Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien working to keep players

Posted: July 25, 2012

Since the NCAA imposed severe sanctions against the Penn State football program on Monday morning, Bill O'Brien has been reminding his players about the bond they have built since he took over as head coach in January, and how he hopes they will carry that into the 2012 season.

However, there are no guarantees this will happen with a full squad. The NCAA has relaxed its transfer rules for Penn State players, including allowing them to change schools without having to sit out a year, and coaches across the country are lining up to lure the better Nittany Lions away from central Pennsylvania.

When O'Brien talked to the Penn State beat writers Tuesday afternoon on a conference call, no one had left. He has been in constant communication with his players, via team meetings Monday and Tuesday and a number of talks with individuals, to make sure the team stays intact.

"We've got a bunch of standup, tough, smart Penn State kids that care about this university and care about this football team," he said. "They've developed a lot of chemistry over the last six months with this university, with this coaching staff. I feel very good about where we're at right now. We'll find out what type of team we have when we start practice on Aug. 6."

O'Brien, an assistant coach for the New England Patriots for the previous five years, compared this sort of feeding frenzy for his players with NFL free agency.

"There's a lot of things in the NFL that we would tell free agents as to why they should stay with our team," he said.

"We're telling our football team to remember why you came here, remember the relationships you developed here, how you feel about this staff, how you feel about the guys you play next to, and how you feel about this university and the ability to take this degree and go out in the real world when you graduate."

O'Brien also brought up his personal experience with adversity, relating how he and his wife learned that their first child had been born with a rare brain malformation, requiring constant care.

"Life is filled with adversity," he said. "The way you travel through life is how you handle adversity, and that's how you're defined as a man."

Regarding the sanctions, which he heard about at the same time as the public, O'Brien said he had learned as a coach to be ready for anything. But he was pleased that the NCAA did not implement the "death penalty" or a ban on television appearances for the Nittany Lions.

"I asked for two things - let us play football and let us be on TV," he said. "At the end of the day, that's all you want to do. You want to be able to play football in a fantastic, beautiful stadium in front of passionate fans, and you want your fans who can't get to the game to be able to see you on TV.

"We've got that. We're able to play football. I understand that we can't go to a bowl game. I understand that - I really do, believe me. But I'm not sure there are many bowl games that are played in front of 108,000 fans. So I feel good about where we are right now because we have the ability to play football on TV."

As for people who think Penn State would have been better served with the death penalty - shutting down the program for a year or more, O'Brien was emphatic.

"No," he said. "We are playing football. We open our season on Sept. 1 . . . and I couldn't feel better about that. We're playing football and we're on TV. We get to practice. We get to get better every day as football players, and we get to do it for Penn State."

O'Brien said he and his staff have developed a plan for the rules under which his team must now play but declined to get into specifics.

He also said he thinks the start of the football season will "help get people moving forward," and believes his players will be ready to go when they finally start the regular season after all that has happened since the Jan. 2 TicketCity Bowl.

"You've got a team here that's got a lot of fight in it," he said. "Just like the coaching staff, just like the head coach, we've got a lot of fight. So there's no question that our football team is close, and I think they have resolve."

Nittany notes. The brother of Silas Redd told the Hartford Courant that the junior running back continues to weigh his options about whether to transfer. "Silas is going to figure out what's best for him within the program," Mike Redd said. ESPN has reported that Southern California is going hard after Redd. . . . The Courant also reported that some 30 schools are looking at junior linebacker Khairi Fortt, including Georgia and Connecticut. Both Redd and Fortt live in Connecticut. . . . Ohio cornerback Ross Douglas, the first member of Penn State's recruiting class of 2013 to de-commit after sanctions were announced, said he would attend Michigan. . . . Fifth-year senior Matt McGloin, who won the starting quarterback job after spring practice, publicly declared that he would remain with the team. "We as student athletes are being punished for going to class, graduating, being involved in the community and playing football," he wrote on Twitter. "Even though these penalties are extremely harsh, I am a Nittany Lion and will remain one."


Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com. Follow @joejulesinq on Twitter. Read his blog, "Lion Eyes," at www.philly.com/sports/lioneyes

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