Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien was interviewed Tuesday morning for the first time following the NCAA sanctions by Bonnie Bernstein on "The Dan Patrick Show."
O'Brien said his top priority right now is keeping the current football team together, and he is stressing to current players and recruits the value of a Penn State education and the chance to play football in front of big, supportive crowds at Beaver Stadium.
As for the four-year bowl ban, O'Brien talked about how PSU players can play six to eight bowl games a year in front of 108,000 fans at home.
The entire Q&A between O'Brien and Bernstein.
Q: When did you first find out about the sanctions? Did you know before the rest of us did?
A: No, I found out about the sanctions at 9 a.m. with the press conference.
Q: Did you have any suspicion of how things would play out?
A: Well, I knew at that time that going into that press conference that there was a chance that these would be, like I said in my statement, harsh penalties, but I didn't know exactly what they would be.
Q: What message did you share with your players Monday?
A: The first thing I told them was I talked about why I came to Penn State and why I brought this staff to Penn State. And there's so many things that go into that. But No. 1, I thought that this was a place that could combine great academics with good, tough, hard-nosed football. And none of that's changed. And I talked to them about the discussions that I had with my family in coming to Penn State. And I talked to them about the fact that I felt like I could coach good, tough, hard-nosed kids that really cared about getting a great education. And none of that has changed. And I've been very proud of this football team to this point over the last few days, and really over the last six months, Bonnie, they've been through a lot of stuff and have really -- in our line of work it's about the players -- and I couldn't be associated with a better group of players.
Q: Being a woman, I always think about family first. What have your discussions been like with your wife as all of this has been playing out, because there are so many coaches who probably wouldn't have touched this thing with a 10-foot pole? And the risk you're taking, at least from afar, is pretty extraordinary.
A: I think the first time we spoke about Penn State, back when the job was offered to me, we're both very well-educated people, Colleen and I, and we knew that we have a very strong belief in the combination of academics and athletics because that's the way we were brought up in our respective families. We've been faced with challenges in our personal life up to this point, and we knew that that's really the most important thing -- that anything that had to do with football and our football program and being a first-time head coach was something that we could definitely take on, and no matter what the circumstances were that we were positive people and we felt good about the people that were in charge here at Penn State that hired me, and none of that's changed.
Q: Who's staying and who's going? Can you shed any light on reports that USC is pursuing Silas Redd and if the two of you have had a conversation?
A: When the NCAA handed down their sanctions yesterday, one of the things that they stated -- as everybody knows -- is that these kids could transfer without penalty and that other schools could contact these kids virtually by just emailing our compliance office and just letting them know that they're going to contact them. I'm not going to get into any conversations that I've had with individual players. I'm going to tell you that I've been very proud of these players over the last two or three days. I know that there's some tough times that they've had to deal with over the last six, seven, eight months. They're talking to their families right now. But again, what I've reiterated to these kids over and over again is why they're here. And they're here to get a fantastic education. That hasn't changed. They're here to play really, really good, tough football. That hasn't changed. We're on TV. We've got the chance to play six, seven bowl games per year in front of 108,000 people at home. I don't know how many bowl games have 108,000 people, but the last time I checked there aren't any. So I feel really good about where we are right now as a football team. I realize that things can change. But we're moving forward. We already have plans in place to ho we're going to deal with different things, and we feel very positive about the direction of where we are right now.
Q: Have you had conversations with current players or recruits who have said they are at Penn State to stay?
A: No question. I feel that we have some younger players, some players that are in the middle of their careers and certainly some older players -- the leaders of our football team that have been
Q: Could you shed some light on specifically who?
A: No, I'm not going to get into that. I'm not going to get into individual conversations that I've had, but I can tell you that I've had many, many positive conversations about kids that believe in our staff, our ability to develop these kids as players and as people, our ability to develop them for the next level, our ability to make sure that they go to class and receive this great education here, and I've received a great number of positive feedback from our players.
Q: Of the sanctions, which is the hardest pill to swallow?
A: I would tell you that in my opinion the one that was the hardest is the fact that these kids could transfer without penalty. But at the end of the day, that just means that we have to reiterate to our players over and over again, which we're doing, why we came here, what this place is all about moving forward with me as the head football coach. I can't pick out one sanction versus another that's just that much harder. But I tell you that right now, my main goal is to keep this 2012 football team together, and that's what I'm working very hard to do every single day.
Q: Who have you sought advice from?
A: It's hard to seek advice from other coaches right now in college because a lot of those guys are obviously interested in our players, so it's hard to do that. I've always seeked advice from my wife, I've always seeked advice from my father, and I've seeked advice from people like Bill Belichick, George O'Leary, guys that I really have looked up to in my time in coaching. I've seeked advice from people that I've coached in the past. And everybody that I've spoken to believes in the fact that I'm here, believes in what we're going to try to do here and has been very positive with me. I can't tell you, Bonnie, I've probably received over 150 emails, text messages that have been extremely positive about us being here and where we're headed.
Q: What do you think is the most sage piece of wisdom you've received?
A: The best piece of advice is you can't dwell on the past. You've got to move forward, and you've got to play under the rules of which you've been sanctioned under right now. So that's what we're doing. We're not dwelling on the past. We've had two great staff meetings over the last two days. We've already put plans in place of how we're going to play under these rules, and we're going to play under these rules and we're going to field a competitive team. And I hope that many of our fans are listening to this interview because I expect our fans to understand that we're moving forward and we're not settling for anything but to try to be the best football program that we can be. And at the end of the day, we're competitive people, we've got competitive players here, and we believe again in the mission of Penn State, which in my opinion again is a great combination of athletics and academics.
Q: Are all of your coaches sticking around?
A: There's no question about that. A lot of the coaches here that I've coached with before, we're in it together. We've all been in tough situations before. There's no other group of men that I'd rather be in a foxhole with, and that's what we're doing right now. We've got a great staff. We've got a fantastic staff of teachers, of recruiters, of fathers, great husbands. We've got a great mix of experience on the staff, pro experience, college experience, and I really enjoy coming to work every day with these guys.
Q: You kept two coaches from the previous regime, Ron Vanderlinden and Larry Johnson. Why did you decide to do that.
A: These were two guys that, after talking with the new leaders here at Penn State, Rod Erickson and Dave Joyner, and then also talking to some of our players here at Penn State, that these were two guys that were held in high regard on this football staff and these were two guys that were excellent teachers, had a proven track record of recruiting. And I'm proud to have them on my staff.
Q: What would your sales pitch be to a recruit coming to a game this season?
A: Where do I begin. Number one, I would tell you that we [offer] a fantastic education here. Bonnie, we offer over 150 different majors here at Penn State. We have so many different things to choose from. We've got 45,000 undergraduate students here. They sold out the 25,000 seat section of our stadium very, very quickly, the student section of our stadium very quickly. And this is a place where you can come and achieve all of your goals, meaning you can come here, you can receive a great education and you can play fantastic football. Now, what I'll say to them from a football standpoint is, again, you're not going to go to a bowl game, you're not going to be eligible for a Big Ten championship, we understand that. Let's think forward, OK. This staff will develop you to be able to play at the next level, we know what it takes to play at the next level. This staff will make sure that you understand the meaning and the value of this education here. This staff will make you and show you, if it's the Ohio State game, what these fans are all about, which is 108,000 people strong that will be coming in here this season ready to support their football team. And again, we'll come up with different ways to think about championships during the season here. We'll come up with different bowl game scenarios within our regular season here. But again, at the end of the day, it's about being able to be developed the best you can as a football player and being able to come here and get a world-renowned education.
Q: How valuable of a carrot is it for you to dangle that you just came from being the offensive coordinator for one of the most prolific systems in the NFL in the Patriots?
A: Well I think it's very valuable because of my relationships with the guys that I coached for there, coached with there and the guys that I coached. I would never put words in anybody's mouths, but I can tell you that I learned a lot from Bill Belichick. The five years that I spent there were invaluable. He taught me a lot about putting a team together, he taught me a lot about how to strategize, he taught me a lot about evaluation of talent. I was able to coach with a great staff there. ... I worked with some of the best coaches in the National Football League with the Patriots. And obviously I was able to work with guys like Tom Brady and Wes Welker and Gronkowski and Hernandez, and those are highly talented guys that are competitive guys. So there's no question that I learned a lot there. We have great relationships with those guys. I do personally, my family does, and I'll bring a lot of what I learned from the Patriots obviously to Penn State.
Q: Agree or disagree with the Joe Paterno statue coming down and why?
A: My job's pretty simple. I'm here to really talk to you about the football program. And I have three jobs: I have to educate young men on the football field and off the football field; I have to develop young men of character; and I've got to win football games. Now, what I'll say about the decisions that have been made over the past six or seven months, I support Rod Erickson, our president. I support Dave Joyner, our athletic director. They've had to make tough decisions, and these are good men, these are good leaders, and that's what I'll say about that.
Q: You have a five-year contract. What's the percentage of likelihood that you will be in State College when those five years are up?
A: I'll tell you what I told my team yesterday, and again I said it to them again this morning. I'm committed to this football team. And I'll tell you this, I feel very proud to be associated with this university, I'm proud to be leading this football team and I'm proud to be coaching these young men. These guys are fantastic kids that have been through a lot that are working extremely hard, and I'm committed to this football program.
Q: You know that's not a percentage, don't you?
A: I'm not a mathematician, I can't even get into percentages.