“They’re going to keep the great defense, great academics and keep doing things the right way, but also bring the program into the 21st century at the same time.”
Penn State’s latest football recruit Zayd Issah said those telling words whenCentre Daily Timesreporter Travis Johnson asked the Central Dauphin linebacker why he chose the Nittany Lions and coach Bill O’Brien over a number of other big-time programs.
Issah’s words give us insight into what O’Brien is selling to recruits as he tries to put his stamp on a program that was led by one man since 1966.
Embrace the past, but sell the future.
So far, you’d have to say it’s working pretty well.
Issah is the 14th recruit to commit to the program for 2013 since O’Brien was named head
coach in January. O’Brien, age 42, and his staff have put together a Top-15 recruiting class for 2013.
Way back in January, some prognosticators would have called that recruiting success a minor miracle.
With the pending Jerry Sandusky trial, other lawsuits, Freeh Report and other bad news surrounding the scandal looming, O’Brien and his assistants were thought to have their work cut out for them in selling a university tarnished by scandal.
But as recruit after recruit continues to commit to Penn State, the Sandusky fallout seems to be the farthest thing involved when the final decisions are made. They see a program led by a coach that promises a bright future and who is willing to spend the time and energy to make it happen.
Unlike the previous regime, O’Brien’s entire staff has been on the road and he’s reaping benefits. The Nittany Lions have already landed players from Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, and New Jersey (four), They are also keeping some of the best Pennsylvania players (six) at home.
Led by players like quarterback Christian Hackenberg and tight end Adam Breneman, Penn State’s 2013 class is currently rated 13th by Rivals.com. That class, which could creep into the Top 10 before its over, has seven players rated as four-star recruits.
O’Brien also went on a dizzying 18- stop Penn State Coaches Caravan, which started after spring practice had concluded in April. Not only did O’Brien help foster good will among alumni with the grueling schedule, he also got his name and message out on fertile recruiting grounds.
As indicated by Issah, O’Brien’s message is simple.
The university has an excellent reputation for academics, outstanding facilities, more than 100,000 fans for every home game and a rabid fan base. That’s the kind of history that’s great to recite in living rooms, wooing both recruits and parents.
But, O’Brien is also selling what is new and he’s proving he’s not afraid to break with tradition to establish a modern footprint.
He’s bringing in a pro-style offense that he helped lead to the Super Bowl last season with the New England Patriots. He’s also willing to change what has been a successful defense.
And if those two things weren’t enough, O’Brien has shown he won’t back off from making a tough decision. After two seasons of a circus at quarterback, O’Brien ended the debate by naming Matt McGloin as he starter coming out of the spring. Players want to know where they stand, and O’Brien has shown he’s willing to be straight with them.
And if you read between the lines, it also looks like O’Brien isn’t going to put up with off-field indiscretions. Four players — be it for “personal reasons” or other issues — are no longer part of the program. All four have been involved in off-the-field incidents.
“Keep doing things the right way, but also bring the program into the 21st century at the same time.”
You can see why Issah and his future teammates are buying instead of selling.
Walt Moody is sports editor of the Centre Daily Times. He can be reached at 231-4630. Follow him on Twitter @wmoodycdt