Can coach prevent mass departures?

Updated: July 26, 2012, 12:02 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Penn State coach Bill O'Brien is stressing education and the opportunity to play in front of 108,000 fans every fall Saturday as he tries to convince his players not to transfer.

O'Brien talked about his strategy to retain Penn State's players during an interview Tuesday with ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel, claiming the NCAA's sanctions against the football program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal should not detract from the players' overall experience at the school.

"You continuously talk to your football team about the values that you hold dear to you, which are a great education, tough smart football and the ability to come here and do both of those things," O'Brien told Maisel. "So that's what were communicating to our team all day yesterday and today."

The unprecedented penalties announced Monday by the NCAA allow current players to transfer immediately without restrictions.

O'Brien, entering his first season as Joe Paterno's replacement, said no current member of the team has indicated they will transfer.

"They're here right now, and they're Penn State football players," O'Brien said. "We talk to them constantly about our ability to coach them, to develop them, to get them ready for the National Football League."

O'Brien has NFL experience to draw from after spending nearly five years as an assistant with the New England Patriots, including this past season as an offensive coordinator. He did not openly complain about the sanctions, referring to himself as "a fighter."

"When they hired me, they hired a fighter," O'Brien said. "I'm here to fight, and that's what I'm doing with our staff."

Penn State has a four-year postseason ban, but O'Brien equated home games at massive Beaver Stadium to playing in bowl games six or seven times a year. O'Brien says it's important Penn State will remain on TV.

"I'm not sure how many bowl games play in front of 108,000 people, but I know we do here at Penn State," he said. "Our fans will be out here this year.

"We're playing on TV. We're playing our season, and that's the most important thing to me. We're playing football on TV, so these kids have a lot to stay here for."

Senior linebacker Michael Mauti told Gary Laney of GeauxTigerNation that "every school in the country" has contacted Penn State's players to gauge their level of interest in leaving.

"I can really only speak for myself, and I'm staying," Mauti told Laney. "But I think our core guys are sticking together, too."

One of those core players, senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill, told ESPN.com's Jared Shanker that he has not talked with any other programs and that he plans to finish his career at Penn State.

"I haven't picked up the phone if I don't know the number," said Hill, an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection last season. "I haven't picked up the phone."

One player who has drawn national interest is running back Silas Redd, the Nittany Lions' leading rusher last season.

USC already has notified Penn State of its interest in Redd, a source told ESPN's Joe Schad on Monday. Redd has met with O'Brien, who sources say has stressed to players they can still play games and still appear on television.

Mauti, a fifth-year senior, said he didn't understand why the NCAA would sanction the current players for issues from the past.

"Who's getting punished here, besides us?" he said. "I don't understand what that does."

But Mauti remained steadfast that the unprecedented sanctions should not be a reflection of the current players' actions.

"This is not our fault, not our burden," Mauti said. "I'm sure some guys are looking to go (elsewhere). But I can tell you right now, the core guys are sticking together. This is not our fault."

The drastic sanctions also are expected to impact Penn State's ability to recruit.

Cornerback Ross Douglas, a four-star recruit in the Class of 2013, already has withdrawn his commitment from Penn State.

An Ohio native, Douglas confirmed Tuesday he has committed to Michigan but would not discuss his decision to decommit from Penn State.

O'Brien told Maisel he "feels good" about the current state of the program's recruiting.

"We're going after a certain type of player," O'Brien said. "We're going after a tough kid. We're going after a high-character kid, and we're going after a kid that wants to get a great education.

"That's what we've been doing, and we feel really good about where we are in recruiting right now."

Joe Schad is a college football reporter for ESPN. Information from GeauxTigerNation's Gary Laney, RecruitingNation's Jared Shanker and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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