For the first time since Feb. 19, 1966, Penn State has introduced a new head football coach. Bill O'Brien is the new man in charge, and he conducted himself well during his first public appearance in the new job. He was energetic and confident and hit on most of the issues Penn State fans needed to hear.
O'Brien, 42, received a five-year contract that will pay him $950,000 annually plus a five percent annual increase and performance incentives not to exceed $200,000 per year. The deal includes $1 million annually from TV and radio, and $350,000 from Nike. Total compensation: $2.3 million.
Before getting to the notes, O'Brien finished his opening remarks with a letter he wrote addressed to the Penn State football community, portions of which had expressed outrage at his hiring and the search process.
"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 [Joe] Paterno and all of its football staffs, and present and former players. We respectfully request the opportunity to earn your trust through communication and field it through our abilities, ethics, beliefs, work ethic and commitment to Penn State. In time, you will find that we have more common interests and goals than not.
"We are 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 love to be here. We want you to know that you will always be welcome and are part of our program because we are Penn State."
Here are some notes:
O'Brien plans to assemble a staff in the next 2-3 days, but he confirmed that current Lions defensive line coach Larry Johnson will be a part of it. Johnson, the team's top recruiter and an excellent position coach, served as co-defensive coordinator with Ron Vanderlinden after Tom Bradley took over the head-coaching duties in November. O'Brien will meet with the other current assistants during the next few days. Keeping Johnson is a good move.
It doesn't appear as though Bradley will remain on staff (no big surprise), and Bradley issued a statement Saturday saying Penn State has his full support going forward. Classy remarks from "Scrap."
O'Brien discussed Paterno in his opening remarks, saying he grew up following Penn State football. He loved the "helmets, the uniforms, the black cleats, no names on the back of the jerseys, and also because of the man on the sidelines." O'Brien added that there "will never be enough words to say what he did for this program." O'Brien looks forward to meeting Paterno as soon as possible.
O'Brien said he will take the NCAA exam today or Sunday that will then allow him to contact Penn State recruits. He emphasized the importance of securing Penn State's verbally committed recruits and making a push in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio and the Washington D.C. area -- "our bloodlines."
While his assistants will be on the road, O'Brien himself will be splitting time between Penn State and the New England Patriots, much like Charlie Weis did with the Patriots and Notre Dame in 2005 during the Patriots' Super Bowl run. "There’s no way I can stand up in front of our football team and our recruits and talk about loyalty and commitment and then leave the Patriots at the start of a playoff run," he said. "... I will also continue any break I have to make sure I am full-time as much as I can for Penn State." This will be tricky, but it's hard to fault O'Brien for finishing the job with the Pats. Johnson will lead Penn State's recruiting efforts during the next few weeks.
O'Brien didn't mention Jerry Sandusky or the sex-abuse scandal directly but acknowledged he has "a lot of confidence in my ability to lead us through what some people would say is a tough time right now." He said there were a lot of tough questions asked and answered from both sides during the interview process and praised acting AD Dave Joyner and president Rodney Erickson. Asked why he can lead Penn State through a tough time, O'Brien replied, "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 there not to sell about Penn State?"
O'Brien said Penn State will be multiple on defense and continue to reflect the program's tradition on that side of the ball. The offense will be game-plan-oriented. "The offensive philosophy will be to find out what our players do best ... and put them in position to take advantage of these strengths," he said. O'Brien says he'll call offensive plays, at least for the first year.
O'Brien wasn't part of a Friday night conference call with Lions players -- he spent the time preparing for the news conference -- but will meet with them Sunday at 5 p.m. ET. Classes start Monday. This meeting can't happen soon enough, in my view.
Joyner said he was receptive to the Letterman's Club members and others who wanted to give input on the coaching search. Former Penn State player Brandon Short told media outlets Friday that Joyner hadn't been receptive to the program's alums. As for the secrecy of the search, Joyner said, "We conducted this search very similar to normal academic searches for a dean for a chair of a department."
O'Brien on being a first-time head coach: "Everybody’s got to start somewhere, and what better place to start than Penn State? I know there's many challenges ahead. I'm going to surround myself with really good people."
On current boss Bill Belichick: "He allows his coaches to coach, to be creative, to come up with their own play designs and their own game plans. He’s the most challenging guy I’ve ever worked for, and I’ve learned so much from him."
On Patriots quarterback Tom Brady: "He’s a special, special guy, and a special friend of mine, and he always will be. We have a unique relationship. It was like two brothers ... so there were times when things got heated, and most of that was probably my fault."
More to come on O'Brien's hiring ...