UNIVERSITY PARK -- Bill O'Brien might be the greatest head coach in football history who has yet to coach an actual game.
It's hard to imagine anyone doing a better job under such trying circumstances than O'Brien, previously an assistant coach for 19 years, has done since taking over at Penn State in January. He has said and done all the right things -- including the addition of names on the jerseys -- and has handled the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky scandal with class and honesty.
Starting Saturday against Ohio, we'll finally get to see how well O'Brien performs on the sideline. If it's anywhere near as well as he does off the field, then Penn State is in good hands.
The great unknown is how will the coach handle the tough decisions that come his way in the heat of the moment during games.
Will O'Brien be overly aggressive on offense, like he could be with the Patriots under mentor Bill Belichick?
Will he go for it on fourth and short, either in the first quarter when momentum can shift or in the closing minutes with the game on the line?
Will he try many trick plays, such as fake punts or fake field goals, with the outcome still in question?
Trailing by four points with four minutes to go and on the opposition's 25-yard line, will he try a 42-yard field goal on fourth-and-2 and hope to get the ball back, or will he go for it to see if his offense can get into the end zone?
Those are all the kind of decisions that coaches are judged on, and O'Brien has yet to make any of them.
To his credit, he understands that better than anyone, which is why he has responded frequently to praise thrown his way by cautioning people that he still hasn't coached a game yet.
Even if he does make some in-game judgment mistakes, O'Brien already has built up enough goodwill to earn himself support for at least a couple of years. Everyone should realize by now that it could be a major struggle for the Nittany Lions to win even seven games for the next few years, so O'Brien largely will deserve the benefit of the doubt if they don't reach that total.
Being a head coach isn't just about making the big decisions on gameday. O'Brien described this past week some of the differences between his duties now compared to when he was an assistant.
"Just all the different things that come across your desk, whether it's an individual player's problem or injury reports or thinking about practice schedules from the whole scheme of things," he said. "Special teams. As an offensive coordinator in the National Football League, you're not involved in special teams.
"So there's just been a ton of things that are different, and you just try to organize your time and get in here early and make sure that you're working a lot. The only way to attack it is through hard work. Hard work and organization to me is the way you get better."
O'Brien has had to make even more public appearances and do more off-the-field stuff during his time on the job at PSU than most head coaches have to do. That's all a part of the process trying to help the school move past the scandal.
"He just loves coaching the game of football," quarterback Matt McGloin said. "I can't speak for him, but I don't think he enjoys too much doing all the head coaching things that he has to do.
"He's the type of guy that just likes to coach the game and see his players improve. Obviously as a head coach he has a lot of other responsibilities to take care of, and I think he's doing a great job with that."
He's done a great job commanding the players' respect on the field, too.
"His coaching style is unique because he has a lot of fun with his guys, but at the same time his guys are a little scared," running back Michael Zordich said. "They listen to everything he says, and when he speaks, they make sure to do exactly what he says."
There's no question this is now Bill O'Brien's program, and the future of Penn State football depends on how well he and his staff will be able to coax the absolute best performances out of the players on the reduced-scholarship roster every Saturday.
That challenge starts next week, against an Ohio team that's better than many people realize and which firmly believes it can come into Beaver Stadium and upset the Lions.
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.