a fantastic football conference with great coaches and great players. We have a beautiful 108,000-seat stadium here and a great football facility. As far as just recruiting the individual athlete, that was never difficult here. It's just the numbers that were the difficult part.
Q: Coach Ferentz and Coach Hazell were both supportive of this decision. Are you surprised that people, even competitively, are excited to see you get those scholarships back?
Coach O'Brien: No, I wouldn't say surprised. I think there are fantastic coaches in this league. Like I've said, I have respect for every coach in this league. They are tough guys to coach against and tough guys to recruit against but they all believe in the common goal of educating the student-athlete and trying to do the best job they can to improve them as football players and as people. I think anytime something good happens to another member of the conference in this way, people would be supportive of that. Coach (Kirk) Ferentz and Coach (Darrell) Hazell, I have a tremendous amount of respect for those two guys and I appreciate their support.
Q: You've talked a lot about the fans and how they've continued to support you throughout everything. How good to you feel for the fan base on a day like this because this could lead to some different levels of football that they might be able to see for the next few years?
Coach O'Brien: I think that's a great point. I feel good for a few groups of people here. I feel good for our football staff here; they've worked extremely hard. I feel good for our student-athletes. And then, like you said, our fans - I think they're the best fans in the country. You can use last week as an example. It was a rainstorm and I wouldn't say artistically it was the greatest football game ever. Those fans are out there. I feel good for our student body. They've been so supportive of this football program since the day I walked in here. I can't say enough about them and on a day like this when some of the scholarships are restored, I think it's a good day for all those people.
Q: This morning's announcement aside, how are you guys approaching the bye week from a recruiting standpoint? Are you going to hit the road all weekend and see some prospects or how are you guys planning that?
Coach O'Brien: I appreciate the question. You guys have been asking me a lot of recruiting strategy questions. I'm not going to get into all that. We're certainly going to be involved in recruiting this week. It's a bye week and that's part of our job. But I'm not going to tell you where we're going or what we're doing. We'll be working hard on all facets of the program this week.
Q: What's the significance of this announcement being made while you're still playing the football season?
Coach O'Brien: I think it gives me a chance to talk to our team about sticking with it and taking it day-by-day and sticking together and being committed. And then it doesn't have any effect on this year so we've got to immediately get back to work on Indiana and try to improve on some of the things we have to improve on in order to compete in our Big Ten schedule the rest of the way. You are exactly right. Today is definitely more about the future. It's about next year, and the year after and the year after that. It doesn't have much of an effect on this year. That's the way we see it. We'll talk to our team about it today but then we'll quickly move on to getting ready for Indiana.
Q: It sounds as if there's a chance to have further reductions of the sanctions. How important would it be to have that post-season ban lifted if the university keeps doing what it needs to be doing?
Coach O'Brien: I think the important part of that question is we have to keep doing what we're doing, which is working extremely hard to do what's right for our football program and for our players, our student-athletes and, most importantly, for the university. The rest of that question would probably have to be addressed to someone other than me. I just know that when the rules change a little bit we just adapt to those rules. Right now, the rules are that we can sign a few more guys and start to get back to 85 scholarships a little bit sooner. Those are the rules I'm playing under and we know we can't go to a bowl and compete for a championship but we definitely can get more on an even playing field numbers-wise. That's what we're concentrating on as a staff.