A High-Profile Introduction for Bill O’Brien
After Rip Engle retired as Penn State’s football coach, Joe Paterno was introduced at his successor at a news conference on Saturday morning, Feb. 19, 1966. On the front page of the next issue of The Daily Collegian, this was the top headline: “Model U.N. Whips USSR Bloc.”
Underneath, there were stories about whether changing the rules on female students living in apartments would lead to moral ruin (one student testified that at other schools with similar rules, “they have no trouble with pregnancies”), about the Collegian’s new editor and business manager, and about the concert that kicked off Greek Week 1966: Simon and Garfunkel in Recreation Building.
Paterno was mentioned on page 6. At the bottom. In a story headlined “Paterno Retains Staff.”
To be fair, the Collegian published Tuesday through Saturday in those days, so the news was a couple of days old. But it’s still remarkable to contrast the introduction of Paterno with that of his successor, Bill O’Brien, who was introduced Saturday morning at the Nittany Lion Inn in a ballroom full of media members, donors, university officials, alumni, and what seemed like some fans who wandered in. O’Brien’s news conference was televised and streamed live by the Big Ten Network (if you missed it, you can watch it here), and dozens of media tweeted his every word to an eager Penn State fan base and a national audience.
And, of course, the composition of O’Brien’s staff, while important, wasn’t the big story. It was how and why he was chosen to lead Penn State after the Sandusky scandal.
O’Brien’s Friday evening flight from Boston to State College was tracked online by media, and shortly after the plane landed at University Park Airport, photos started to show up on Twitter. The photos, taken in the dark, weren’t great—Jim Seip of the York Daily Record tweeted that he’d seen better definition in photos of Sasquatch.
Photographers got better shots Saturday before the new coach actually met the media; O’Brien’s 5-year-old son, Michael, wearing a No. 25 Silas Redd jersey and an absolutely adorable smile, was clearly astonished when a gaggle of photographers plopped themselves in front of his front-row seat and started snapping away. “You did good,” Michael’s mom, Colleen, told him with a smile.
The news conference lasted for about two hours, although O’Brien wasn’t answering questions the entire time. He talked for just under half an hour at the podium, left to do TV interviews, and then he came back to answer questions a little less formally—i.e., standing in the ballroom and surrounded by reporters and photographers, some of whom were standing on ladders and chairs.
During that exchange, he said he was familiar with Big Ten football because the Patriots’ tight end coach is Brian Ferentz, son of Iowa’s Kirk, and insisted on having the Big Ten Network on during what are relatively slow NFL Saturdays. Asked what kind of player he was at Brown, he said, “Oh God. Not very good.”
A few other highlights:
On how conventional wisdom is that it’s better to be not the guy who follows a legend, but the guy who follows the follower: “Yeah, I’ve heard it a lot in the past few days. I’m not here to be Joe Paterno. There’s only one Joe Paterno. And so what I’m gonna try to do is be Bill O’Brien.”
On reaching out to former players: “I’m gonna be on the phone working 24/7 in addition to recruiting to try to talk to as many guys who played here. Penn State is about the guys that played here in addition to Coach Paterno. . … You know, in researching the job, it was amazing the names that played here. So I’ll do the best I can as fast as I can to at least talk to as many former players as I can. And they’ll have my number, too; they can call me.”
O’Brien said he wasn’t planning to sleep much in the next several weeks as he continues his role as New England’s offensive coordinator in the NFL playoffs, chooses his assistants (he told ESPN.com that he’d have seven coaches in place by Wednesday, and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden will stay to be one of them, we learned Sunday), and shores up Penn State’s recruiting class. The Patriots are hosting the Denver Broncos on Saturday night.
If you’ve not gotten enough O’Brien coverage yet, check out some of my favorites: this profile from the New York Times, this column by Rich Hofman of the Philadelphia Daily News, and this piece by Dave Jones of The Patriot-News in Harrisburg. You can get a sense of the player reaction to their 5 p.m. Sunday meeting with O’Brien—spoiler, they’re pretty excited, especially the offensive players—by clicking on these videos shot by student Audrey Snyder, who’s working for the Reading Eagle’s Nittany Extra website.
And by clicking here, you can compare the Collegian then-and-now. Another spoiler: There’s a big difference.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
Entry filed under: Bill O'Brien, Joe Paterno, Penn State football, Sandusky scandal. Tags: Audrey Snyder, Bill O'Brien, Joe Paterno, New York Times, Nittany Extra, Philadelphia Daily News, Ron Vanderlinden, The Daily Collegian, The Patriot-News.