“I'm sure once we start practicing, and start playing, I believe everybody's going to feel good about Penn State [again]. If we go out and win, then they'll feel really good. I'm sure that'll help people, get them looking forward. I couldn't feel better about that."
O'Brien spoke for almost 30 minutes, the first time he'd talked other than issuing a statement since the NCAA sanctions were handed down Monday, making what many had feared official. PSU was hit with a $60 million fine, loss of scholarships, a 4-year postseason ban and vacated wins, among other things. O'Brien, a former New England Patriots assistant coach, talked about commitment, pride and values, the fire within him, the trust in his staff and his players. Most insistently, he always came back to the mission that is Penn State.
He believes that in time, what once was can largely be restored, by somehow managing to do more with less.
"I reiterate every single day to this team, and individually, why they came here, what Penn State stands for," O'Brien said. "I don't think about down the line. I think about tomorrow, when it comes to that stuff [dealing with the limitations].
“One of the things you learn in coaching is you have to be ready for anything. It's a challenging sport. And it's a challenging sport to coach. At the end of the day, these are the rules we play under now. That's the approach we're taking. We have our plan of where we're headed.
“We've got a bunch of stand-up, tough, smart Penn State kids, that care about this university and this team. They've developed a lot of chemistry over the last 6 months. We'll find out what kind of team we have starting on Aug. 6 [when camp opens]. We're moving forward."
Because realistically, any other mind-set at this point isn't going to help anyone.
This group has been through way too much already. In some ways, maybe the toughest part is over. Yet in others, perhaps it's just beginning.
The immediate concerns are merely keeping this group together. Anyone can transfer and be eligible right away. There's already a rumor that sophomore running back Silas Redd could be headed to Southern Cal, which ironically is just coming off NCAA issues of its own. O'Brien feels the personnel losses, if any, will be minimal. He's just as confident they'll find a way to keep recruiting enough quality players, although he does acknowledge that the task has at the very least become, well, different. That would include keeping the class of 2013 as intact as possible.
Nobody said this brave new world had to necessarily be smooth. If nothing else, his NFL experience, where teams are limited to 53-man rosters, should help him deal with a scholarship-restricted group.
"Without getting into details, the philosophy that I brought here, from my experience, doesn't change," O'Brien said. "We just have to find other ways to do it. To me, it's very much like an NFL roster. A good comparison would be free agency in pro football. There's a lot of things we can tell them, why they should stay [or even come]. Things that hold a lot of weight. I believe that's what's going to happen. I've been very up front with these kids. They've been dealt with honestly and openly. I've told them to act like men, since they've done for the 6 months I've been here, to make decisions that are good for them and their families. We'll deal with [possible defections] as it comes by ...
“We have a lot of really fine leaders here at the university, men that I respect a lot. They've had to make some tough decisions over the past 6 months. That's what I have to do. I'm here to run this football program. That's why I came.
“Life is filled with adversity. How you handle adversity is how you're defined. Think about the guy playing next to you. I gave these guys a lot of things to think about. I continue to tell everybody involved, this is what Penn State's about ... We get to practice, we get to get better every day, and we get to do it for Penn State."
Nobody knows exactly how this is going to play out. The only certainty is, it doesn't figure to be painless. There's no getting around that. Penn State can only hope the right man is in place. Because it's in his hands. He sets the agenda. Everyone will take their cue from that.
So far he's saying all the right things. He didn't take this gig to fail, even if the actions taken by the powers that be have stacked the odds against him. He's not just succeeding Joe Paterno anymore.
Compared to this, that almost sounds like a bargain.
"What's most important to me right now is to do right by these kids and continue on," O'Brien said. "I'm not out here to just prove ... myself. I want do to the best job I can for Penn State, the kids that play here and this staff. I don't think about timetables or things like that.
“We obviously have a plan, that involves a lot of different things. I've brought a staff here that's been to the top of the mountain, with national-championship programs and Super Bowls. We have a pretty good idea of what we're doing. Rest assured, we have a plan. And we've got a team that's really close to each other, that has a lot of fight in it. I think they have resolve."
So what message would he give to all the fans?
"I would tell them to renew their season tickets," O'Brien said. "I would tell them to turn the page, continue their belief in this fantastic university, to remember that they've got a team here that's worked extremely hard for this upcoming season.
“I would tell them to jump on board."
See you on Sept. 1. For Nittany Lion Nation, it can't get here soon enough.
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