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Giger: O'Brien will be flexible with his system and tailor it to current players' strengths


May 15, 2012
By Cory Giger ( , The Altoona Mirror

The worst thing a new coach can do is marry his system and run it regardless of whether he has the right personnel in place to succeed with it.

Look no further than Rich Rodriguez's disastrous tenure at Michigan for proof of that.

Bill O'Brien has no intention of making the same mistake, and that type of flexibility should give Penn State the best chance to win until the coach can get his kind of guys into the program.

"You look at your players, and you make sure you do what your players do best," O'Brien said when asked about his game planning philosophy during Monday's Coaches Caravan stop at Penn State Altoona.

O'Brien wants to throw the ball. A lot. But realistically, this season - whether it's Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden or Paul Jones at quarterback - O'Brien's new offense figures to face certain challenges based on those three players' limitations.

McGloin is too prone to interceptions if he takes a lot of shots downfield, Bolden struggles with accuracy on short passes and Jones doesn't have any experience reading defenses.

O'Brien can't just turn those guys loose and let them throw it 38 times a game, which Tom Brady did for New England last season. Maybe in a few years, if prized recruit Christian Hackenberg develops as expected, we will be seeing 35 passes per game, but Penn State doesn't have the personnel to do that.

Not yet.

And O'Brien surely already knows that.

What he does have is a great running back in Silas Redd, and that plus the coach's willingness to adapt his system make for a potentially dangerous combination for PSU's opponents.

When RichRod went to Michigan in 2008, he was adamant about running his spread option, and it led to the worst season in school history (3-9, 2-6 in Big Ten). He ditched the program's traditional passing attack even though he didn't have the right players to run his system and flopped with the Wolverines, going 15-22 overall and 6-18 in the Big Ten before getting fired following the 2010 season.

A comparison would be O'Brien coming to Penn State, forgetting about the running attack and having McGloin throw it 50 times a game.

That would be a very bad idea.

O'Brien will be making major changes to PSU's offense and defense, but he's not willing to sacrifice a full season or two in order to do so just so he can say he did it all his way.

The right way is doing whatever it takes to win with your personnel, not egotistically thinking your system alone is always good enough.

Caravan tidbits

* When asked about fans he's met on the Caravan who are still skeptical of him, O'Brien said, "I don't try to win anybody over. What you see is what you get. There's always going to be people that don't like what I'm doing and people that do. And at the end of the day we've got to win. So I don't try to win anybody over. I just say, 'This is my vision, this is who I am and this is who we are as a staff and as a program. I've never spent one waking minute in my life trying to win anybody over, so I'm not going to start now."

* O'Brien will make 18 stops on this year's Coaches Caravan, and Monday's event was No. 13. He said he's open to having a Caravan every year but probably not making as many stops.

* He called the Caravan fun for him because "there's been a lot of bonding" with other Penn State coaches. He joked about men's basketball coach Patrick Chambers being a live wire on the bus during that leg of the Caravan.

* O'Brien made a funny comment talking about how fans ask him for season predictions: "I know I'm bald, but I'm not a genie." He also said he doesn't look at the schedule as a whole but instead sees it as 12 one-game seasons.

* O'Brien didn't elaborate when asked about this year's early season schedule. He said he has looked at some film of opponents and noted, "These are good teams. We've got a long way to go. We've got some really tough opponents early on, there's no question about it."

* As stated previously, O'Brien said he will name captains for each game, then at the end of the year he will name permanent captains for the season.

* Talking about recruiting, O'Brien said Penn State lost some players during the transition period and called the word "decommit" a bad word. He commended the recruits who stuck by their commitment to PSU through the tough times.

* When speaking about academics, he said, "It's the main reason why I took the job."

* He said he's in favor of having a Final Four playoff format for the national championship. He also wants to keep the Rose Bowl as part of the Final Four and said there should be a guarantee that the Big Ten champ is represented in the Final Four.

Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.

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