Bill O’Brien said Tuesday that he has no plans to leave Penn State and that he’s confident that he can keep his coaching staff intact one day after the NCAA imposed crippling sanctions on the football program.
“I made a commitment to Penn State,” O’Brien said during a conference call with beat writers. “I believe in Penn State. I believe in the people who hired me. I feel great about the staff I put together.
“Most important, I feel very, very close to these kids. We have tough kids, smart kids, kids who care about each other and their coaching staff. We have a bunch of guys who want to succeed and do well on and off the field.”
O’Brien, who was hired in January to succeed Joe Paterno as head coach, faces an unprecedented challenge after the NCAA banned Penn State from postseason games for four years and stripped up to 20 scholarships a year over a four-year period.
After the NCAA announcement Monday morning, O’Brien spent the rest of the day meeting with current players and calling incoming players and recruits, trying to convince them to stay at Penn State.
Under the sanctions, incoming and current Penn State players can transfer anywhere immediately without having to sit out a year.
O’Brien said no current players have left, although reports surfaced late Monday night that Southern Cal was recruiting junior running back Silas Redd. Tuesday, Redd’s father told the Hartford Courant that his son was planning to stay at Penn State.
Several recruits in the Class of 2013 have de-committed. Cornerback Ross Douglas, a four-star recruit from Ohio, announced Monday that he plans to play at Michigan.
O’Brien met with the entire team Monday morning and has met with players individually over the last two days.
“It was a really good meeting, a positive meeting,” he said. “I told the guys why I came here. I believe in the ability to play good football and graduate with a world-renowned degree. That’s why my wife and I came here.
“I talked to them about adversity. I talked to them about our adversity in our personal lives (the O’Briens have a severely disabled son). Life is full of adversity. The way you travel through life is how you handle adversity.”
Although some have speculated that the sanctions are worse than the so-called death penalty, O’Brien said he’s just glad the team will continue to play football and will be seen on television.
“We open our season on Sept. 1 in front of 108,000 strong against Ohio University,” he said, “and I couldn’t feel better about it. We’re playing football. We get to practice. We get to be better. We do it for Penn State.”
O’Brien, a former offenisive coordinator with the New England Patriots, said once the sanctions take effect, he’ll treat the team like an NFL roster and have shorter, more efficient practices. He also said he’ll use free agency tools he learned in the NFL when trying to keep players at Penn State or recruit them to play there.
“We’re talking about the value of an education,” he said, “and the ability to play six or seven bowl games a year here in State College. In the NFL we would tell free agents why they should stay with our team. In the same way, we’re telling our team to remember why they came here.”
Penn State players have grown closer and stronger since news of the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke last November. They’ve seen the firing of their legendary head coach (Joe Paterno), the toppling of Paterno’s iconic statue and the NCAA sanctions.
“This is a group of young men who have put in a lot of time over the last six months,” O’Brien said, “and who have been through a lot over the last year. The team feels very close to each other and has a lot of fight, just like their staff and their head coach.
“There’s no question our team is close. I think they have resolve.”
O’Brien was asked if he had a message for Penn State fans, some of whom have canceled their season tickets or are considering whether to renew them.
“I would tell them to renew their season tickets, to move forward, to turn the page and to get on board with a new era of Penn State football,” he said. “I would tell them to continue their belief in this great university.”