Finally, the formal announcement about Bill O’Brien‘s accession to the throne vacated by the ouster of King Joseph V occurred at an 11:30 am press conference. The king is dead. Long live the king! I dub thee King William I, ruler of all that is good in the Penn State football domain. Long live King William!
(I know, I know. It wasn’t as good as the Pope metaphor, but what do you want on a lazy Saturday?)
After a brief introduction by President Rod Erickson and interim athletic director Dave Joyner, O’Brien began his prepared speech. Clearly, it was not a polished, sanitized, memorized address. It was more like some bullet points scratched out and filled in with sincerity by the new coach. His speaking style is fairly casual, not completely grammatically sound, and occasionally laced with cliches such as “I can’t say enough about…”, “No words can express…”, or “I have to say…” O’Brien’s first order of business was giving thanks to those who had anything to do with getting this job, including his wife, to whom he referred as his “Chief of Staff”. Later, he supported his recruiting ability with another wife reference, that she was magna cum laude as a law student at Boston University, so he surely knows how to recruit.
The speech went pretty much as anyone would have expected, with the exception of one surprise: O’Brien said he talked to Larry Johnson last night at length and invited him to join the new coaching staff, which LJ accepted. As far as anyone knows now, he’ll be the defensive line coach. This was a good move for several reasons. First of all, I asked for it. I asked for Vanderlinden, too, but I suppose if one existing assistant coach were to be a priority to gather into the fold, it would be Johnson. This doesn’t necessarily preclude O’Brien from hiring other current members of the coaching staff, with whom he plans on talking today, but that he sought out Johnson and no one else says a lot. I’m sure many others would have wanted to keep Johnson, who has proven his competence through the years. Second, O’Brien is an offensive guy, so his defensive staff could use someone familiar with the existing players and sets. The play of the defensive line is the least questionable aspect of the defense, so it is a natural that its coach be the continuity guy. Third, it makes a lot of fans who were questioning O’Brien’s hire and fearing the loss of all that was familiar to them feel much more comfortable with the new regime. Finally, Larry is 60, so this will probably be his last job. Unlike Paterno, he’ll get to retire with no blemishes on his record.
As for the rest of O’Brien’s staff, he stated that he would be putting it together over the next two to three days. This, along with studying for the NCAA exam, passage through which is required before he can go on the recruiting trail, will fill the time that would otherwise be used for optional sleep.
Adding a little self-deprecating humor was a good idea. Pointing to his balding head, O’Brien said that he knows he looks like he’s 50, but he’s only 42.
He has committed to the New England Patriots that he will coach the offense through the playoff run and to the Super Bowl, if they get there. He supported this by stating that he had told the assembled current players that he talked to last night that he couldn’t stand in front of them and preach loyalty if he just walked off when the Pats needed him.
O’Brien’s initial compensation package, including external contributions (yeah, you got it — Nike, radio, TV), will be $2.3 million per year for five years. The base salary is $950,000 with a provision for a five per cent raise each year, as well as performance incentives not to exceed $200,000. That’s a pretty reasonable package, considering that other Big Ten coaches are getting considerably more money. If this was the money offer all along, one has to wonder how many other candidates were not interested once they were given the salary specs.
After the canned part of the presser, O’Brien fielded questions from the audience, which included all the names you would expect to have received press credentials for the event. O’Brien handled it well, providing sincere, informative responses to most of the questions posed. The one exception referred to who contacted whom originally about the Penn State job; O’Brien said that he didn’t want to get into that. (That led this Turkey to wonder whether Pat Forde’s speculation about Ron Jaworski’s and Ira Lubert’s involvement beyond merely being a member of the search committee was less fiction than fact. Call it the Jaws Controversy.)
Meanwhile, the old guard was preparing its goodbyes. Joe Paterno wished O’Brien luck and paid homage to their joint alma mater. Tom Bradley issued a statement as well, although through a public relations firm, he said that the statement should not be construed as a resignation.
By 2 pm, some of the former resistance to O’Brien’s hire seemed to be yielding to guarded expressions of good wishes for a successful tenure, at least as far as Tweeps I monitor are concerned. One exception I’ll note was former Penn State quarterback and current Seattle Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson, who fears that O’Brien is an NFL guy who is using Penn State to get some head coaching experience on the way to a much desired NFL job. Here are a couple of Robinson’s tweets:
Michael Robinson: Just MY opinion but I think the trustees blew the chance of getting Urban Meyer by how they handled Joe. Meyer is a “college” guy.
Michael Robinson: What recruit would come to a school that let the media mob dictate the direction of our university. Stand for nothing and fall for anything
Michael Robinson: Sorry twitter I have some strong feelings about this that I will release via [The Real Robinson Report] soon. I understand our alums frustration
Having seen these tweets, former Nittany Lion starting center A.Q. Shipley tried to calm Robinson down a bit:
@RealMikeRob you have a lot of very valid questions my man! He seemed impressive and im excited to meet him and see what hes about also!
I haven’t seen anything recent from LaVar Arrington, who was the most vociferous of the anti-O’Brien squad. Nor have I heard lately from D.J. Dozier or Brandon Short, who as representatives of the Lettermen’s Club, threatened to sue Penn State over the use of their names in connection with marketing or recruitment, although it was reported that Dozier softened a bit later when he saw how Tom Brady spoke of O’Brien as a coach: “I don’t know much about O’Brien — when you read quotes like the one from Tom Brady about what kind of coach he is, that’s a pretty strong endorsement from one of the best quarterbacks in football, or the best quarterback in football”. Back to Threat City, one of the potential sanctions proposed by the lettermen, who were accompanied to the meeting by Tom Bradley’s attorney, was to cajole current players to transfer and current recruits to decommit. This is really dirty pool. Who did they want the committee to hire? Joe Paterno?
Arguably one of Penn State’s most successful pros, quarterback Kerry Collins urged peace on earth and goodwill toward new head coaches:
“Much is being said about the hiring of Bill O’Brien as the next football coach at Penn State. I do not know him. I have never met him nor been coached by him. One thing I do know is that I will support him and I call on all Penn State football lettermen to do the same. Whether you agree or disagree with his hiring, we should support him. Instead of chastising him for not being a Penn Stater, let’s show him what it means to be a Penn Stater. Coach O’Brien is faced with the daunting task of resurrecting our beloved, yet bruised program. Let’s support him in any way we can.”
Congratulations to Kerry Collins for being a man, not a whiner. I have to join his camp on this one. The Lettermen’s Club flexing its purported muscles should be condemned for its subversion.
The current players seem to be less troubled by the whole thing, although — who knows? — there might be a couple of transfers due to disgruntlement disguised as no-likee-coachee. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rob Bolden decided to bolt. On the other hand, Matt McGloin issued the following statement:
“I am excited about the hiring and some of the players I have spoken with are excited as well. I am anxious to get spring ball started and am ready for a fresh start. I think Coach O’Brien will lead us in the right direction and am looking forward to working with someone who has a lot of experience with quarterbacks. I think it is a great hire and a great thing for Penn State football.”
At this point, it’s a done deal, so we don’t have to agree with it, but it would be needless frustration to oppose it at this point. Although I was on board with O’Brien before he was hired, and hoped that he would be the guy who got hired, many of you will take more convincing. At this point, now that he is a Penn Stater, his actions will speak louder than our conjectures. I hope that you will have the patience to ride with this decision and give O’Brien your support while you’re making your mind up about him.