Rudel: NFL talk remains in air

UNIVERSITY PARK – So anxious was Bill O’Brien to clear up a few things from last week’s flirtation with the NFL that he didn’t wait for the Big Ten Network’s signal to cue Monday’s 9 a.m. press conference.

“I’m just going to get started,” he said. “I don’t care [about the BTN feed].”

O’Brien emotionally asserted that, contrary to reports, he did not use interviews with the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns to leverage a $1.3 million raise from Penn State.

He did not deny that he discussed the implementation of improvements around the program that included the possibility of more money for his assistants.

O’Brien also used the hastily-called session – media were alerted at 5 p.m. Saturday – to offer some public support for his two bosses, President Rodney Erickson and Athletic Director Dave Joyner.

Just as, according to O’Brien, some erroneous details had surfaced over the past few days concerning his alleged demands that he contends were not made, Twitter and the Internet depicted a less-than-flattering picture of O’Brien’s relationship with his superiors.

O’Brien put that to rest, too, admiring “how much they’ve been through.”

“I have a lot of confidence in our leaders, Rod Erickson and Dave Joyner,” he said. “I have good relationships with those two guys. We talk a lot, and knowing the intelligence level and character and leadership capability, I’m in line behind them, and I stand with them.”

Erickson is retiring in 2014 – a search for his successor will commence this year – and Joyner holds the title as acting AD. If that combination of an uncertain future serves as an impediment to the present, O’Brien didn’t act like new leadership needs to be put in place as quickly as the message boards scream is necessary.

“Whatever people above me decide to do,” O’Brien said, “I’m going to follow that lead.”

For his part, Joyner has heard whispers that he and O’Brien have become oil and water. He also dismissed them.

“That’s completely untrue,” he said. “Bill and I have a great relationship. We’ve always had a great relationship, and it’s the same now as it’s been from Day 1.”

Having hired O’Brien, not to mention being involved with the luring of wrestling coach Cael Sanderson and extending the contract of Coquese Washington, Joyner would like to remain in the saddle.

“I’m here to serve at the behest of the president,” he said. “I’ll be here as long as they want me and whatever they want to call me is OK with me. We’ll see what happens.”

Joyner was part of the Big Ten’s leadership contingent at the Rose Bowl last week but said he was in steady contact through texting and email with O’Brien. He said he was kept apprised of the interview process, felt it played out as he was assured it would, and was only surprised, “of how it spiraled wild in the media. But that’s the way the world works.”

The media was gathered in mass Monday morning and while O’Brien closed the door on strolling the sidelines and going for it on fourth down in Philly or Cleveland, it’s clear that his eventual landing spot likely includes the most famous logo in sports.

He talked in reverent terms of how “the National Football League is the highest level of coaching. I love that league,” and while he remains “very, very proud to be Penn State’s coach,” and insists “I can’t think of a better place to be,” adding his family is quite happy in State College, O’Brien offered a glimpse at his career outline.

“I’m 43 years old,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’m basically, in my opinion, about halfway through my career. I won’t be coaching for 47 [more] years [like Joe Paterno]. I won’t. I will not be coaching when I’m 80 years old. I think I can coach about 20-25 years. That’s where I see my career going.”

O’Brien lamented how exactly one year ago – on January 7 – he was being introduced as the Nittany Lions’ new coach.

“A lot can happen in a year,” he said.

Maybe another year in State College will help the place grow on O’Brien and lessen the NFL talk. Maybe being another year closer to the end of the NCAA sanctions and by then being able to see a more equal playing field will work to Penn State’s advantage.

Unless the New England job opens (Bill Belichick is only 60 years old) figure O’Brien will still be at Penn State on Jan. 7, 2014.

2015 or 2016 or beyond? That’s anybody’s guess.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or