Tuesday turned out to be one of the better days of the year for Penn State as coach Bill O'Brien not only declared he's staying put for 2013, he also was named Big Ten Coach of the Year.
"I plan on being the head football coach at Penn State [in 2013]," O'Brien said during a radio interview with WQXI-AM 790 in Atlanta. "That's my plan, and that's what I intend to do."
That was the first time O'Brien stated publicly that he will return to PSU next season. His name has been mentioned repeatedly as a candidate for potential NFL openings.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Bill O’Brien has gone from being a virtual unknown when he was hired at PSU in January to well respected around the nation for his work with the Nittany Lions.
"[O'Brien] is staying, and we've had no conversations with anyone else," the coach's agent, Joe Linta, told ESPN.com. "In fact, he's leaving at 6 [this morning] to go out on the recruiting trail."
To put in perspective the respect people have for the job O'Brien did in leading Penn State to an 8-4 record this year, consider that Urban Meyer led Ohio State to an undefeated season and No. 4 ranking, and yet that wasn't good enough to beat out O'Brien for Big Ten coaching honors.
The league has two awards for top coach, one voted on by the media (Dave McClain Award) and one by the coaches (Hayes-Schembechler Award). O'Brien captured both in a presentation on Big Ten Network.
PSU's Barnes named Big Ten Freshman of Year
Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year on Tuesday after leading the team with six sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
Barnes won the Thompson-Randle El Award, becoming the first PSU player since Curtis Enis in 1995 to be named the Big Ten's top freshman.
"I'm very honored," Barnes said on the Big Ten Network telecast. "This is a great honor. I feel good right now to be recognized for the Freshman of the Year."
A redshirt freshman, Barnes finished fifth in the Big Ten in sacks, 13th in tackles for losses and had 26 tackles (14 solo).
Nittany Lion tight end Kyle Carter also was a candidate for the freshman award.
Linebacker Michael Mauti was considered a leading candidate for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, but that honor went to Ohio State lineman John Simon.
Mauti was named the league's Linebacker of the Year on Monday, and Allen Robinson was named Receiver of the Year.
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller was named Offensive Player of the Year.
"It's obviously very humbling," O'Brien said on the TV show. "There's two groups of people that you have to talk about when it comes to coach of the year awards, and it's our coaching staff and our group of players. I can't say enough about what our coaches did in helping keeping this thing moving forward and then obviously what our players did on the field.
"We weren't an undefeated team, but we sure had a bunch of kids that played tough, hard football all year, and it was fun to coach them."
O'Brien, also a candidate for national coach of the year honors, obviously had to deal with far more than the usual issues facing a college coach. He took over in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, had his program receive some of the most severe sanctions in NCAA history, saw some of his key players transfer and had to actively recruit his own players to convince them to stay.
The Nittany Lions started 0-2 with losses to Ohio and Virginia, and many people wrote them off. They responded by winning eight of their last 10 games to finish 8-4 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten.
"An unprecedented situation," BTN anchor Dave Revsine said on the air. "There was no road map for this. A first-year head coach, did a remarkable job."
"We knew we still had a lot of good football players in this program, and we had a bunch of guys that were committed to this year's team and playing as hard as they could," O'Brien said on BTN.
The first-year head coach said he learned "a ton of things" this season and admitted he will look to improve in a few areas that he never encountered as an assistant.
"I have a lot to improve on, whether it's game management, clock management, practice schedules, dealing with things that happen in the football building, dealing with players," he said. "I'm going to try to look to improve every single day this offseason and hopefully do the best I can to help this football program improve."
One of the most important aspects of that will be recruiting. The Nittany Lions are about to enter the meat of the NCAA sanctions as they'll only be able to offer 15 scholarships for each of the next four years (instead of the usual 25), and perhaps the biggest blow, they'll be maxed out at 65 scholarships (instead of 85) from 2014-17.
"It certainly will be a challenge for us," O'Brien said before later adding, "We've got to be very, very selective on who we bring in here as a scholarship athlete, and then we've got to do a great job with the walk-on program."