Penn State Football: Welcome, Bill O'Brien, from a Fellow Bostonian

Posted by Carolyn M. Todd on January 8, 2012 

I am a born and bred Bostonian.  In fact, I was born about five miles from where Bill O'Brien, Penn State's new head football coach, was born.  Dorchester, Massachusetts was his birthplace.  Quincy was mine, the town just south of Dorchester.  For those who don't know, Dorchester is part of the City of Boston.  And so I was anxiously awaiting yesterday's press conference not only to hear what he had to say about his new job, but also to hear something I just don't hear very much around here:  the most distinctive Boston accent in Boston, that "broad A" Dorchester- or should I say Dahchestah? - accent.

I was especially attuned to Boston accents after visiting the Sixth Street Museum in Dallas, Texas last week, where a history of the Kennedy administration, including many audio tapes of his speeches, was a part of the tour.  He had one of the strongest Boston accents ever, and it made me smile realizing how much I miss hearing that.

And so I have to express a bit of disappointment.

Bill O'Brien has modified his accent, probably as a result of so many years coaching in places like Georgia Tech, Duke (North Carolina), and Maryland.

In yesterday's press conference, he actually pronounced all of his "r's" and did not add them in inappropriate places.  My guess is he modified his accent in order to avoid being laughed at in the ACC.  I know the feeling.  I did the same thing when I started working in New Jersey, and later in Pennsylvania. 

Although every once in a while, I say something like "mahketing" or "vaniller".  My students go wild.  He should try that with his players sometime.  They will love it.

In any case, I welcome you, Bill O'Brien, your wife Colleen, and your two children, Jack, and Michael, to Penn State University and to the community of State College, and just wish to point out two things about Happy Valley that will require adjustment, one a real challenge, one very positive.  And of course, I guess I have to address this pesky problem about the New England Patriots.

You are, after all, entering Steelers and Eagles territory - you will find the students 50-50 divided.  The Patriots aren't exactly revered around here.  But I'll get to that later.

According to the ESPN Boston website, you now reside in a small Massachusetts suburb south of Boston not too far from Route 128 (at least that's what most Bostonians call it - it's known on the maps as Route 95).

And so you should be somewhat familiar with the joys of living in a small town environment where everyone knows your name.  My guess, though, is you could probably go about your business without anyone noticing or caring too much what you were up to.  Bostonians tend to give people their privacy.  We are in fact known to be a bit shy and have an image of being a bit cold (which is not really true).

So you could drive a few miles, to Quincy, to Dedham or Norwood, or to downtown Boston, have dinner in a favorite restaurant and see a play, and you could be relatively anonymous and left alone.  

Not so in Happy Valley.  From now on, as head coach, you will be living in a fishbowl the likes of which you probably have never experienced.  Everybody will know all of your business (or attempt to know it) from the time you step into this job. 

Even for someone like myself, who is simply a faculty member at Penn State, it was an adjustment moving here from living in a large metropolitan area like Boston where I was pretty much anonymous except to close friends and family.

We would go look for a new car and find out from a colleague at work, "I hear you were at Joel Confer's the other day".  We would seek investment advice or a lawyer to write a new will and within a week someone at work would mention, "I heard you met with so-and-so".  We would engage in a casual conversation with someone on a plane, and find out that someone we know wears a toupee.

You will need to get used to this.  It isn't so much nosiness that drives this as it is attempts to be friendly and get to know you.  But for a reserved New Englander it's very different.

It will be even more intrusive for you and your family.  When you have a chance to meet them, just ask Joe and Sue Paterno, and get their advice about ways to maintain their privacy.

Last summer, Joe Paterno started walking every day from his home to the football building, often stopping to rest near the Creamery or the Business Building.  Due to his health, he hadn't done this for a while, not since cell phone cameras had become so prevalent.

He couldn't walk more than twenty feet without some student - or even a faculty member or two - asking if he would pose for a photo.

As Penn State's new head coach, you will need to figure out a strategy to deal with this, but at the same time, as a new coach, you shouldn't become too insular.  You will need to find a balance between becoming a part of this community and getting yourself out there in informal settings and maintaining your sense of focus with the challenges you face ahead.

One of the refreshing things about Tom Bradley in his short tenure as Interim Head Coach was his willingness to be visible and present to football fans.  I was very impressed, at the Ticket City Bowl Pep Rally, when he intentionally walked through the crowds to shake people's hands and thank us for being there.    We also had the opportunity to speak with Tom in the lobby of the team hotel at Ohio State, and again at the Ticket City Bowl team hotel.   It struck me how accessible he was compared to Joe Paterno, and how willing Tom was to stop and chat for a while, even pose for a photo.

We've lived in this area for nearly fifteen years now.  It's a delightful place to live.  It will remind you of New England in some ways, minus the accent and the parochialism that characterizes the Boston area.  You will miss Boston tremendously, but of course you can always go back to visit.  But there is one thing you will NOT miss about the Boston area.

The traffic.

Now, I know you didn't commute to downtown Boston.  You lived south of Boston, and had a relatively easy commute to Foxborough for your job.  So most of the time you avoided the daunting commute on Route 128 (sorry, it's Route 95) to the Southeast Expressway (oops... it's Route 93) to Boston.  But you couldn't avoid it completely, I'm sure.

In Boston, the rush hour occurs between 6-9 a.m. and then again between 4-7 p.m.  In State College, the rush hour just doesn't exist in any meaningful sense.  There are folks here who complain about traffic, but they are really talking about a few back-ups at a few traffic lights, the worst of which, in my opinion, is the corner of Park Ave. and North Atherton St. between about 4:30 - 5:15 p.m.

A long time ago, there was a letter to the editor in the Centre Daily Times by a person who said, "State College doesn't have rush hours.  They have rush minutes."  So very, very, true.

So now, about those New England Patriots.    As a Bostonian, I always want them to win.

As a Penn Stater, I'm divided.

It would be nice for the Patriots to win the Super Bowl so in future recruiting seasons you can flash a Super Bowl ring.

It would also be nice for the Patriots to end their season early so you can devote full-time to this year's recruiting class.

Aw, to heck with it.  Go Patriots!  Go Penn State!  And again, welcome to Penn State.

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