The day after it was reported that the New England Patriots offensive coordinator will be coming to Happy Valley for the head football coaching job, local reaction appears to be mostly positive.
"I am excited about Bill O'Brien. I am excited and am looking forward to him bringing Penn State football back to the prominence we had seen over the years," Robert C. Jubelirer, a longtime season ticket holder and former state senator and lieutenant governor, said. "He is at a very young age, and what he has accomplished is pretty remarkable."
O'Brien, 42, is expected to be officially introduced today as the new head coach, succeeding Joe Paterno who was fired Nov. 9 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.
Dave Cuzzolina, a Penn State graduate and spokesman for Altoona Regional Health System, also likes the hiring of O'Brien, who had 14 years' experience as a college assistant before moving to the NFL.
"From everything I have heard, he is a great person. He is what Penn State was looking for. He has strong values and will run the program the right way, the Penn State way," Cuzzolina said. "I think it is a great hire."
Gary Naugle, senior vice president for human resources at Altoona Regional Health System, said he has mixed emotions about the hiring, as it marks the end of the Paterno era.
However, he said he thought it was good to hire someone with a college and professional coaching background.
"I think this will be a fresh start for Penn State and should help in recruiting as well," Naugle said.
George Cardone, retired Altoona Area School District administrator who holds three degrees from Penn State, said he will take a wait-and-see attitude.
He said while O'Brien must have good skills to have gotten to where he is, he is concerned if he can transition back to college football.
"We will have our fingers crossed and hope he does well. He will have to do a great job of getting the alumni, lettermen and the team to back him. ... He will need everyone to buy in to be successful," Cardone said.
Tom Smith, retired guidance counselor at Altoona Area High School, said he is keeping an open mind, despite thinking that an experienced Division I head coach might have been a better choice.
"At this point, we need to be patient and give this guy a chance," Smith said. "People have been screaming for more offense. This guy has first-hand experience with a top-notch offense."
Mike Irwin, president of Irwin Financial and captain of Paterno's first team in 1966, said his first choice for the job was Tom Bradley, who served as interim head coach after Paterno's firing.
"Most people wanted someone with Penn State ties," Irwin said. "We need to give him time to get his staff together. You can't judge him until at least a year or two down the road."
He noted that many lettermen have concerns about O'Brien's lack of Penn State ties.
Richard Fiore, president of L.S. Fiore Inc., Altoona, and a longtime season ticket holder, admitted he doesn't know much about O'Brien.
"Thankfully they have picked someone, so we can start recruiting. It was hurting us. Hopefully we can go forward and start the healing process," Fiore said. "I think it was the best they could do. Sometimes I think it is good to get new blood into the system."
Local Penn Staters would like to see some of the current staff retained.
Jubelirer said he hopes that some of the defensive coaches will stay.
"[Co-defensive coordinator/defensive line coach] Larry Johnson is one of the best recruiters in the country," he said.
Irwin said he also believed it would be smart to keep some of the assistant coaches to help with continuity.
In addition to a mix of feelings about O'Brien, there is also mixed reaction to the work of interim Athletic Director Dave Joyner and the selection committee.
"I know Dave Joyner and [committee member] Ira Lubert very well. I trust Dave Joyner and Ira Lubert. They are Penn State through and through, and they want to see the program the way the program was. They don't want to fail, I can tell you that," Jubelirer said.
Cardone took a different view.
"My biggest criticism is with how the process was handled by Dave Joyner and the board of trustees. The secrecy has ticked people off. The committee didn't consist of anyone who knew football but Joyner. It didn't include lettermen," Cardone said.
Meanwhile, local Penn Staters have mixed views on whether the university should re-evaluate the Seat Transfer and Equity Program (STEP). The program, which was implemented prior to the 2011 football season, forced some long-time season ticket holders to pay an additional fee to retain their seats in Beaver Stadium.
Cardone said he doesn't believe the fees should be reduced.
"That would be sending a message that [O'Brien] is not as good as they thought he was. If everything stays the same, that means they think he is a top quality guy," Cardone said.
Jubelirer agreed that making changes to the fee structure would send the wrong message.
But Irwin said the university should take another look at the plan.
"The price to purchase tickets escalated and Penn State is one of the most profitable programs in the country. They should drop it back. They have chased some fans away," Irwin said.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.