Prior to the start of Bill O’Brien‘s introductory press conference, Big Ten Network analyst Gerry Dinardo said, in not so many words, that it’s not normally important to win a press conference but that this was not one of those times.
If it was important for O’Brien to come away from the dais with a win — here’s a hint: it was — consider it mission accomplished. Will that “W” earned on a podium, though, translate into on-field success? That remains to be seen.
Regardless, if words and how they were presented won the BcS trophy, O’Brien would’ve hoisted the coaches’ crystal at the end of his 35 minutes in front of the media. The 15th head coach in Nittany Lions history — and the first new coach since after the 1965 season — hit on several key points, from embracing the man he replaced to his football philosophy both offensively and defensively to recruiting to the making of his first coaching staff.
It was the latter point that was among the most interesting and important facets of his half hour-plus introduction. O”Brien said he would work quickly to assemble assistants, stating that he would like to have the staff put together within the next 2-3 days. One assistant is already on board: Larry Johnson Sr., PSU’s defensive line coach, has committed to return to the program.
The magnitude of retaining Johnson cannot be understated. One, Johnson is a tremendous recruiter and, with O’Brien reiterating that he will remain with the New England Patriots through the playoffs in his role as offensive coordinator, he will play a significant role in keeping PSU’s 2012 recruiting class intact. And, two, it may help assuage the anguish being felt by some over the fact that someone from “outside the family” was taking over the football program; Johnson has been at the school since 1996, so former players such as LaVar Arrington, who were very publicly critical of the move, may step back a bit from their initial negative reactions with Johnson transitioning to the new regime.
The criticism wasn’t something that O’Brien shied away from, either, reading a letter directed at former players he penned last night. The move came off as sincere, heartfelt and likely struck a chord with those either on the fence over his hiring or outright against it. Of course, actions speak louder than any words moving forward, but it was still a start that gets the program moving forward.
“I’m the leader of this family now,” O’Brien said. “I can’t wait to get going on this, get everyone headed in the right direction.”
The university confirmed that O’Brien signed a five-year contract that will be worth $2.3 million annually and will include built-in five-percent raises per year. In 2011, Joe Paterno was scheduled to earn $1.02 million, so obviously the price of doing business since Penn State’s last hire more than four decades ago.
That cost was due in large part to the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the reticence of some “more qualified” candidates reportedly shying away from a job that just a year ago was considered one of the prime pieces of coaching real estate in the country. O’Brien acknowledged that he was stepping into a tough situation but that he’s the right man for the job.
“I have a lot of confidence in my ability to lead us through what some say is a tough time…” he said. “I am mentally tough. … I can’t wait to get started.”
So, does saying all the “right” things or spreading the “right” message or “winning” an initial press conference portend great things for the Nittany Lions under O’Brien? No, not in the least. There was one certainty that came out of the press conference, though: a sizable portion of the Penn State fan and alumni base likely feels a whole hell of a lot better about the O’Brien hire than they did even 24 hours ago.
And, at this point in time, that’s something the university in general and the football program desperately needed.