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O’Brien Praises Mentor, UCF Coach George O’Leary

Bill O’Brien hasn’t faced off with Central Florida yet in his career as a head coach, but he’s certainly familiar with the Knights’ head coach, George O’Leary.

O’Brien graduated from Brown in 1992 and went straight to work for the Brown football team as tight ends coach. After a head coaching change, O’Brien moved to the other side of the ball as a linebackers coach. In 1994, he started applying for graduate assistant jobs and asked for some help from fellow Brown coach Jim Bernhardt.

Lucky for O’Brien, Bernhardt got a call from George O’Leary, a coach that he knew from his time at Syracuse when he would recruit from O’Leary’s high school. O’Leary was in his first year as head coach of Georgia Tech at the time.

“George called Jimmy and asked if he knew anybody smart enough to get into graduate school at Georgia Tech and dumb enough to want to coach football, and Jimmy said, ‘I got just the guy for you,’” O’Brien said.

After some back-and-forth between O’Brien and Doug Marrone — Georgia Tech’s Director of Operations at the time (and current Buffalo Bills head coach) — O’Brien was hired by O’Leary in 1995 as a graduate assistant. He made his way from that position to running backs coach in 1998, offensive coordinator in 2001, and assistant head coach in 2002 before leaving for Maryland.

Eleven years later, Bill O’Brien is the head coach at Penn State and George O’Leary is the head coach at Central Florida and the two will reconvene this Saturday under the lights at Beaver Stadium.

“I have a fantastic relationship with Coach O’Leary,” O’Brien said. “I contributed what I contributed to that staff [at Georgia Tech], but I think we all learned from Coach O’Leary. I think every one of those guys would say we owe a lot to Coach O’Leary because he taught us about tough, physical football and great organization.”

O’Brien went on to credit some of his success at Penn State to advice he received from O’Leary over the last year.

“I’ve kept in touch with Coach O’Leary over the years. After I became the head coach at Penn State, I called him a few times, just on different subjects like practice and different things he did, how he set up his schedule and his travel at Georgia Tech and Central Florida. He’s been very helpful to me.”

It was what O’Leary taught O’Brien during their time together in Georgia Tech that has really stuck, and those lessons show in the Nittany Lions football team.

“I think that there are two big lessons I took from coach O’Leary that I’ll always have with me in coaching,” O’Brien said. “One was organization. He was a very organized guy. There wasn’t a wasted moment during the day. Then I learned about how important the physical toughness, the resiliency of your football team is. When you don’t have that, then you’re going to struggle.”

Despite how helpful he may have been to O’Brien in the past, O’Leary certainly won’t be trying help his former assistant head coach on Saturday.

“Our players have to be ready for a physical football game,” O’Brien said, “because this won’t be a game for the faint of heart, and that’s a Coach O’Leary trademark.”

Here are the rest of the highlights from O’Brien’s weekly press conference:

O’Brien is worried about facing a tough UCF defense.

“They’re very physical and they’re well coached,” he said. “The type of defense they play doesn’t really lend itself to giving up explosive plays. In order to get an explosive play, we’re going to have to work real hard to come up with something we think will work and then execute it on game day.”

He’s also worried about stopping its offense.

“One thing you need to understand about their offense is that they have a really good quarterback,” O’Brien said. “It’s hard to totally stop a guy like that, but you’ve got to try to contain him. He’s very, very good. He’s a pro prospect, Blake Bortles.”

He has nothing but positive things to say about Glenn Carson.

“He’s a guy that received the player of the game distinction for the Syracuse game,” O’Brien said. “Then in this past weekend against Eastern Michigan received special mention from our staff and from me for how he played.  He’s a tough guy and he’s worked hard to improve. He’s quicker, he’s faster and he’s stronger. He loves playing for Penn State. He believes, and I believe, he has a future in football.”

The offensive line needs to be more consistent.

“I think that some certain individuals up front have played really well,” he said. “I don’t want to get into the specifics, but I think that overall we need to play more consistent up front.  I’ve talked to these guys about that and [offensive line coach] Mac [McWhorter] feels the same way. We hold our offensive line to a very high standard here at Penn State, and those guys know they can play better, and we expect them to play better.”

Bill Belton is a much-improved player.

“I really have a connection with Bill, and I think he’s a great kid, and he’s working extremely hard in the classroom,” O’Brien said. “He worked extremely hard this summer to be where he’s at right now. He’s running the ball better. He’s being more decisive running the ball, and his pass catching ability out of the backfield is good.  I think his protection needs to improve, but I know he’s going to work on that this week. Overall, he’s a much better player, and he’s turned the corner off the field too.”

The third-down issues start on first down.

“We’ve got to get off to a better starts on first down,” he said. “We’ve had too many penalties or lost yardage plays on first down. It’s not a good thing. Once we get to third down, we also have to execute better. It will get better. I can’t guarantee it. I’m not into guarantees, but I do believe we’re working on it, and it will definitely, in my opinion, it will improve.  It needs to.”

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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