UNIVERSITY PARK - It would have been easy on the first day of practice to talk only about football, but Bill O'Brien chose not to do that when he met the media early Monday morning.
The first-year head coach instead spent much of his 12-minute news conference making sure everyone knows it's not just football as usual at Penn State any longer.
"We understand why the sanctions are here. We understand," said O'Brien, who made a concerted effort to express that and did so more than a half-dozen times.
"I think it's really important that people know that we understand why we're here," he said at another point.
O'Brien and his players had nothing to do with the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but the coach stressed that everyone in the football program has come to grips with the severe sanctions levied by the NCAA. He also said they will do everything they can to move forward and show that Penn State can overcome the scandal and stand for positives once again.
"It's a new Penn State. It's a new Penn State football program," the coach said.
O'Brien started listing what he called the "good things going on here" in the wake of scandal.
"I think number one is we've got to remember why we're in the position we're in, and we've got to understand our responsibility to the community, to children, to child-abuse organizations. That's number one," he said. These kids understand that. We talk about that quite a bit, and we're going to show what we mean by that."
That will be done in many ways throughout the season.
"We've got kids that really care about children, we've got a coaching staff that really cares about children, and that's going to be part of what we do in the community," the coach said.
O'Brien was asked what he wants Penn State to stand for, and he mentioned two things before getting to football. First was community, then the notion that he wants his players to be good students. He finished by talking about how he wants them to be tough, smart football players.
He also showed support for the university leadership in the wake of the scandal, something he's done repeatedly during interviews.
"I believe in the chain of command, and I think our leadership has done a good job," he said.
Nine players have transferred out of the program since the NCAA sanctions came down, including standout running back Silas Redd, leading receiver Justin Brown and versatile kicker Anthony Fera.
"I know some guys left, but that's OK," O'Brien said. "That was their individual decision. We respect that decision. We're moving forward with this football team."
Asked specifically about Redd, the coach said, "I'm here to talk about the players that are here now."
Those players have a lot of camaraderie, he said, and it's a "close team" with a strong senior class.
With no bowl game to play for, O'Brien said he wants the seniors to be able to finish their careers on a high note.
"I'm not going to get into predictions," he said about what such a high note would be. "I just want us to go out there and play mistake-free football, play tough football. I want us to compete, and I want to go out there with the expectation to win every single game. So we'll take it as 12 one-game seasons, and when November rolls around we'll see where we're at."
Given all he's been through since getting the job in January - and especially the past few weeks - O'Brien could not wait for the start of training camp. He said he couldn't sleep Sunday night "for good reasons" and showed up at the football building at 4:45 a.m. Monday (the players woke up at 5:15 for the early practice).
O'Brien then mentioned he arrived about 15 minutes after the rest of his staff had shown up, so he knew the other coaches would be "busting my chops" for that.
O'Brien couldn't be more proud of the players who remain on the team for being able to handle all the adversity throughout the scandal.
"We've got a bunch of proud kids that are here," O'Brien said. "They have a passion for playing football, they have a passion for going to school here, they really understand the reason why we're in the situation we're in. But they still want to go out there and play for themselves and for their university."