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O'Brien hopes NCAA might reduce sanctions down road if PSU complies

July 27, 2012
By Cory Giger, , The Altoona Mirror

CHICAGO -- NCAA President Mark Emmert said when announcing Penn State's sanctions that the governing body would maintain the right to come back and revisit the case at a later date.

Most people interpreted that as meaning PSU potentially could face further punishment if it does not take care of certain issues.

Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said he interpreted the comments in a way that potentially would enable the sanctions to be reduced at some point down the road if the school does a good job complying with everything.

"When I'm watching the Mark Emmert press conference, I think, isn't that what he said?," O'Brien said. "He said [they] can come in and revisit. Now that could go either way. That could be if we're not dotting our I's and crossing our T's that could go either way."

He went on to say, "If we're behaving, if we're acting like the program that we're going to act like, then I'm under the understanding that they can come in and revisit that. I think that's definitely part of the equation."

Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner later said he's unaware of anything that would reduce the penalties if the university is doing a good job of complying.

He said of the NCAA reopening the case, "I think the feeling is that that's if we don't do things correctly in following [the rules]."

"It's never been said that [the NCAA] would open it if you are doing a really good job," Joyner added.

"Not being an attorney, I can't say whether they'd be permitted to do that or not. But they certainly could reopen it, and particularly if we're not following through with the things that they were asking us to do."

O'Brien addressed many topics during a 90-minute media session Friday: Here's a breakdown:

* On the Silas Redd to USC transfer situation, he said he feels like has a great relationship with Redd and mentioned he met with the running back and his family a couple of days ago. He called it a good, productive meeting.

* He has not asked the current players to let him know by a certain date if they are committed to staying with the team. He's letting them make up their minds at their own pace.

* On quarterback Rob Bolden's status, he said, "At this point he's with us, and that's all I can comment on."

* There's talk of changing the iconic basic uniforms, and some fans do not want to see that happen. Asked what he'd tell those fans, O'Brien said, "I'd say jump on board. Support our football team, support our player."

* On the STEP program, he said he expects fans to come out in big numbers this year. "I expect our fans to come out and support this football team. No doubt about it," he said. Asked about what will he happen the next few years and if there will be changes to the STEP program, he said those conversations will take place above him in the university. "

* He mentioned earlier this week the possibility of playing at Hawaii, but that won't happen this year. "I got in trouble for that," O'Brien said of his comments earlier this week. "I apologize to the university of Hawaii."

* He's not sure if PSU either will play in a 13th game this year or is even eligible to.

* On having 65 scholarships: "Clearly that's a competitive disadvantage. You can just grab it by the neck and deal with it."

* He was asked about having 85 scholarships and mentioned how it used to be unlimited. He then told a story about how Alabama's Bear Bryant would take 150 kids just so he could keep some away from other schools.

* He joked when asked about how the NCAA allows 85 scholarships, saying, "I think it's too much right now," referencing that he soon will have only 65.

* One possibility could be taking athletes who are on scholarship in other sports, such as track, and having them play football, too. But O'Brien said he believes that would count against the 65 football scholarships.

* With so few scholarships, one important area will be keeping the roster balanced out so there are enough players at every position. "You're constantly looking at that," he said.

* O'Brien confirmed that a football scholarship cannot be broken up into halves or thirds, like in some other sports and at lower levels of college athletics.

* He will consider taking junior college players, something PSU has rarely done, and said he would be looking for high-character kids if he does so.

* He also will consider taking players who want to transfer to PSU.

* He said he's not going to use the phrase walk-ons with players but instead will come up with something else to call them.

* He plans to place a major emphasis on recruiting Pennsylvania players to come as walk-ons. As in-state residents, they can get cheaper tuition, and he wants kids who are good students and have good character. He also said he can tell recruits they can come as walk-ons and perhaps earn a scholarship later, when the number goes back up.

* Discussing the sanctions, he said, "What do you do? Just say, 'I quit, see you later?' That's a bunch of bull."

* Also on the sanctions, he said, "I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't a little bit angry."

* He talked about socializing with some Big Ten coaches at a cocktail hour during media days. He was asked if everything had been smoothed over with the coaches, he said, "I didn't say I socialized with everybody." He didn't mention anyone by name, but Illinois coach Tim Beckman has admitted to having assistant coaches in State College recruiting PSU's players, and O'Brien doesn't seem happy about that.

* He said a few times, as did AD Dave Joyner, that he's not sure about certain aspects of the NCAA sanctions. He was asked if he feels the NCAA had thought of all the possible scenarios that could come up and said, "You need to ask the NCAA that." He also said it's an "ever-evolving situation" and added, "We have questions for the NCAA that we're awaiting answers on." He then mentioned, "I have questions" for the NCAA but did not elaborate.

* Patriots coach and friend Bill Belichick has been very supportive. "He doesn't believe all the hype that Penn State football is dead."

* He said Tom Brady has been a great friend.

* He said he got a text message of support on Thursday from Peyton Manning, whom he had spent time with at the Pro Bowl.

* He's confident in his ability and his staff's ability to be able to coach up lesser-regarded players and get them to compete at a higher level.

* He has heard from parents of current players who are getting bombarded with recruiting calls and said of the parents, "They're angry about it."

* He has told his players that if they don't recognize the number, don't answer the call. If they do talk to a coach from another school and they're not interested in transferring, he has instructed the players to tell the coach to stop calling.

* A major focal point in the recruiting process will be making sure kids understand the PSU staff can help them get to the NFL, which is every football player's dream. "The one thing I know we can do, if you're interested in playing in the National Football League, we can help you get to that level," O'Brien said of his message to recruits.

* He said Michael Mauti, Michael Zordich, Jordan Hill and John Urschel are examples of why he took the job. Mauti and Zordich, among others, have been in his office a lot, and the talks have included the players telling O'Brien they support him, telling them they're staying at PSU and some personal matters.

* He was asked if he's similar to Mauti and joked, "I'd take his hairline." He then added, "There's a definite bond between Mike and I."

* He talked about the players are a great group of kids who have a lot of pride in PSU.

* He was asked if he expects to be a big voice in NCAA matters but said he will not, but may revisit that in 10 years.

* Describing a typical day for him, he said he gets up early, thinks about the day and potential questions he may get asked and how he'll answer them.

* Asked what he tells current players to keep them at PSU, he said, "It's not about making a pitch. I'm not a salesman." Instead, he focuses on the good things about the school and the opportunity the players have there.

* Speaking about media access to the program, O'Brien told reporters, "You've had more access to Penn State football in the last six months than you had in the last 30 years."

* Talking about moving forward with his players, he said, "No one cares in the football building what you think about the Freeh report. He then said everyone has to "turn the page" and move forward with the sanctions in place.

* He was on Cape Cod for a two-week family vacation before the sanctions were announced and had to cut the trip short.

* He said all but two or three players remain committed to the team and once again said the core guys are staying.

* He plans to open up certain aspects of the program to NFL scouts, which was not done much in recent years under Joe Paterno.

* He said college teams usually redshirt 15-25 players per year but mentioned PSU won't be able to do that.

* He said PSU will still go after some top recruits but not as many, knowing that the coaches have to be realistic about who would want to come there.

* He called the Big Ten's Jim Delany "a fantastic commissioner."

* He was asked a question about PSU being referred to as Team Outlaw, which has been the case on Twitter, but did not have an answer.

* He has been proactive the past few days and wants people to stop using words like "death" when discussing PSU. The words he wants used are, "move forward, figure it out, get on board, one team, unity."

* Guard John Urschel has a 4.0 GPA in mathematics, and O'Brien was asked if he's talked much to him about that. "I tried to one time," he said with a laugh. He also said he believes Urschel can play in the NFL.

* On Michael Mauti, O'Brien said, "I think he's got really good NFL prospects." He's impressed with Mauti's intensity and his speed and said his knee is in great shape. He also said he doesn't try to reign in Mauti's immense passion or intensity.

* On possible transfers, he said, "Our core group of our best players, as I sit here today, are coming back."

* He knows the freshmen on the team face a tough choice about whether to stay or transfer. He said they're committed now and he will keep talking to them about the value of staying.

* He said quarterback Matt McGloin has had a great summer and is leading really well. He said McGloin has a good football mind, is smart, instinctive and has some athletic ability that allows him to break the pocket. He also believes McGloin can make all the throws in his offensive scheme.

* He said the offensive line has become one of the strengths of the team and has good depth with 16-17 players. He said left tackle Donovan Smith is cemented in that spot for the next four years.

* He said Evan Lewis, a former kicker, is back at receiver and could play in the slot. O'Brien heard good reports on Lewis, who rejoined the team after spring drills.

* State College product Alex Kenney also could see time in the slot. "If he can stay healthy, he'll definitely contribute to the offense this year," O'Brien said.

* He said quarterback Paul Jones' academics are fine.

* Running back Curtis Dukes is in summer school and will be with the team if he does well academically.

* One recruiting pitch to high school kids could be the possibility of playing early in the careers, which typically might not be the case with a full scholarship load. "That probably would appeal to some kids," O'Brien said.

* He plans to bring in some big names to talk to the team in preseason camp and throughout the season but did not mention anyone specifically.

* He said the mood of the players when they heard the sanctions wasn't dejection but rather they had a lot of questions.

* He has learned about the resiliency of his players throughout this ordeal.

* The other coaches in the PSU athletic department have been great to him, and he has developed a good bond with men's basketball coach Patrick Chambers.

* He talks to his players about using Twitter and that they need to be careful what they write. He told them, in a good pun, "Don't give away state secrets." He does not use Twitter himself.

* Preseason practice starts Aug. 6, and O'Brien said, "I just can't wait. I can't wait to coach football."

* He spent several minutes talking about his family and even had to fight back tears and got emotional talking about his children. (We will have a story on that in tomorrow's print edition.)

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