After a summer of mostly uncontrollable turmoil and a rough two weeks to begin the season, there has been a sense of calmness over the Penn State Football program since the Nittany Lions began Big Ten play on a warm, late September Saturday morning in Champaign, Illinois.
No players have left the team since then, and the thought of football Saturdays have blocked outside distractions from creeping in. It may be about as tranquil as things get in Happy Valley from a football standpoint for the foreseeable future. The security of another game to prepare for every week allows head coach Bill O’Brien to forget about some of the politics that the job requires and simply game plan for opponents.
This period of calmness is quickly coming to an end, but the first year coach is not ready to let it go quite yet. There is Indiana followed by Wisconsin. And then there will be questions. Will some young and talented players leave the Nittany Lions as another open recruiting season begins with the sanctions? How difficult will it be to round out the 2013 recruiting class and establish a walk-on program going forward? Perhaps the most important question centers around the man in charge of the first two. What is O’Brien’s future? Does he listen if the Jaguars, Chiefs, Browns, Eagles, or some other NFL franchise comes calling with a head coaching offer?
O’Brien was asked about this topic twice at his weekly Tuesday press conference. After first saying that he was focused solely on Indiana, the question of whether he felt it was important to make a definitive statement on his future came up. His response was similar. “We’re 6-4. I’m flattered that you would ask me that question. I’m worried about Indiana and our Tuesday practice and looking forward to doing the best we can for this team as a coaching staff for the Indiana game,” said O’Brien.
How about a lighter topic on keeping the roster together as some programs ring players’ phones off the hook beginning November 25th? “I believe that every single day, we work very hard on our relationships with our players. We care about our players and their families. Do we have a strategy? I wouldn’t say we have a strategy. We try to get out there with this 2012 team and coach them to the best of our ability,” explained O’Brien.
Of the three topics, the walk-on program is the one that O’Brien was most eager to discuss, talking about finding the next Matt McGloin in a group of Pennsylvania high-school players and convincing them to join the Blue and White as opposed to accepting a full scholarship elsewhere. “There are a lot of good football players that are good students and grew up wanting to play for Penn State and were going to come here no matter what even if they were asked to be a run-on. We have had a great response to that, and hopefully that bodes well for us in the future,” said the head coach.
None of these inquires are particularly fun nor easy to answer, especially when it comes to O’Brien’s future. The innovative first-year coach bolting in January after holding everything together for the past year in the midst of huge challenges would be disastrous for the program.
While the thought is enough to frighten a fan base, there is little indication this would actually happen. O’Brien has job security in Happy Valley and speaks often about his passion for Penn State and how much he is enjoying the State College community. Observing O’Brien the entire season, it comes as no surprise that he elected to decline looking past this week’s matchup against the Hoosiers.
Before another period of uncertainty creeps in, normalcy prevails for a bit longer. O’Brien intends to enjoy it rather than looking too far ahead.
- Tight end Kyle Carter is out for the season while safety Malcolm Willis is day-to-day with a knee injury.
- O’Brien said the team had a “crisp practice” on Monday and responded well after the Nebraska loss.
- Zack Zwinak is listed as the starting running back on the depth chart with Bill Belton behind him.
- O’Brien is concerned about the Indiana defensive line. The Hoosiers have 24 sacks on the season.
- When talking about some of the under the radar seniors on the roster, O’Brien called Stephon Morris one of the most improved cornerbacks in the Big Ten.
Quote of the Day:
- O’Brien on attendance at the final two home games which fall over Thanksgiving break: “I’m not going to beg anybody to come to the game, but I’m going to tell them this: This is a football team that has been through unprecedented situations. This is a football team led by a senior class that had the choice whether to stay at or leave Penn State, and they chose to stay. So as fans, as students, how can we not choose to support them in their last two games.”