When he was at Penn State, Bill O’Brien was under the muzzle of the PR machine and usually guarded about his opinions on hot button issues. That anchor is gone now. In an interview in Texas yesterday, he opened up about how hard it was to leave his team, explaining that he called every player until 4 a.m. on the night he accepted the Houston job. He also sent a diss Mark Emmert’s way in talking about the ridiculousness of the bowl ban at Penn State.
He said his decision to leave Penn State was very difficult but at the end of the day, he’s not worried about his former team because “they’ve got a good coach there now, James Franklin. I think they’ll be fine.”
The relevant transcript is posted below. You can read the full transcript here if you want to read about what how O’Brien has prepared for the upcoming NFL draft.
How difficult was it to leave Penn State?
BO: That was hard. That was hard. I love the kids there. I really enjoyed coaching those kids. The student body was awesome. But at the end of the day, like when I sat with my wife and we weighed a lot of different factors. Number one is our family. Houston is a fantastic place for my oldest son and my youngest son. And then just the opportunity to coach in this league. When you come to something like this, it’s a pretty neat deal. You’re coaching in pro football and it’s just the pinnacle of your profession. You’re able to work for an owner like Bob McNair and work with a general manager like Rick Smith. It’s an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up. Penn State is a great place. Penn State will win and the kids there, they’re just great kids.
Was it more difficult to leave Penn State because of the circumstances surrounding the school and football program?
BO: Yeah. One thing that I did there, was I always tried to be very honest with them. Last year, when I interviewed with a couple pro teams, I came back to Penn State and I told the them, to the kids there, I said, ‘I love pro football but I really enjoy coaching you guys and I’m staying.’ So I think the kids there, they really respected our staff, our honest and the night that I took the Houston job, I called every kid from like 11:30 at night until 4 in the morning. It was tough. That was a tough deal because we were very attached for the reasons—everybody stuck together, it was a tough time, we won some games. We won some games that no one could believe we won, beating someone with 40 scholarship kids. So we owe a lot to those kids. But those kids, kids are resilient and they’ve got a good coach there now, James Franklin. I think they’ll be fine.
What motivated you to not leave Penn State without talking to your players?
BO: It was during Christmas break and because of the bowl ban, which was ridiculous, the fact that there is a bowl ban at Penn State, is ridiculous, but because of the bowl ban, we were on Christmas break. We weren’t going to a bowl. I wish I could have had a team meeting because what I would have done, I would have explained it to them face-to-face. But we couldn’t, so I called them. I didn’t ever want to be somebody that just rode off in the middle night and never said a word. I mean, I love those kids and had a great relationship with all those guys. I don’t know if I reached every one of them but I at least left a message for all of them.
Did your parents ever say “Are you kidding me?” when you said you were going to pursue a career in coaching when a lot of his classmates from Brown were going off to manage hedge funds and become lawyers after school?
BO: My mom did. My mom is awesome. She was like, ‘Really? This is what you’re going to do?’ My dad was like, ‘I want you to do whatever makes you happy.’ My two older brothers are lawyers, good guys. I remember my mom, she was like, ‘You want to be a what? A coach?’ So at that time, I told her, I said, ‘Now, Ma,’ I graduated from Brown, so I was like, Joe Paterno had graduated from Brown. You had Ron Brown, who coaches at Nebraska and Whip (Marc Whipple). So I started naming all these guys that went to Brown and so she felt better about it, that were coaches.
What is the gap between the college and pro game for quarterbacks?
BO: There’s a big gap, and I’m just speaking for what we do offensively. We ask the quarterback to do a lot of different things pre-snap; direct the protection, direct the running game, get us from a pass to a run or a run to a pass all within the play clock parameters. We ask our quarterback to understand defensive alignments, almost like a coach on the field. I think a lot of the college quarterbacks, just because of the time limits, it’s not because of the coaching, the coaching is great in college, you can only get the guys for 15 to 20—they say the 20-hour rule but you really don’t even have them for 20 hours because, at least at Penn State, those guys went to class all the time. So you can’t really teach them everything they need to know about the position.