O'Brien, Lions turn their attention to Big Ten opener

Posted: September 26, 2012

It's no secret that Penn State coach Bill O'Brien has a bit of a temper. He famously showed it last year during an argument with Tom Brady on the New England Patriots sideline. He gave another example or two last Saturday in protesting some of the nine penalties assessed against the Nittany Lions.

But O'Brien has kept that temper under wraps, as least publicly, as the Lions prepare for their Big Ten opener in what could be considered a grudge match Saturday at Illinois, a team that sent assistant coaches to State College to recruit Penn State players in July after the NCAA imposed harsh sanctions against the university.

O'Brien was asked several times Tuesday, both at his weekly teleconference and on the Big Ten coaches' call, about his feelings toward the Fighting Illini and their first-year coach, Tim Beckman, who decided to deploy eight members of his staff to two off-campus locations for meetings with any Penn State player desiring a transfer.

Asked if he was "bothered" by the move, O'Brien replied, "It takes a lot to bother me. So I would tell you that our players, our staff, we're very focused on the task at hand."

Later, on the Big Ten call, he was asked if "any lingering ill feelings" existed toward the Illini.

"We're focused on this game," he said. "We're focused on our first Big Ten game on the road against a good Illinois team and that's what we're really focused on today."

About the only time O'Brien allowed his guard to slip a little came when he was informed about Beckman's quote from Monday. The Illinois coach said he spoke with O'Brien at the Big Ten football media days in Chicago and used the word "hope" when asked if he felt the situation had been resolved.

As for his recollection, O'Brien simply said, "I think I met him at the Big Ten media days. That's about it."

O'Brien also has his players expressing the party line, which is quite different from their comments from July when some Nittany Lions complained they couldn't leave the Lasch Football Building because coaches, not just from Illinois, were camped out in the parking lot.

Senior running back Michael Zordich, one of the more outspoken players, said Tuesday some teammates will use the episode for motivation but that the team isn't distracted.

"As a team, we're all kind of looking at this as the Big Ten opener," he said. "This has been what we've been working for. The Big Ten is the reason why we're here. We want to go out and beat all these teams. So we'll start it off Saturday with Illinois and get the thing rolling."

Under terms of the NCAA sanctions, Penn State players may transfer until the first day of 2013 preseason camp in August without having to sit out a year, meaning O'Brien will have to convince his underclassmen to stay.

He expressed confidence that the Lions are committed to the program but added he would keep his thoughts about continued recruitment of his players to himself.

"I'll continue to discuss the strategy that's involved with that with the staff and administration here," he said.

Nittany notes. With three injured tailbacks, including opening-day starter Bill Belton, returning to practice this week, the Lions will have all five players at the position available on Saturday. . . . O'Brien said defensive end Pete Massaro, the former Marple Newtown High star who has missed time with knee soreness and a shoulder injury, probably will not play Saturday. He said defensive end Sean Stanley (back) was probable and that cornerback Adrian Amos, who left the Temple game after an apparent helmet-to-helmet hit, was fine.

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


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