Coach Bill O’Brien Weekly Press Conference
Nov. 13, 2012
Q. Coach, how did yesterday’s practice and the players’ attitudes compare to the Monday immediately following the Ohio State game?
COACH O’BRIEN: We came out yesterday and had a really good practice; we had a crisp practice. We need to keep it going today, but as a matter of fact I told them after, that’s what I appreciate about this football team, that they came back to work hard like that on a Monday. Like I said, it was good, and hopefully that can translate to today and we can win a Tuesday.
Q. I know Kyle Carter has been ruled out for this week. Is there a chance he could be out for the rest of the season? I was also wondering, could you evaluate the play of Garry Gilliam. He’s a tight end that you don’t get asked about a lot and he does the dirty work for you.
COACH O’BRIEN: Kyle Carter will be out for the rest of the season. Garry Gilliam is another guy I probably say this so many times you guys are sick of it, but he’s another guy that’s what Penn State is all about. He’s a Pennsylvania guy, a really good student. He’s been through a lot here, both personally and obviously as a team here.
He’s a tough kid, he’s an improved player. He plays a significant role for us, as a blocker, then he plays for us in a role in certain passing schemes that we ask him to run, certain routes, so he’s a great guy to coach and he loves playing for Penn State. That’s what I would say about Garry Gilliam.
Q. All four of the team’s losses you have been leading or tied at halftime. Have you seen common issues in the second half of those games or what needs to be better there?
COACH O’BRIEN: I don’t know. We’ve got to probably more of a discussion for after the season. We can do better things coaching, I’m sure, and, we just I think we’ve moved the ball in those games but just haven’t scored or maybe turned it over, something like that.
So in the off season we’re going to dive into this thing and scout ourselves and see if we can improve, but over the next two weeks we need to make sure we do a better job of coming out after halftime.
Q. Do you think you could explain what happened to Kyle Carter and summarize the season he had for you?
COACH O’BRIEN: Mark, I appreciate the question. I’m not going to get into the details of that yet, out of respect for him and his mom, so I don’t want to get into that. He had an excellent season for us. Here is a guy, a young player that came in here trying to learn a position that is a very difficult position to learn. This is offensively it’s the second hardest position to learn behind quarterback. You’re involved in the running game, in protections, you’re involved in route running, you have to recognize coverage.
There are so many different things that you have to know, and I thought as a young player he came in here and did a really nice job. He’s got excellent hands, he’s a tough kid, he’s a great kid, just a really good guy to have on the team.
Q. With Sam Ficken, what do you think he’s improved at the most from, say, the Virginia game, beginning of the season until now? How has he worked through his quadriceps issue?
COACH O’BRIEN: He’s definitely improved at the placement of his plant foot. He does a nice job. He’s much more consistent with where his plant foot is on each kick, and there is a lot of credit that you have to give to him because he’s really worked at it. When you’re kicking better and better, you’re gaining more and more confidence and he’s a very, very laid back guy that cares about his teammates; wants to do well. It’s nice to see him improve like he has.
Q. In light of what Matt (McGloin) said on Saturday with regard to Penn State not getting any calls, do you like guys who speak their mind postgame like that, or do you feel a need to coach ’em or caution them after a game against getting too upset?
COACH O’BRIEN: First of all, we’re moving on to Indiana here so I really just want to try to focus on the Indiana game. Of course, we try to talk to our guys about, just overall at the beginning of the season and then weekly about making sure that they understand what their media obligations are and things like that.
At the end of the day, it’s a free country and Matt can say what he wants, and that’s what he did. He’s an emotional kid but, look, it’s time to move on to Indiana and that’s it.
Q. There’s apparently going to be a number of NFL coaching openings and at the end of this season. If there is, it’s inevitable that some of those people are going to contact you. If they do, have you thought about how you’re going to handle that?
COACH O’BRIEN: No. I’m focused on Indiana. We are at 6 4, trying to get to a 7th win and just really want to do a great job coaching this team, this week, for the Indiana game.
Q. Matt Lehman is a guy who hadn’t played very much before the start of the season, and I wondered what you thought about him in the first few practices in March and as he blossomed into his role as a player?
COACH O’BRIEN: Matt Lehman has here is a guy that is a run on player, that was at Shippensburg and came to Penn State, what a story. He came in here, again, learning that position is not easy. He’s a big, tall guy, he’s a tough guy. He catches the ball well, he runs well for his size. He runs well.
He’s become a better and better route runner all year, and he’s come up with some big catches for us in these games, and it’s because of his hard work. Those guys are coached well by John Strollo. John cares about those kids and he’s done a nice job with that position and making sure those guys improve every week.
Q. Deion Barnes is a guy that you talked about a lot before the beginning of the season and I’m just wondering if his playing has lived up to your expectations and how much room does he have to grow as a player?
COACH O’BRIEN: Deion Barnes is a uniquely talented guy. He’s a tall guy, he’s got really good athleticism, he’s tough, a good team player, a teammate. His future is limitless. He just needs to continue to work. He’s coached very well by Larry Johnson, he’s fit very well into Ted Roof’s schemes, and he’s had a good season for us to this point. He’s made a lot of big plays, so hopefully he can continue playing that way this week.
Q. You look up and down this roster, I think it would be safe to say that a lot of the players have met expectations. Are you surprised that you’re 6 4 this year considering some of the individual successes you have had?
COACH O’BRIEN: Of course, we hate to lose. Like I’ve always said, losing will never be accepted here at Penn State, and going back in those games everybody wishes that we could have done a better job coaching-wise, playing-wise, but we’re moving we’ve moved on, and we’re looking forward to playing our final two home games, starting with Indiana here.
We are just looking forward to you know what? I’m looking forward to practice today. Can’t wait to go out to practice today and tomorrow and Thursday and Friday and then play in front of this home crowd on Saturday, so I’m looking forward to the Indiana game.
Q. The tight end position has evolved over the last 10 years in the NFL and college, and with your success at the Patriots and here with the tight ends, you’ve been at the forefront of that. Can you talk about when you realized the tight ends could be such an important part of the offense you run?
COACH O’BRIEN: That’s a great question. After the 2009 season in New England we felt like we wanted to go in the direction on offense of the tight end position.
We basically started fresh with new tight ends, so in that draft, that 2010 draft, we were fortunate enough to draft Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and I’ll never forget the day they came to New England for their rookie mini-camp. We knew right away that we had two uniquely talented guys, and we knew they would be match up problems for teams.
So what I learned there was because of their size and their speed and their catching ability and their football instincts that they could be problems for defense, especially on the inside of coverages. And then I learned when you split them out wide, they’re a little bit of a problem, too, because they’re going against corners that aren’t as big as those guys are; Rob was 6 7 and Aaron 6 4. Then coming here I have learned even more.
I think we have a great group of tight ends here. They are smart, tough, they can do both, they can block, run routes, catch. Some guys are better blockers than route runners; some are better route runners than blockers, but they all work hard, and they’re all instinctive players, and I hope we can continue to grow in that position.
Q. I believe you said earlier in the season that before the season begins you evaluate your players and project where they’re going to be. I’m curious where Zach Zwinak was in that evaluation?
COACH O’BRIEN: He’s surpassed where he was. When we came out of spring training, we had a much different football team, after the Blue-White Game, than we do as we sit here today. We had Silas Redd was here, who rushed for over 1,000 yards the year before, and you go right down the line, we moved Billy Belton there, we had a different position there than we have now. And then obviously what happens every year that I have been in football with the running back position, we had injuries occur, and as injuries occur the next guy has to step up. That’s what happened to Zach. We had injuries, and he was the next guy.
He came out there and he really did a nice job of doing what we coached him to do. Charles London does a great job with those guys, teaching them what to do every week. He’s a tough kid, he can run, he’s faster than people think he is, he’s a 235 pound guy, he’s strong, he’s a punishing runner. And are there things that he needs to get better at, of course he does. He’s got to get better at ball security. He can be a really good route runner if he concentrates on it, and I know he will. He’s been a guy who has done a great job for us this year.
Q. Bill, this was addressed briefly after the game at Nebraska, some speculation that people are against Penn State or are out to get Penn State. I’m not sure you are aware, but today the NCAA apparel store stopped selling Penn State gear. They called it a glitch, but it has your fan base up in arms. What would you tell your fan base about this notion that people are against Penn State?
COACH O’BRIEN: I would tell our fans that nobody is against Penn State; no one is against Penn State. Penn State is a very special university. Penn State has a very unique athletic department with 31 sports, some great coaches. Penn State is a place where you can receive a world renowned education and choose from 100 different majors.
Penn State has a football team this year that plays with extremely good effort, plays hard. Penn State has a senior class on this football team right here that to me will go down in the history of college football as one of the better senior classes of any college football team.
At the end of the day, football is a sport played by guys that compete hard, and it’s just a great team sport, and that’s what it is, and nobody is against Penn State.
Q. When you guys go into the locker room at halftime, without getting into in game strategy, how much do you split up the time meeting with the coaches versus the players? Do you address the players as a group and does that vary game to game or do you have a set procedure for that?
COACH O’BRIEN: We have a set procedure and we meet as a coaching staff first. We meet as an offensive staff, defensive staff, and then I travel in between there. I meet with the offensive coaches first then I go with the defensive staff, then we meet with the players.
One of the things that is interesting in college football is the halftime is a lot longer than in the NFL, so it took me a while to get used to that. In the NFL it’s bang, bang, bang; there are no bands. When you’re playing the Jets, there are no bands. And that’s not a shot at the band, I love the band, obviously, so it’s about a 20 minute halftime, and that’s what we try to do and we make adjustments.
At the end of the day, sometimes those adjustments work and sometimes they don’t. It’s a bunch of good kids and good coaches trying to do the right thing. I wouldn’t make too much out of the second half thing. I know that’s what maybe you guys are driving at, but we just need to coach it and play it better.
Q. You know when the season ends, the transfer free agency stuff is going to open up again. Have you and your staff thought much about that yet or how you plan to deal with that situation?
COACH O’BRIEN: I believe that every single day we work very hard on our relationships with our players. We work very hard to put our players in the best position to play on Saturdays. We work very hard to come up with as good of a practice plan as we can. We care about our players, their families, their class schedules, so that’s what we do every single day.
Do we have a strategy for whatever that is? I wouldn’t say we have a strategy, we just try to go out there with this 2012 team and just have open lines of communication and coaching them to the best of our ability and coach them to be well rounded guys. That’s what we do.
Q. I know for your final two games you would love a full stadium, especially the student section for your seniors, but I am a student here, and I know a lot of kids are talking about going home and relaxing over break and not coming back for the game. Are you going to try to do anything to convince kids to come back for that Wisconsin game?
COACH O’BRIEN: I’m not going to beg anybody to come to the game but I’m going to tell them this: This is a team that has been through unprecedented situations. This is a football team led by a senior class that has had the choice, had the choice, had a choice whether to stay at Penn State or to leave Penn State, and they chose to stay.
So as fans, as students, can we not choose to support them in their last two games, eight quarters of football? I don’t know, to me that’s what I feel. I think this is a team that’s poured its heart and soul into this season. We’re not an undefeated team, can’t do anything about that now, we have two games left starting with a tough Indiana team.
I would hope and I would expect that our students and our fans understand what this team has been through and what they did to commit to each other, to commit to this university, to stay together and come support them in their last two games, especially this senior class.
Q. Given Matt McGloin’s season, what do you think is in store for him, after the season? Is he a guy that could have a job in some capacity in the NFL even if he doesn’t come back?
COACH O’BRIEN: Let’s focus on Indiana and then Wisconsin, and after the season ask me that question again, okay?
Q. Was your sideline warned at all before that penalty? Has your sideline been warned this year?
COACH O’BRIEN: No.
Q. Matt is not available this week. You figure it was a good time to give him a week away from the media, based on maybe after the game? Did that have something to do with it?
COACH O’BRIEN: No. I choose what players to talk to the media every week, and I just chose for him to not be on that list.
Q. You’ve talked about varying losses, and was this one, because of the circumstances, a little more difficult? Is your resiliency as a leader taxed through some of the disappointments?
COACH O’BRIEN: No, this again, we’ve moved on to Indiana. We came out yesterday, we had a good meeting, we had a good team meeting. One of the good things about our year this year is our schedule I think the way we set up our schedule as a staff has been good. We gave them Sunday off, and they can come in for treatments and maybe get a lift in, and then they come back Monday, so they have a chance to think about things in their own mind.
And when they come back on Monday, they seem to be refreshed and for the most part every Monday they have come out and practiced well. No, we will be ready to go for Indiana. We will be ready to go.
Q. Coach, you talk about the special senior class and the most attention goes to (Matt) McGloin, (Michael) Mauti, (Gerald) Hodges, those guys. What can you say about the rest of the seniors? Shane McGregor, is going to be here talking to us. A guy like that that doesn’t play much, what does he mean to this team?
COACH O’BRIEN: That’s the great thing about this class, is that you have a lot of guys like that, the Shane McGregors, the J.R. Refices, these are unique guys that come out to practice every week and are great students. You’ll probably hear more about them after they graduate than while they were here at Penn State.
There are a bunch of guys like that. I don’t think we talk enough about Stank (Matt Stankiewitch), our center or (Mike) Farrell, our tackle. Those guys have played well for us…Pete Massaro and what he’s gone through and Stephon Morris is one of the best corners in the Big Ten. A lot of people doubted how Stephon Morris was going to play this year. He’s come out and had a hell of a year, and I hope people take note of that. It is a great senior class of guys and guys that have poured their heart and soul into this team.
Q. At the risk of beating a dead horse with the NFL stuff, you’re in a unique situation after this season, where players have decisions to make, recruits are looking. Do you feel at all a need to make a definitive statement on your future, given the situation and that your name has been floated out there with some different teams?
COACH O’BRIEN: I don’t read 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 this Indiana game.
Q. The group that calls themselves the "Supa 6" have you heard of them?
COACH O’BRIEN: Oh yeah.
Q. What kind of camaraderie do they have and do you ever rib them at practice?
COACH O’BRIEN: No, I never – no (laughs).
Q. Are you worried that they might make a move in the off season because they’re so young and talented?
COACH O’BRIEN: That’s the second question you have asked me about being worried. I don’t worry. Do you know what I worry about? I worry about my son, I worry about my kids, I worry about my family. Those are things to worry about. I don’t worry about things that are out of our control. I will tell you this about that group of players; they have great camaraderie. I think they love playing for Penn State. I believe they understand the value of the education here at Penn State. They know that whether it’s offensive or defensive players in that group of guys, they know that their talents will be show cased here to play and with good schemes on both sides of the ball. I think those guys are committed to Penn State. You would have to ask them.
Q. I wonder if you can talk about Jim Bernhardt’s role in the organization. Is he kind of like your Berj
COACH O’BRIEN: No, that’s a bad comparison. That’s a different role that he (Berj Najarian) played at New England. Jimmy coached me in college, and he’s a guy that he actually was instrumental in getting me my first break in coaching. I was coaching at Brown, and George O’Leary was the head coach at Georgia Tech, and Jimmy and George had gone way back, they’re both from Long Island. George called Jimmy and said, "Listen, I need somebody that is smart enough to get into Georgia Tech grad school but dumb enough to want to coach," and that was me. And I went down to Georgia Tech and Jimmy got me that job.
I owe a lot to Jimmy. He’s a behind the scenes guy here at Penn State. He is definitely my right hand man and, you know, I don’t want to get into the details of his role because then I would have to kill you, Nate, but he plays a big role for us in our program (laughter).
Q. You have stressed the importance of the future of the walk on program here a couple times this season. Without giving too much away about your future recruiting strategies, of course, how do you entice a player to become a walk on given the circumstances as opposed to taking a scholarship offer from another school?
COACH O’BRIEN: We have actually obviously I can’t get into specifics but we have had a good response to guys that want to run on here, obviously mostly Pennsylvania guys. There are a lot of good football players in Pennsylvania that are good students that really grew up like Matt McGloin — that grew up wanting to play for Penn State and were going to come here no matter what, if they were asked to be a run on here, so we have had a great response to that and hopefully that bodes well for the future.
Q. What are your impressions of Indiana? When you see they gave up 500 yards to Wisconsin in running, does that make you change your focus to the ground game?
COACH O’BRIEN: Every week is different so we just we’re going to do what we do, but to me they’re a good football team. I think Kevin (Wilson) has done a really good job there, defensively they are sound, they have a good blitz scheme. Their two inside tackles are two of the better players we have played this year at those positions. Offensively they run a very, very fast tempo, I mean ultra fast, and they try and run between 90 and 100 plays in a game, so that’s a huge challenge for our defense this week and special teams.
We feel like we have to play well on special teams because they’re going to come to play on special teams and we’re going to do the best we can to get an edge there. Kevin Wilson has done an excellent job with that program from when he got there to where it is now, so it’s going to be a tough game for us on Saturday.
Q. We know that you like keep your starters in the game for most of the game but you’re talking about the senior class do you have any plans to get Shane McGregor or any of those seniors more snaps with two games left in the season?
COACH O’BRIEN: Haven’t thought about that at this point. Number one thing is we’re going to try to go out there and win the game. We will do the best we can to put our players in the best position to win the game first.
Q. Can you talk about the development of your defensive ends as a group, as a whole, throughout the year?
COACH O’BRIEN: I think that there has been a lot of improvement there, and it was a new scheme, so they had to learn how to play in a new scheme, and then it was a little different blitz scheme than in the past.
It was a little different run, gap control scheme so every week Larry (Johnson) has done a nice job of explaining the game plan and watching these guys improve. I think all of them have unique abilities. They’re not all the same; some guys are better pass rushers than run guys, and some guys are better run guys than pass rushers, so we try to use them in that way, and it’s a unit that has improved.
Q. Indiana has given up a lot of yards but they have the ability to get after the quarterback. They’re third in the conference in sacks; you’ve got to be concerned about that a little bit.
COACH O’BRIEN: Indiana concerns me. They’re a good football team. Yeah, they have a good pressure scheme, like I said, they have two inside tackles that are excellent players and they sack the quarterback. When you have two inside tackles that sack the quarterback, that tells you right there that they’re two good players because it’s not easy to rush the passer from those positions. Indiana is a good football team, and we have to have a good week of practice and be ready to go on Saturday, and I believe we will be ready to go.
Q. Malcolm Willis is listed as day to day on the weekly injury report. Can you provide an update on him? Did he practice yesterday or what are the chances he places on Saturday?
COACH O’BRIEN: That is a day to day, it’s more like last week with a couple of guys, we will have to see later in the week how he does. He did some things yesterday but we will have to see how he is later in the week.
Q. Bill, James Terry is coming in here next. What does he do in terms of the defensive line?
COACH O’BRIEN: Number one, another great kid, another really nice, good team guy that’s part of this, in my opinion, great senior class. He’s had some good he had a good game against Purdue and he’s provided valuable snaps for us. When you have a guy like that that would probably start for most teams in this conference but because he’s backing up some quality guys like Jordan Hill, who is an All American candidate, that’s a tough, tough deal for a guy like James, and he’s accepted his role, and when he gets in there he plays hard, and I can’t say enough about James Terry. He’s a hell of a kid.