Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien shook a lot of hands during the first six stops on the Coaches Caravan last week. One of those fans told O'Brien he had been a season ticket holder since the days of Rip Engle.
Penn State's fans have high hopes for what Bill O'Brien can achieve in his first season.
"I've met many people like that," O'Brien said. "Their Saturdays in the fall are built around getting in the RV and going to a Penn State football game. And they expect to be going on a vacation in January."
His time on the caravan, which continues this week with stops in northeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, has reinforced what O'Brien had already begun to understand about Penn State's massive group of football enthusiasts: They are everywhere, they are passionate and they have high expectations for their team.
"No one's come to me and said, 'Hey, take your time, it's going to be OK no matter what happens,'" O'Brien said. "I understand that I have to win games and graduate football players, so that's really all I think about."
One of O'Brien's goals for the spring -- other than asking the Nittany Lions to digest his massive playbook -- was to give his team an understanding of his core values. He has tried to do the same for alumni during the caravan stops, especially for those curious to know how he plans to help the program move on from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
"I have two mandates: the first is to make sure that our guys are going to class and behaving properly off the field," he said. "The second mandate is to make sure that we go out there and try and do the best we can to win every football game we play."
O'Brien said he typically arrived at the football offices between 5 and 5:30 a.m. this spring. He would go through a workout designed for him by assistant strength coach Sean Hayes, then start breaking down practice film with his staff. O'Brien would try to make it home for dinner with his family each night and encouraged his assistants to do the same -- though many would often stay and watch film, he said. On off days, he would catch up on recruiting.
"What I try to do is manage my team and make sure what I'm doing that day is the most important thing for the program," he said. "Is the priority scripting for practice? Recruiting? Go talk to such and such a group right now?"
Getting out to meet the program's alumni and fans was a priority for O'Brien this spring. He said he appreciates the enthusiasm for and interest in his program, that he likes learning about the history of Penn State through those fans. They've had no shortage of ways to help.
"I listen to the ideas," he said, "but at the end of the day I have to make my own decisions."