- Adam Rittenberg, College Football
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Bill O'Brien might not have had direct ties to Penn State before becoming the team's head coach Jan. 6, but he wanted some assistants with connections to the school and to the state. He found one in quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher, a native of Allenwood, Pa., located about 65 miles east of State College. Fisher's has strong Penn State roots, as you'll see below, but he spent most of his career in the south and southeast, aside from a stint as Temple's offensive coordinator and his most recent stop as quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator at Miami (Ohio) in 2011.
He has extensive experience tutoring quarterbacks, including former Vanderbilt star Jay Cutler, and will be one of O'Brien's most crucial hires, not to mention his final addition to the staff. Although O'Brien didn't appoint an offensive coordinator, he'll work closely with Fisher to guide the unit and mentor the quarterbacks, who have struggled the past two seasons.
ESPN.com caught up with Fisher earlier this week. Here are his thoughts on his new job and his homecoming:
Why Penn State?
Charlie Fisher: I would say why not? It's just an unbelievable opportunity. The blue and white runs through my family so deep. I've got brothers who graduated from here, nieces and nephews, uncles and aunts, sister-in-laws, my whole family are Penn State people. Where I come from, everybody is Penn State. It's just exciting, an unbelievable opportunity for me personally. And my wife's from where I grew up, we went to high school together, so you can imagine the excitement within our family.
Did you grow up going to Penn State games?
CF: I did. If you can believe this, I used to sit in the end zone in the wooden bleachers of Beaver Stadium. That tells you how long ago that was. Late sixties, I came up here. I had season tickets, so I saw two or three years of games, like from '68 to '70 or '71, somewhere in that range. My brother went to school here and he graduated high school in '70, so it was right in that time frame.
How did this job come about for you?
CF: I certainly knew Bill. I had a good connection with Ted Roof, the defensive coordinator. Glenn Spencer, who was on my staff at West Georgia when I was the head guy there, worked with coach O'Brien at two different stops, so obviously he had a great connection to coach O'Brien. So things just clicked. It's one of those things that just clicked at the right time. We spent some time together and hit it off, saw things the same way from the quarterback position and what he wanted to do offensively. I've got so much respect for coach O'Brien. He's a wonderful guy and a great coach.
What are some of the similarities you shared with him as far as the vision for the offense?
CF: The diversity of a good, physical running game, a great play-action game, being able to use all the tools within the offense, and getting guys involved as they did at New England. As good as Tom Brady was, they were a good running football team. Certainly we want to be here, and have been. Where we want to continue to improve and develop is in the passing game, and be a wonderful play-action team. And using all our guys. [The Patriots] had so much success using the tight end position there.
What type of growth needs to happen in the passing game?
CF: Being here the first time around, we don't know who our [starter] is. We'll find that out between spring ball and camp. It's an open competition. We have two who have played a lot [Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden], and we've got a third guy who we think is a major talent. He just to this point has not played in Paul Jones. But Bolden and McGloin have played. They've had open competition, they all got snaps, so that's an advantage going in. They have experience. Now we have to find out what do they do, maximize their ability, get them playing consistently and get them making plays in the pass game. Because if you look at numbers, that's an area where Penn State's offense has to improve, throwing the football.
Have you had a chance to meet with those guys and watch any tape of them from previous seasons?
CF: I've met with 'em. I have not had a chance to sit down and watch them extensively on tape, other than watching the bowl game because I'm a Penn State guy. And really, I've always guarded against that. I don't like going into a situation and just filling my brain with what they did. I'm more concerned with what they're going to do, and I've always looked at it like that. Things will be different offensively. The way we do things will be different. That's not to say it's right or wrong from anybody else, it's just the way you do things, the way you approach things. We want to look forward, not back.
What are some of the challenges for a quarterback in the system you and Bill want to run?
CF: Obviously, they're going to have to be smart guys, understand what we want to do from just running the offense. It's a pro-style offense, so there are going to be things they'll have to learn that are going to be totally different. That would be the foremost challenge. They're the point guy. They've got to be the leader. They've got to be the guy to take this offense and run with it. So we've got to identify that guy, first and foremost, who's going to be a great leader for us, who's going to embrace what we're doing, who's going to learn it and run it and be able to execute it.
You haven't been there, but why do you think it's been a struggle for Penn State to produce elite quarterbacks? It's been a long time since Penn State has had a quarterback drafted. It hasn't been a quarterback factory at Penn State. Any thoughts on why that's the case?
CF: That's really hard to quantify not having been here. A lot of it sometimes is maybe just the focus on what you're doing. If you're more of a heavy run-game team, and Penn State's always been great running the football with the tailback. Certainly how quarterback-friendly the system may be may lead to success. If you look across the nation, there are certain things that they're asking the quarterback to do or how much they're allowing him to do that leads to some success. But that's hard to measure having not been here. Certainly looking forward, we have to go out and get that guy who can be elite for us, and lead coach O'Brien's offense and what he wants to do. Now let's find that guy.
As the quarterbacks coach, how much input will you have on schemes and play calls?
CF: I would feel like I'll certainly have some in the offensive game plan. Coach O'Brien will have final say on everything. Coach O'Brien is a quarterback guy, so we've got to be joined at the hip. We've got to think the same, and we've got to put our heads together on what we feel is best. His track record offensively is so good. He's had success in the NFL as a coordinator, so it's going to be interesting and exciting for me to learn the things he wants to do, interject any ideas I may have, and mesh them together as best we can. But we're going to run his offense and move forward that way.
What's it like to work for a coach with a background like O'Brien's? Is it similar to what you did at Miami (Ohio) with Don Treadwell, a former offensive play-caller?
CF: There's only so many plays you can run. It's just the way you approach it, the way you dress them up, that kind of thing. Certainly coach O'Brien has a unique vision, having coached in the NFL and coached arguably the best quarterback to play in the NFL. So for me, it's exciting. How much better can it be to share the same vision with a great coach, and to learn from him, and have a chance to interject and help in any way that you can?
You mentioned you met with the players. What's your message to them and what will your message be as far as getting ready for the spring and what you'll look for?
CF: The first thing they've got to do is put the time in to learn what we're trying to do. We don't start spring ball until the end of March, so they've got time to learn what to do. And we've got to develop consistency in the group, and we've got to identify that [top] guy. Hopefully, somebody emerges out of spring. If not, it's going to carry on and we're going to see who emerges, who's going to be able to grasp things mentally, what can they grasp and that kind of thing. But at that position, it's so important that you find a guy who can number one, lead your team, and number two, play with consistency and who you know what you're going to get day in and day out.
What were your initial impressions of them as guys?
CF: Great kids. They're buying in 100 percent. They're excited about the vision coach O'Brien's bringing here. I put myself in their shoes. If I'm the quarterback at Penn State and the offensive coordinator from New England comes and takes the head job, how could you not be excited about that? All you've got to do is look at the success of their offense, their quarterback play and the way they use their guys. As an offensive player at Penn State, you look at how they use their tight end, their wideouts and running backs, all the diversity in their offense. So as an offensive player in general, that's got to be exciting, but certainly as a quarterback, you know it's a quarterback-friendly offense.
So they're excited, they're eager, they want to learn. I've been impressed with them. They work hard in the weight room and they want to get better. They're trying to grasp what we're doing, so it's going to be exciting. And they know, 'Hey, we've got to step it up. We've got to do our part at that position because everything revolves around that spot.'
You weren't involved in this year's recruiting class but you will be going forward. What are some of the things you'll be looking for in quarterbacks who you want to bring to Penn State?
CF: We're going to recruit a pro-style quarterback. So we want a guy that is smart, he's a great competitor, he's going to be mentally tough, physically tough. At the forefront, we want to find a guy who's accurate, who can put the ball on the money, knows where it's going to go and can get the ball out of his hands. So accuracy, release, arm strength is always nice to have, but you want a guy who can put the ball on the money, knows where it's going and can get it out of his hands.
Even though I wasn't involved in this recruiting class, I actually took a very strong look at [incoming freshman] Steven Bench when I was at Miami, and at Vanderbilt I recruited south Georgia, so I've known about Steven Bench the last couple years. And I love him. He's got athleticism, he can throw the ball, he's a great competitor. We're really excited about him coming into this offense. He maybe flew under the radar a little bit, but I've seen that guy and he's a good player and he plays in a very good conference in south Georgia. He's got a good arm and he's very competitive. He's a coach's son, so you know he's been around the game his whole life.
Bill O'Brien might not have had direct ties to Penn State before becoming the team's head coach Jan. 6, but he wanted some assistants with connections to the school and to the state.