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Bill O’Brien Returns To ‘College Football Heaven’ For Chalk Talk

“I have great memories here – nothing but good feelings about Penn State.”

A warm and candid Bill O’Brien, who is in town for Penn State’s Chalk Talk, met with the media on Saturday morning during his first return to the Penn State football facilities since his departure following the 2013 season.

O’Brien spent two seasons in Happy Valley during the most tumultuous time in the program’s history and is fondly remembered by the Blue and White faithful because of his role in keeping the program rolling along. In his two seasons at Penn State, O’Brien posted a 15-9 record overall, keeping the Nittany Lions above .500 in both of his seasons despite crippling sanctions.

O’Brien was happy to be back on campus, saying that he had returned to State College a few years ago to meet up with friends, but hadn’t seen the football buildings or practice areas since the day he left. O’Brien currently coaches the Houston Texans, and has recently received an extension there. He had only good things to say about football in Happy Valley.

“I just told the high school coaches that, relative to college football, this is football heaven,” O’Brien said.

He pointed to the vast history of the program as well as all of the changes that James Franklin has helped make as key factors in the reemergence of Penn State football.

“You look around at all of the changes that have been made to the building, and I said to James earlier that he’s done such a great job and this is where Penn State should be – on the brink of a National Championship.”

O’Brien explained that he knew, in time, that Penn State would eventually reemerge as a powerhouse in college football. Between the program and support that Paterno built and the people running things behind the scenes, the team was destined to become a title contender quickly. The Texans’ head coach also noted that the players and coaches who were around during his time all still keep in touch.

“There was a time when the sanctions first came out that they said this program would never come back,” O’Brien said. “There were people who said that this program would basically be a Division II program. I think all of us who were here looked at each other and looked at [the All-American wall] and knew that that was never going to happen.”

Although something terrible had happened, O’Brien knew that the right people were in place to move forward and compete. Two of the key players for O’Brien were Christian Hackenberg and Adam Breneman, who committed to Penn State during a difficult time and stay committed. For O’Brien, those two guys symbolized the hardworking, passionate players that made his time at Penn State remarkable.

After leaving Penn State, O’Brien wasn’t surprised that the program bounced back so quickly. He said that he had a good idea that the sanctions might be completely lifted soon after his departure.

“We were doing things the right way,” O’Brien said. “I mean, we were by the book. We weren’t making extra phone calls, we weren’t tweeting, texting; we were doing things by the book.”

The NFL head coach is happy that Penn State has regained a position as a place that high school players should want to come play, reiterating his belief in Happy Valley as “college football heaven.” He noted that the combination of practice facilities, Beaver Stadium (and it’s crowd), and even the nutritional program have allowed James Franklin’s team to take the next step.

Even the NFL came up during O’Brien’s discussion. The coach explained that he enjoys the challenges and differences between every level of football and is looking forward to seeing what Deshaun Watson can bring to his team.

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About the Author

Derek Bannister

Derek is a senior majoring in Economics and History. He is legally required to tell you that he's from right outside of Philly. Email Derek compliments and dad-jokes at [email protected]

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