Bill O’Brien opened his second year as Penn State’s head football coach by demonstrating he hasn’t scrapped his brash, New England-cultivated ways.
A defiant O’Brien met with reporters Monday, defending his motives for speaking with multiple NFL franchises about job openings last week.
The 39-minute news conference, which was attended by several high-ranking Penn State officials, including acting athletic director Dave Joyner, allowed O’Brien to weave personal anecdotes into his explanation for examining other head coaching jobs. The event was held one year after O’Brien’s formal introduction as Joe Paterno’s permanent successor as head coach.
Perhaps stoked by some Dunkin’ Donuts coffee — the second-year coach admitted to visiting one of the popular Massachusetts-based chain’s State College locations each morning — O’Brien said multiple times money didn’t factor into his decision. The 43-year-old O’Brien said he never requested a pay raise. O’Brien made $2.3 million in 2012.
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“The guys that know me and have been around me for a little bit know I have an Irish temper,” O’Brien said with his deep voice booming into the Beaver Stadium media room speakers. “Yeah, it gets my blood level a little when somebody tells somebody else or writes something that this is about money.”
Why did O’Brien and agent Joe Linta speak with Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles last week? Blame it on a transient profession, which produced seven NFL head coach openings last week.
“In my profession, the National Football League is the highest level of coaching,” said O’Brien, a Massachusetts native who worked for the New England Patriots from 2007-11. “You don’t get any higher in coaching than the National Football League. A few teams reached out to my representative and we had conversations. That’s as far as it went.”
After he dumped cream and sugar into the early morning news conference, O’Brien fielded questions with espresso-induced enthusiasm.
O’Brien discussed impending changes for the football program such as adding equipment to the weight room to expanding the support staff devoted to recruiting. Neither O’Brien nor Joyner revealed when the changes might become apparent. The duo also declined to comment on Gov. Tom Corbett’s lawsuit against the NCAA sanctions facing Penn State.
The school’s most prominent coach and top athletic administrator were unified when pressed about their relationship. O’Brien said he believes in a “chain of command” at the school. Joyner called his relationship with O’Brien “outstanding.”
Joyner, a State College High School and Penn State graduate, doesn’t hail from a region known for its national coffee and donuts chain. But his answers matched O’Brien’s. The duo spent part of last week in opposite parts of the country, with Joyner attending the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and O’Brien taking a family vacation to Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista., Fla.
“I want to set the record straight about things that have been said,” Joyner said. “Bill and I talked when he was away. He was at Disney World. We emailed, we texted, we kept in contact. There was a two- or three-day period there that we didn’t. It worked out exactly the way we thought it was as far as timing and discussions and things like that. There was nothing unusual about the communication between Bill O’Brien and myself.”
If the week, which included a zany Thursday featuring leaks of the NFL conversations, mentally tested O’Brien and Joyner, then they appeared recharged from the weekend. Monday marked the first day of the spring semester.
Penn State lost veteran running back Curtis Dukes over the winter break. But the Nittany Lions officially added seven first-year players including heralded Cedar Cliff tight end Adam Breneman and junior college quarterback Tyler Ferguson on Monday.
O’Brien, who has eight years remaining on his contract, skirted questions regarding whether he will be in the same confounding career position next year at this time.
“I mean that’s next year,” he said.”I’m telling you right now that I’m committed to this 2013 team and I look forward to coaching them. That’s a very speculative question. I plan to be at Penn State, to be the head football coach here and I’m looking forward to coaching these kids.”
Joyner said the NFL interest is a sign the school picked the right successor to Paterno, who received intense professional interest early in his 46-year tenure as Penn State’s head coach.
“It’s always a risk with any great coach,” Joyner said. “If people weren’t talking about Bill O’Brien, then we made a lousy hire.”