Bill O'Brien found himself in a familiar spot Thursday morning at Penn State's preseason media day -- walking a fine line.
The first-year Nittany Lions coach couldn't tell every Penn Stater appealing the NCAA's sanctions against the program -- the Paterno family, a group of trustees, eight former players and a former assistant coach -- to shut up, cut it out or simply stand down. While he'd undoubtedly earn points outside Happy Valley for taking such a direct route, he'd also face a backlash on the home front.
When asked directly about the appeals, O'Brien replied, "That is their individual opinion or their group's opinion, and I respect that. I would never step into the middle of that."
But he also made it clear that the Penn State community needs to start turning the page. O'Brien referenced this several times during his media briefing Thursday:
"This is a special place. Now we all have to come together and realize we're in the position we're in. We have to. We have to stop arguing about it, and we've got to move forward."
"I've got to make sure that our football team does a great job of coming together, playing as good of football as they can play and then involving themselves in the community in many ways because we've got to move forward. I always talk about this meeting can't be a review of the last meeting. We have to accomplish what we did in the last meeting, implement those ideas and then move on to the next meeting. We've got to get going that way, forward. So that is my goal with this football team. Hopefully, that helps the university."
"We're very mindful of what happened here. But it's time to stop the dour attitude, it's time to think about ways to help us through this. It's time to understand that we've got to move the university, the athletic department and the football team forward."
O'Brien sent a direct message here without doing it in an overly direct way.
It's a free country, and if people want to file appeals, even on actions that aren't appealable like NCAA sanctions, they can. But does that help O'Brien and the Penn State program? Is it merely creating more distractions for a team that has more than its share the past 10 months? Is it further hurting the perception of Penn State?
I exchanged emails with a member of Penn State's Letterman's Club earlier this week. He said he supported the appeal from the former players, but also felt it was a distraction for O'Brien and the current team.
At some point, it stops becoming about restoring legacies or wins or blasting the NCAA or the university president or the board of trustees. At some point, the focus and energy needs to shift toward what's happening now and what will happen in the future.
Penn State's trustees, by the way, have a conference call scheduled Sunday to consider ratifying the consent decree the NCAA imposed and the university accepted.
"People need to jump on board and keep supporting us," O'Brien said.
They can start by looking forward, not backward.