UNIVERSITY PARK -- Bill O'Brien realizes football is a game, it's supposed to be fun and that college athletes have so much other stuff going on in their lives that, when they step onto the practice field, it doesn't have to be all business.
So he enjoys joking around with his players, using what he described as a "unique sense of humor."
O'Brien is an intense guy, and all the Penn State players say they like that about their new coach. He's also been able to get through to them with the other side of his personality.
"He's a jokester," linebacker Gerald Hodges said. "He loves to joke. Whenever guys are just chilling, he might just say a joke or two, get everybody laughing."
O'Brien even had some fun with reporters Friday when told of Hodges' comments about him telling bad jokes on occasion.
"Who said that? Hodges? Yeah right," O'Brien said with a grin. "I don't hear any jokes coming from Hodges. I guess you'd have to hear the jokes, judge them yourself."
Penn State's players have spent the past three months, and particularly during spring practice, trying to judge their new coach. The process of everyone getting to know, like and most importantly trust one another during this period is vital for O'Brien and the players.
So far, so good.
"He's a very well-rounded coach," said center Matt Stankiewitch, who described O'Brien as having the right mix of seriousness and humor in practices and team meetings.
The coach also seems to have the right priorities about football and life, which is important since he's coming from the NFL -- where it's a full-time job for the players -- back to college.
"They've been in class all day, they've been in study hall, it's a challenging place to go to school," O'Brien said. "So when they come [to practice] it can't be all business. We have to have some fun. ... Football practice is intense, so we try to keep them moving, but also mix in some fun things, too."
For O'Brien, spring drills offer one big challenge but also one of the most fun aspects of his job. And those things are intertwined.
As a new head coach, he's charged with getting to know all the players on the team and trying to establish a personal relationship with each guy. He's never had to do that as a position coach or offensive coordinator, and it's a more daunting task in college with 100 players on the team than in the NFL, where there are only 61 (53 active, eight on practice squad).
"He's active around the whole team and not just on one side of the ball," Hodges said. "It just makes us feel more comfortable [about him] as a head coach being able to help on both sides of the ball."
Since O'Brien and PSU's seven new assistant coaches are still learning about the players' strengths and weaknesses, their major challenge this spring is making sure each member of the squad gets enough reps in practice so that the staff can properly evaluate everyone.
O'Brien loves that dual aspect of his job.
"The best part about coaching is that you're able to evaluate guys while you're teaching them," he said.
The other major concern for O'Brien and his staff this spring has been trying to avoid overloading the players with too much information. There's an inherent problem with that, particularly with an entirely new offense.
"We've thrown a lot at these guys, and to be fair to them, they've got to go to class, too," O'Brien said. "So what we've tried to do is make sure that we put everything in, so that when we get to training camp they haven't heard it for the first time.
"I think the progress has been decent, but obviously like every coach would say, it's not to the point where I would like it."
The offensive playbook is bigger and more complex than the players have used before, and the schemes are more diverse and intricate. The players have been cramming to learn all of it this spring, and the coaches have tried to implement as much of it as possible.
"You have to watch how much you're doing," O'Brien said. "If you overload them, they don't play as fast as you want them to play, or as confidently."
The offense is and will continue to be a work in progress, but the Nittany Lion players already like what they see with it and the possibilities.
"I'm loving what Coach O'Brien is doing right now for the offense," Stankiewitch said. "He's incorporating his style into every day in the meeting room and then on the practice field. I just think it's an exciting time all around for the whole Penn State team and especially the offense as a whole."
Because of that, tens of thousands of Penn State fans will show up to next week's Blue-White Game expecting -- or at least hoping -- to see some version of the potentially explosive offense.
O'Brien said don't count on it.
He reminded everyone that it's not a game, just a practice, and said his goals for the scrimmage are to look like a sharp football team, protect the ball and avoid penalties. All three quarterbacks -- Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden and Paul Jones -- will get a lot of reps in the scrimmage, but O'Brien said fans shouldn't expect "a bunch of fireworks."
"We've got a long way to go, and hopefully [fans] don't judge us off the spring game," the coach said.
O'Brien has made enough public appearances and heard from enough fans in his three months on the job to understand there's a great deal of enthusiasm and intrigue about the new era of Penn State football. All of that makes next week's Blue-White Game perhaps the most anticipated scrimmage in program history.
"We've got an excited team here, a team that's ready to start playing and ready to have a good Blue-White Game and work out for the summer and get going in training camp," O'Brien said. "So people should be really excited about what's going on here."