Thursday, May 17, 2012
Bill O'Brien energized by PSU caravan tour
By Brian Bennett
May is a time when many coaches take a little breather, decompressing after spring practice and maybe enjoy some time off.
Not so for new Penn State coach Bill O'Brien. When ESPN.com caught up to O'Brien on Wednesday for a phone interview, he was on a bus en route to Buffalo, N.Y., for the 18th and final stop on the Nittany Lions' coaches caravan. O'Brien went to every event, a three-week whirlwind that saw him visit seven different states, including stops in Cleveland, Washington, D.C., New York City, Richmond, Va., and Hartford, Conn.
Coach Bill O'Brien has worked tirelessly to build a strong relationship with the Penn State fan base.
O'Brien really hasn't had much down time in a while, as he headed straight to State College after coaching the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl in February. But he didn't sound much worse for the wear.
"I've got a lot of energy," he said. "I've been traveling with a great group of people, and the turnouts energize us."
O'Brien and other Penn State coaches were greeted by some large crowds, including more than 900 who came out to the event in Scranton, Pa. There has been a lot of curiosity about the man who's taking over for Joe Paterno, and that's a major reason why O'Brien decided to embark on the journey.
"Since I was hired, I felt like something I had to do after spring practice was get out there, meet people and talk about our vision for the program," he said. "Every stop, there have been 400-to-500 people, at least. So there's no question that it's a far-reaching program, and that's good because we're going to recruit in the six-to-seven hour driving distance area. So it's good to be able to get out into our recruiting areas, too."
The caravan, of course, had another purpose. After the ugly Jerry Sandusky scandal and controversy over Paterno's ouster, Penn State needed a goodwill tour to help the healing process along.
"I think it definitely helps," O'Brien said. "Like I've said, I wasn't here in November. My staff wasn't here. But we're well aware of what happened in November. So I definitely think it helps to get out and meet people and make sure people understand where we're headed."
Even with the controversy as a backdrop, most Penn State fans just wanted to talk about football. O'Brien was peppered with questions about the Nittany Lions' quarterback competition, whether he'll maintain the program's traditions and uniforms and scheduling.
"People can't wait to get going and for the season to start," O'Brien said. "I definitely sense a lot of excitement."
But O'Brien and his staff have a lot of work to do before Sept. 1. One of the first orders of business is selecting a starting quarterback from the trio of Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden and Paul Jones. O'Brien said he plans to name a starter in early June.
"One of the things I try to make clear to people is that the day after the Blue-White Game, the coaches left for recruiting," he said. "We haven't even had a chance as a staff to sit down and talk about spring practice, about depth charts at any position. So I want to have a chance to sit down with the staff when they get back at the end of May, and then we'll have something soon after that."
A report from the Cleveland caravan quoted quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher as saying McGloin was the leader in the race. Asked about that, O'Brien joked, "I'll have to talk to Charlie about that one," before emphasizing again that the staff has to meet to discuss the quarterback situation.
O'Brien and his coaches have begun their preparations for their first few opponents of 2012. He said the team "got a lot done" in the spring but still needs to have a big summer and training camp.
"I think our kids know the tempo we want to practice with," he said. "We have a better feel for the football team, that's for sure. Our kids have started to grasp the terminology and other things."
O'Brien got a grasp on the Penn State fan base during the caravan tour, and vice versa. It might not have been as relaxing as some time off, but he saw it as a very valuable experience worth repeating in the future.
"We'll do something like this again," he said. "But I don't know if it will be 18 stops."