UNIVERSITY PARK (KDKA) – It’s hard to believe it was only six months ago this week — November 2011 — that Penn State was simply getting ready for their game against 19th-ranked Nebraska, Joe Paterno was talking about coming back for a 47th season and the world was only beginning to realize the scope of the horrors of the allegations against Jerry Sandusky.
Six months later, Sandusky is awaiting trial, Joe Paterno has passed on and the Penn State community turns to one man, Bill O’Brien, to pick up the pieces and return normalcy and greatness to a place where once, the two meant the same thing.
Will his first season on the job be more about healing than football?
“I don’t really think about it that way,” O’Brien says. “I just – I try to go out every day and work extremely hard for the university, for the football program, for these players. That’s what we’re here for.”
Until late 2011, all we knew of Bill O’Brien was that he was the man who, as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, dared to scream at Tom Brady on the sidelines.
Now, with no previous ties to the university or the area, O’Brien is charged with replacing a college football legend. Even as fans will forever compare him to the late Paterno, O’Brien does not.
“I don’t compare myself to Joe Paterno,” O’Brien says. “There will never be another Joe Paterno. I just do the best I can to be myself every day.
“You know, I don’t even think twice about that. There’s one Joe Paterno and what he did is amazing and will never be duplicated – no one will ever coach 46 years or win 409 games.
“Well – never say never, but it certainly won’t be me – I can tell you that. I just try to be myself and move forward with a new era of Penn State football.”
Among the early changes to the program, O’Brien installed a new state of the art weight room in the football facility.
“I’ve been to a lot of places, but I think this has to be in my opinion the best weight room in the country,” he said.
Another change O’Brien would like to make is to bring back the Pitt-Penn State rivalry that was once so big.
“I’m a big believer in in-state rivalries,” O’Brien says. “I can remember growing up watching Penn State late in the year play Pitt and back in the 80’s I just that that was a great rivalry and it’s a natural rivalry, so we’d love to play Pitt.”
But amid all the changes, there are a few traditions that won’t be altered.
“The uniform’s won’t change,” O’Brien says, “The blue buses from the Lasch Building over to Beaver Stadium on game day – that won’t change, but there’ things that have been going on within the building that are definitely new.”
The head coach for one. But don’t expect O’Brien to wax introspective about the position or the scandal that proceeded him.
“I wake up every morning early and I go to work and I try to work extremely hard for the university, the players. I realize the responsibility I have here as the head football coach, but again it’s about hard work and that’s what I’m all about.”