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February 1, 2012

Bill O'Brien

JEFF NELSON:  Welcome to our call with Coach O'Brien.  We'll open it up for questions.

Q.¬† Can you assess overall how recruiting went, especially given the short time frame you had to work with, some of the off‑the‑field issues you inherited?
COACH O'BRIEN:  I think it went really well as far as the transition is concerned.  I got to give a lot of credit to the assistant coaches, especially Larry Johnson, who I asked to oversee the transition period here.  As evidenced by today, he did a great job of keeping it rolling.  The other guys came in there and hit the ground running.
My big thing is you never judge a recruiting class until I would say two years into it.  At that time we'll be able to say it was a really productive class of good football players and guys that are doing the right thing off the field, which we really believe that's what we have right now.

Q.  I saw a quote from you earlier today.  Why don't you pay attention to team and player rankings?
COACH O'BRIEN:  I could care less about player rankings.  What I care about is we found the right fit for Penn State with all these prospects.  Again, the credit goes to the assistant coaches for going out there and finding what we were looking for, which means good students, good citizens, good football players.
I'm not sure who does the rankings.  All I know is that I'm a part of a football team right now with the New England Patriots that if you went up and down our roster you would find guys highly ranked coming out of high school and plenty of guys not ranked at all coming out of high school.
All I care about is our staff, our players, what they feel about the guys that are coming in here to help us win games.  That to me is the most important thing.

Q.  You said the main emphasis was getting the players who were already committed staying in the fold.  You were able to get commitments from other guys.  As far as offering new players, did you try to get them how they fit with the current team or did you just try to get the best players available?
COACH O'BRIEN:  What I did when I came in and was hired, I told Rodney Erickson and Dave Joyner the number one thing we were going to try to do is keep the commitments that were already there committed to Penn State.  To me the most important thing is these guys have committed to the university, the football program.  We're very proud of that fact.  That was our main goal.
From there we did communicate very well.  It's easy to send film over the Internet, shoot me a phone number.  They did a great job of that.  We were able to find a couple other guys out there that we felt fit what we were trying to do at Penn State as far as not just positional needs but probably just good, solid football players that were going to go to class and get a degree.

Q.  It's been pretty rare in years past when Penn State has been able to get a recruit out of Georgia.  I know you were able to get a quarterback out of Georgia.  Talk about the process and what you like about him?
COACH O'BRIEN:¬† I've said this before, we've got to do a great job in that 300‑ 400‑mile radius of Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, New England.¬† Really the majority of our roster should come from there.¬† Then what we want to do is use or connections where we've coached, maybe Georgia, Florida, Alabama, to try to get some guys that we think fit Penn State and are willing to make the travel, the parents are willing to travel.
With Steven Bench, we had a good connection with the high school coach there.  We watched him on tape.  Felt good about his production at high school.  We know we run a different offense than what he ran in high school.  We felt like his accuracy and decision making will fit what we're trying to do very well.  His leadership skills came across when he came on his official visit.  We're thrilled to have him onboard and looking forward to working with him.

Q.  Give your initial impressions of Eugene Lewis.
COACH O'BRIEN:  Really sharp guy.  A guy that loves football.  He's going to do a great job off the field.  He's really going to work very hard to get a degree and is going to help us on the field.  He has a good skill set for what we're going to try to do.
With all these guys, really excited to start coaching him and having him onboard.

Q.  As you were starting to learn about Penn State, what is a Penn State football player to you?  How did you learn about who that kind of player is in order to sell players and parents to become a part of this team?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Again, I think the assistant coaches did most of the work in that regard.
To me, one of the things we talked about right off the bat as far as a Penn State football player is concerned, is a smart, tough, instinctive player, mental toughness, physical toughness, is going to come in there and do the right thing on and off the field.
He's going to go to class.  He's going to work hard in the classroom.  He's going to come into that building and work very hard to be the best football player he can be.  He's going to be a guy that accepts whatever role we ask him to accept, put the team first.  To me we've identified these guys in this class as those types of guys and, again, we're excited about the class.

Q.  There's not a lot of depth at runningback behind Silas Redd on the roster.  Can you talk about how important it was to convince Akeel Lynch to join your class?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Really good question.  I think that was a big part of our discussion coming in here as a new staff.  To me it's very difficult to say you have enough runningbacks.  So with the pounding that that position takes, especially in the Big Ten Conference, we wanted to make sure that we went out and secured a runningback.
Akeel is the type of runningback that will come in there and be ready to play in that type of conference, that physical style of play.  We feel like we definitely added to our depth there.

Q.  What were some of the biggest challenges you had with when you got the job, still coaching the Patriots, and how did you overcome them on the recruiting front?
COACH O'BRIEN:  The challenges that came about were really taken care of by the people on both ends.  As it related to Penn State, I can't say enough that I was able to hire eight guys right away.  Ron Vanderlinden and Larry Johnson that were on the previous staff, then six guys that came in there with a lot of experience, had been on the recruiting trail before, had been in situations that were transitional.  We had a lot of experience there as far as hitting the ground running.
We weren't in a rush to sign a lot of guys.  We wanted to make sure we secured the commitments we had, then go out and try to find the best overall football player that was a good student available to us.
To me the credit, again, goes to the people at Penn State, the coaches, the administrative staff.  Another guy I'd like to mention is Bill Kavanaugh.  Bill did a great job of filling me in on the committed guys.  He helped me out with the new guys.  Did a great job of communicating with me along with Larry Johnson.
To me it was a seamless transition and we're looking forward to working with this class.

Q.  Silas Redd went out of his way to thank the guys who stayed with Penn State, the commits who stayed.  Is he speaking on behalf of the program?  How much did it mean to keep those guys, that people were still willing to buy into Penn State?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Again, I think it says a lot.  I'm going to talk to our guys about speaking for themselves.  But in that regard, he did speak for everybody.  You got to give these guys a lot of credit.  They committed to Penn State university, they committed to the special place it is, where you can play football and get a degree.  That was a testament to their mental toughness, their ability to stick it out.  I give them all the credit in the world.
Like I said, I can't wait to start coaching them and working with them.

Q.  With just the traumatic passing of Coach Paterno last week, was it difficult being away, trying to sort through all of that stuff while still dealing with recruiting, everything else that goes along with winter workouts?
COACH O'BRIEN:  It was an emotional time for everybody involved at Penn State.  We lost a great man.  We lost a great coach.  We lost somebody that was huge in the coaching profession as far as I'm concerned personally for what he meant to college football and coaching in general, but more importantly our players lost a man that recruited them, was their coach, was a father figure to many of those guys.
I think the number one goal for myself when I was there for a couple days was to make sure that the guys understood how I felt about it, and I was able to lead the team to the viewing of Coach Paterno.  That was special.  Again, I flew back to New England and they continued on.  A lot of credit goes to them.  I was very impressed with how our team handled themselves throughout the three days paying tribute to Coach Paterno.

Q.  Are you aware of any players who are going to transfer out or who are considering transferring out, or transferring in?
COACH O'BRIEN:  I'm not aware at this time of any players that are transferring out.  I'm not aware of any players that are transferring in.

Q.  What do you like about the linebacker Wartman, his athleticism, the whole package?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Here is a guy with good size, instinctive player, a guy his size that can run and hit.  To me, he's going to be able to play a couple roles on that defense.  Ted Roof was excited about him being part of our defense.  Ron Vanderlinden did an excellent job of recruiting that guy.  A lot of credit goes to him for sticking with us.
I had a chance to meet him and talk with him a few times.  He's a special kid.  We're looking forward to coaching him and having him onboard.

Q.  Are you still one hire short of filling out your staff?  There was a speculation whether you would be bringing in a quarterback coach or offensive coordinator or will you be doing those duties yourself?
COACH O'BRIEN:  We could go two different directions.  I'm going to get back to Penn State on Tuesday.  We'll sit down with the staff and talk to them, get some input on that.  I got a great staff with a lot of experience.  We can go a few different directions on that.  That will be done very soon, hopefully by the end of next week.

Q.  The 2013 class is going to be the one identified as your class.  What are your goals moving forward?  Have you identified any needs in that class?  What is your game plan moving forward?
COACH O'BRIEN:  I think number one is we're going to sit down as a staff when I get there and look at our own team.  That's already been done by the coaches in place.  They have evaluations on some of the film they watched, the winter workouts they've been able to attend.  We're going to start talking about our own team.  We'll talk about our needs.
We're going to change our system, how we grade, evaluate players, what type of players we want.  So we're in the process of that.  That's not something that is set in stone right now.  That will start right away next week when I get back.
The other thing to me that's really important is that we get out in the spring and get the clinics, the high schools in May for the evaluation period, get our staff out there, let the high school coaches meet our staff up and down the East Coast, but primarily in Pennsylvania, number one, then Ohio, New Jersey, New York, New England, get out there and make sure that our staff is out there.  I think we got a great staff and we've got a lot to sell with Penn State.  That's going to be our number one priority.

Q.  Obviously the recruiting process is an inexact science.  You never know what you're going to get.  In your experience over the years, how much do you think coaching actually plays into the development of these guys and how much do you think you can actually develop these players?
COACH O'BRIEN:¬† I think there's no question that you can develop young players.¬† We've developed a lot of young players in the NFL.¬† There's no question that you can develop a 17‑year‑old guy that comes in at any position, through coaching, hard work, weight room activity.¬† There's absolutely no question about that, that there's a chance for guys to get better every day when they come in here through hard work and listening to their coaches.

Q.  I was wondering if you could talk about being there in Indianapolis and trying to get a handle on what's going on in State College?  Has that been difficult for you?
COACH O'BRIEN:  Again, it hasn't been difficult.  I really believe, and I respect your question, but as it relates to the difficulty of having two different jobs right now, it hasn't been as difficult as people may think because of the people involved on both ends.
Here in New England, we have a great staff.  We have a couple guys that are assigned to me to help me with the transition, administrative people here.  More importantly at Penn State, we have a tremendous staff in place that's done a great job through email, text messaging, staying in touch with me, keeping me updated on things I had to know.
Again, I believe that's a little bit overblown.  I'll be there Tuesday.  I'm going to do everything I can to help New England on Sunday, then I'll be in State College as soon as I can get there on Monday night, Tuesday.

Q.  This is a unique situation for Penn State, publicizing who the recruits are, making time for this call.  How important is that to you?  It's never happened at Penn State before.
COACH O'BRIEN:  I think it's very important for us to talk to the media as a staff.  Not just me.  I think this is about Penn State.  I believe that we've got to get out there and talk about Penn State.  Our staff has done a great job of that in the last three weeks since they've been hired.  We've been out in Pennsylvania.  We've been out recruiting.
I don't think there's any question that as spring practice rolls around, winter workouts, we've got to be available.  We can't do it every day, but we have to be available to the media.  I think it's important to the people, especially the people in Pennsylvania, to see how hard we're working as players and coaches, to see the type of players we have there, the character, the commitment they have to the football program.
I'm happy to make a call like this.  I was actually looking forward to it.  I walked in from practice.  One of our administrative guys here gave me a ride back to the hotel here, and I was excited about having the opportunity to talk to you guys.
JEFF NELSON:  Coach, greatly appreciate your time today.  Thank you very much.
COACH O'BRIEN:  Thank you.

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