Watching Bill O’Brien
I’m doing double-duty of sorts on this Penn State Coaches Caravan bus trip, which left State College bright and early Monday morning and continues on tonight in Drexel Hill, Pa. I’m doing this, obviously—blogging and tweeting when the WiFi cooperates to share the scene as Bill O’Brien and the other coaches on the trip get out and meet Penn Staters. But I’m also mindful of the O’Brien profile I’m working on for the July/August issue of The Penn Stater.
In watching him at a handful of press conferences, interviewing him one-on-one in his office a few weeks back, spending a few days with him this week on the bus, and in at least one other unlikely interaction I’ll share at some point, I’ve gotten a pretty good picture of how Bill O’Brien comes across. He is blunt, but he also can be very funny. He’s heard enough of the same questions dozens of times over the past few months, and you can tell which ones he doesn’t mind answering, and which he’d probably rather not hear again. But as me made clear at lunch Monday in Philly, he sees the value in answering them all.
He met with reporters for 15 minutes before the lunchtime gathering at the Doubletree on Broad Street, then took most of the questions (Char Morett and Patrick Chambers joined him onstage) from alumni after lunch. Throughout, O’Brien was on message—and I don’t mean that as a bad thing. His is not the sort of job in which one can focus only on one thing, and certainly recruiting and keeping tabs on his current team keep him busy enough. But he is clearly and impressively focused right now on converting the masses of Penn Staters to his cause. He insisted, as he will again and again, that academics matter. That integrity and respect will be words associated with the program as long as he’s in charge of it. And while he made no promises, he certainly talked about winning football games.
Bill O’Brien has been making a great first impression for four months now, and he looks likely to keep that up for the next couple of weeks. The games will come in the fall and results will largely determine how he’s received; for now, he’s doing all he can to show Penn Staters, in his always blunt, occasionally funny way, that he’s one of us. “I’m no longer an outsider,” he said Monday, talking about the welcome he and his family have received in Happy Valley. “I feel like a Penn Stater now.”
Ryan Jones, senior editor