Editor's Note: Five weeks into his tenure as Penn State's head football coach, Bill O'Brien welcomed Lions247 into his office for an exclusive one-on-one interview on Friday. In this 25 minute sit-down session, O'Brien talked about his offensive philosophy, his recruiting approach and answered a number of pre-selected questions from Lions247 subscribers. Today is our first release from the interview, look for other editions throughout the week.
Officially just five weeks into the job, new Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien is happy to be a Nittany Lion. The former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots has made the transition from an assistant under Bill Belichick to running his own show.
"As I went through my coaching career, I coached in college for 14 or 15 years before I went to the NFL, I was always prepared for 'the next job,' if it ever came up," O'Brien said on Friday afternoon. "When this job came up, I just felt like it was one of the jewels of college football, so I felt that I owed it to my family to show interest in the job and investigate the job. At the end of the day, I was right. This is a very, very special place with a lot of people that have opened their arms to myself and my family and have welcomed us. It's a great place."
Following in the footsteps of a coach that put in over 45 years as the head coach at his new employer, O'Brien hopes he has found a permanent home.
"I'd love to be here for the rest of my career," said O'Brien. "It's a very unique place, a unique setting, a great school where you can combine football and academics and win games and graduate players. This is a place, to me, where I know my family and I would love to be for a long time."
Almost immediately, O'Brien put his stamp on the program by make some changes at the basic level. Most notably was the hiring of Strength and Conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald, who came to Happy Valley from South Carolina. He replaced longtime Strength and Conditioning coordinator John Thomas.
"One of the first things that we wanted to do coming in here was to get a staff in place and that included the strength and conditioning program," he said. "I worked with Fitzy at the University of Maryland when Dwight Galt was the head strength coach. Then he went to Harvard from there, I went to Duke and then the Patriots. We've stayed in touch, and to this day he's the best strength coach that I've ever seen. So I wanted him to be a part of whatever staff I was going to be the head coach of."
O'Brien had targeted Fitzgerald for a number of reasons. So far, the reviews have been overly positive.
"He's a bright guy, he's an intelligent guy, he's a guy that can do many other things other than being a strength coach, he has that type of mind," said O'Brien. "He has a passion for strength and conditioning. He has that unique ability to coach with energy and get after these guys, but also at the same time they can come to talk to him and lean on him for advice when they need it about lifting weights and getting faster. Not many coaches have that ability. I think our guys have already seen the difference in their physical makeup and conditioning levels already in the month that he's been here."
O'Brien and his new staff, which features two holdovers from the old staff in Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden, have been busy evaluating the talent that already resides on campus.
"I feel great about this team," he said. "I'm not going to get into specifics, but the film that I've watched and the workouts that I've seen, we've got a chance to be a good football team. We've got a long way to go, we've got to have a good spring practice, we've got to have a good training camp, but I feel really good about the team we have."
The biggest challenge has been figuring out how the players on the current roster will jive with his offensive strategy.
"That's a work in progress, we're going to have to find that out. We're in the middle of the roster evaluation right now, but by the time the spring rolls around we'll have a better idea of how they fit into our scheme," he said. "We'll hit the ground running when the spring starts."
O'Brien once again labeled his offense as a 'game-plan' attack. His outlook is to coach a team that is difficult to prepare for and one that will put some points on the board.
"You can't put a label on our offense - it's not a West Coast offense, it's a multiple offense who is going to look at who we're playing and try to put our players in the best position to make plays against what those defenses do," he said. "At New England, it was never a 'boxed' offense. It's a spread offense, it's a West Coast offense, it's an East Coast offense - I don't even know what those things mean.
"All I know is that we teach our players multiple roles and we look at the defense we're playing and try to put them in the proper position to make some things happen."
Despite the shift in offensively philosophy, O'Brien said that while there will be minor changes in the program's approach and traditions, things will still resemble the base that Joe Paterno established.
"There's a lot of traditions here that we don't want to mess with, the uniforms being one," he said. "There's some things that we will change, some things have already changed in the building. But I haven't really discussed that much with the staff yet, it's more of a day-to-day progression right now."
Paterno, O'Brien said, will be honored at some point this season.
"The first thing, we're going to honor him by playing good football and going to class. That's the number one thing," he said. "Specifically, I'm sure we will honor him in some way, I'll sit down with the powers that be, Dave Joyner and the administration, and figure out when that is and what game that is or what we're going to do. There will definitely be some type of ceremony for Coach Paterno."
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