Penn State players give Bill O'Brien high marks for first season

Penn State coach Bill O'Brien celebrates with his team after a 24-21 overtime win against Wisconsin to close the season 8-4. Associated Press
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien celebrates with his team after a 24-21 overtime win against Wisconsin to close the season 8-4. Associated Press
Posted: November 27, 2012

Bill O'Brien was an unknown when he landed at the State College airport in January on the night before he was introduced as the successor to the legendary Joe Paterno as Penn State's football coach.

That led to complaints from former Nittany Lions that he wasn't a Penn State guy and from many in Nittany Nation that O'Brien never had been a head coach at any level. And the players were apprehensive.

"I didn't know who he was," defensive tackle Jordan Hill said.

However, it didn't take the Nittany Lions long to buy into O'Brien's vision of how he intended to run the program after the Jerry Sandusky scandal and later the NCAA sanctions that knocked the team out of postseason play and reduced scholarships.

After Saturday's 24-21 overtime victory over Wisconsin that ended O'Brien's first season at 8-4, the players echoed the sentiments of cornerback Stephon Morris, who called the coach "the perfect hire."

"If there was anyone else, no one else would have done the job Coach O'Brien did," Morris said. "He means the world to me. He's an honest person, very loyal. He's just a great man."

Hill said he knew Penn State had the right coach as he left the Lasch Football Building after O'Brien's first team meeting.

"Everything that he said, it seemed to be the right thing, everything we needed to hear," Hill said. "He was telling us that we've been put down but we're going to get back up, that we're going to fight as hard as we can. He told us it wasn't going to be easy."

O'Brien was open and honest with his players. He kept them together after the sanctions and the resulting transfer of players. He installed a style matching the New England Patriots' offense and watched as Matt McGloin had a career season at the controls.

"If you want a model of how to run an organization, you look at Bill O'Brien," defensive end Pete Massaro said. "I will look at that the rest of my life and be grateful that he was able to come in here and run this place like that."

Even with all the ups and downs of the season and the emotions of Saturday's Senior Day, O'Brien said after the game: "I feel good."

"I think we accomplished a lot this year, and hopefully we can go into the offseason and figure out what we need to do better," he said. "Every year is different. Next year's team will be a lot different from this year's team. Whatever suits us is what we're going to do."

The offseason will not be a serene one. Players once again will be able to transfer to another FBS school without having to sit out a year. Recruiting will be an uphill struggle. And O'Brien is sure to be considered by some NFL teams seeking a new head coach.

But in Massaro's words, "I see unlimited possibilities. There's a great group of guys coming back, and hopefully our senior class taught them a thing or two about leadership and they get the guys to step up into new roles. The sky's the limit for this program."

Contact Joe Juliano at, or follow on Twitter @joejulesinq.

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