Penn State's O'Brien starts recruiting trip in Philly area

Posted: May 02, 2012

For his initial question on his first of 18 stops through seven states with the Penn State coaches' caravan, new Nittany Lions football coach Bill O'Brien was asked, "What do you predict your record will be this season?"

Talk about a somewhat offbeat opening Monday to the scheduled Q-and-A session at a Center City hotel with an audience made up almost entirely of Penn State alumni. But O'Brien resisted the temptation to roll his eyes and answered.

"I talk all the time about us playing 12 one-game seasons," he said. "Everybody says that's a cliché. But if you know anything about the guys I've worked for, that's the only way to go into a season. You don't think about bowl games or championships or anything but the task at hand. Right now, the only season we're worried about is the one on Sept. 1," the season opener against Ohio.

It was part of a busy day for O'Brien, who left State College at 6:30 a.m. on a special Penn State bus. He appeared in Philadelphia and Drexel Hill, accompanied by men's basketball coach Patrick Chambers and field hockey coach Char Morett, both Delaware County natives.

"It was a great stop, a good start, great turnout," O'Brien said in a review of the first gathering, "and another great chance for us coaches to get out there and meet all the alums and the fans, all the people that support Penn State and our athletic program."

Of course, O'Brien knows the importance of getting acquainted with an alumni base that had only known one head coach, Joe Paterno, for the last 46 years. After initial reservations about his hiring last January because he didn't have any Penn State ties, O'Brien appears to have won many of them over.

For his first stop in Eagles territory, he began his remarks on a light note, referencing his previous job as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, who traveled to Philadelphia last season.

"I'm a Boston guy - yeah, I know, 'Boo,' " he said. "The last time I drove down Broad Street was on a Patriots bus, and this wasn't the same reception - thank God for that."

The crowd of 250 was encouraging and enthusiastic. O'Brien answered questions dealing with whether he believes in a two-quarterback system, and on keeping traditions begun by Paterno.

On the former: "If having a package for a second quarterback helps us win the game, then I'll certainly look into it. But I'm more of a one-quarterback guy."

And the latter: "A question I've been asked quite a bit since I was hired is about the uniforms, and I'm not going to change the uniforms. Penn State was a team you saw all the time, and I grew up seeing those uniforms and understanding that it is about the team, that there are no names on the backs, it looks like one team."

There were a few football players in the audience. One of them, South Jersey native Adam Taliaferro, who played briefly for Paterno before a vicious hit in 2000 left him almost paralyzed, said he thinks O'Brien being on this caravan is a great idea.

"I give him a lot of credit," Taliaferro said. "He just got through spring ball with the players. To go right on the tour, it shows he really wants to be a part of the Penn State community. He didn't have to do this, and for him to give his time, for all the coaches to give their time, I think it says a lot about him."

O'Brien will be joined at various stops by different coaches, but he said the purpose of the caravan is to show that Penn State athletics is one entity, "not 31 different corporations." The unity is important given the rocky times experienced since the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke.

"We're one, we're going to stick together no matter what," Chambers said as O'Brien nodded in agreement. "We're going to support one another. Obviously, we feel terrible for what happened, but I think we can be that ray of light that Penn Staters are looking for. Not that we're going to forget about what happened, but we've got to start moving ahead."

O'Brien moves on to Baltimore and Washington on Tuesday. So, did he think he turned the Philadelphia crowd in his favor?

"Well, probably in Philly, I'll always be associated with the Patriots to a certain degree," he said. "But hopefully the Penn Staters see me as a Penn Stater."


Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com or follow @joejulesinq on Twitter.

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