O’Brien goes yard in Penn State presser

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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.

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Nick Saban thinks skipping bowl games could lead to recruits doing same thing in high school

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Grand Poobah of college football and Alabama head coach Nick Saban has had some interesting ideas about the sport over the years that conflict with the general consensus of his peers. The latest subject to fit that mold? How players like Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey skipping their bowl games could filter down to the high school level with recruits.

“Same thing will happen in high school if they make the signing day before the season,” Saban told CBS Sports. “It will take a few years, then some kid will say, ‘Hey, I’m going to Notre Dame. I’m not playing my senior year.'”

The Crimson Tide coach is referencing not only the two tailbacks skipping bowl games but also the possibility that upcoming December signing date could be moved up on the calendar. Big 12 commissioner (and chairman of the Football Oversight Committee) Bob Bowlsby said at his conference media days that the date for signing could be changed or even extended to a longer signing period as part of ongoing discussions about the recruiting process.

Talk of players signing with a college prior to their senior season in high school has not been broadly talked about by coaches or administrators but it does seem like everything is on the table when it comes to NCAA reforms in this area. It remains to be seen if any recruit will actually go as far as sitting out a full year in order to protect himself from injury in order to play in college… just as it remains questionable as to whether Fournette and McCaffrey’s decisions will develop into a broader trend at the college level.

Coaches are no fans of dramatically altering the status quo and it seems Saban is among the group who want to stem the postseason defection of players before things turn into a regular occurrence at any level of football.

Coastal Carolina coach Joe Mogila has precautionary surgery on trachea

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Coastal Carolina is one of the newest members of the FBS ranks and the program’s first ever Sun Belt conference media day was supposed to be one of the highlights for the school transitioning the ranks in college football. Unfortunately for the Chanticleers, their head coach won’t be able to make it following a health scare.

The Sun Belt released a statement Friday afternoon saying that Coastal Carolina assistant Jamey Chadwell will represent the team at media day after head coach Joe Mogila “had a precancerous nodule on his trachea and doctors wanted it removed as a precaution.”

The 68-year-old Mogila is perhaps best known to those outside the sport for his time on Wall Street, including a productive stint as CEO of the company now known as TD Ameritrade. He got the itch to coach college football however and has been in charge of the Chanticleers since 2012, leading the program to a 51–15 record at the FCS level.

Chadwell was named CCU’s offensive coordinator this past January after previously serving as head coach at Charleston Southern. Neither the school or the conference indicated any timetable for Mogila’s recovery but based on the release it seems the operation was a success and the coach is now recovering.

Coastal Carolina opens the season on September 2nd against UMass in what will be the school’s first game as a FBS program.

So it begins… Ole Miss recruit decommits after Hugh Freeze departure

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It didn’t take long before Ole Miss to suffer on the recruiting trail from the abrupt departure of Hugh Freeze as head coach on Thursday evening.

In what was probably only a matter of time (just a few hours as it turns out), Rebels 2019 Houston (Tex.) cornerback recruit Bobby Wolfe confirmed to ESPN that he had decommitted from the program on Thursday night following Freeze’s resignation. Several other recruiting services also confirmed the news and noted that many of Ole Miss’ 2018 commitments are starting to have second thoughts about the situation in Oxford.

That the team is struggling to pull in recruits like they were in Freeze’s heyday when the Rebels were a regular in the top 10 of the recruiting rankings is not exactly surprising. Even before the head coach was shown the door, the school was dealing with the fallout from an ongoing NCAA infractions case and are facing the possibility that their bowl ban will extend beyond the self-imposed sit-out of the 2017 season.

With Wolfe no longer committed, Ole Miss doesn’t have a single 2019 pledge according to 247Sports and has just 10 players in the 2018 class — all of whom are three-stars or lower — that currently sits 11th in the conference team rankings. As for the Texas cornerback, he recently picked up an offer from SEC rival LSU and had Baylor extend a verbal scholarship offer not long after re-opening his recruitment.

Former 49ers executive reportedly joining Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor

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Jim Harbaugh is reaching back to his NFL days for the latest hire at Michigan.

Veteran Bay Area journalist Tim Kawakami reports that recent San Francisco 49ers personnel executive Tom Gamble is headed to Ann Arbor to join the Wolverines staff.

According to the fine folks over at sister site ProFootballTalk, Gamble left the 49ers in February shortly after John Lynch was hired by the franchise as general manager. He worked with Harbaugh when their tenures with San Francisco overlapped in 2011 and 2012 before Gamble eventually departed for a two-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles.

It’s unclear what role specifically Gamble will take with the Wolverines as Harbaugh already hired a new director of player personnel this year by bringing Sean Magee over from Navy. The former 49ers executive doesn’t have much college experience in the past few decades beyond scouting so it will be interesting to see what his official title at Michigan will be once formally announced by the school.

Either way, it seems like Harbaugh is fully investing in off-the-field roles like his peers at Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State and he is not shying away from reaching into the NFL ranks to do so.