Morelli OnLion: Changing of the guard

It took nearly two months, but Penn State finally has its man.

On Saturday at the Nittany Lion Inn, 42-year-old Bill O’Brien was introduced as the new football coach at Penn State. On Nov. 9, the Penn State Board of Trustees fired former coach Joe Paterno in the midst of a child sex abuse scandal involving former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

There were plenty of rumors swirling about before the O’Brien announcement. But all of those rumors about Penn State hiring a big-name coach disappeared on Saturday, when the little-known O’Brien was introduced. In today’s edition of Morelli OnLion, we’ll take a closer look at the hiring of O’Brien and try to determine what it means for the future of Penn State football.

Changing of the guard

Bill O’Brien stepped to the podium in the ballroom at the Nittany Lion Inn looking much like a prize fighter ready to take a few haymakers to his chiseled jaw.

When the dust settled after his introductory news conference, O’Brien had faced a plethora of questions from the throng of assembled media.

But the haymakers – the really tough questions – never came.

Bill O'Brien was introduced as Penn State's new football coach on Saturday.

Instead, O’Brien embraced it all on Saturday morning and looked very confident during his introduction as the 15th coach in Penn State football history.

“I believe in myself, I believe in Penn State and the academic diversity of Penn State, and I obviously believe in the football tradition and past football successes,” said O’Brien, who will continue to serve as the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots through the playoffs. “What is not to sell about Penn State? Atmosphere, facilities, a 108,000-seat stadium – what an incredible stadium – a grass field, which I really believe in, the people here, the faculty, the students, the passion they have for football, the ability to get a meaningful degree, to graduate from Penn State and make something of your life. When student-athletes enter the door here as freshmen, we’re going to try to teach them what it means to be a Penn State man. That’s the reason I wanted the job, and that’s the reason I’m thrilled to be standing up here today.”

After Paterno was fired on Nov. 9, Penn State fans, alumni and even players wondered what would be next for the program. Well, it’s O’Brien.

Some former players – namely LaVar Arrington and Brandon Short – voiced their displeasure with the selection.

In the end, though, a clean break had to be made, which is why interim coach Tom Bradley was probably never seriously considered.

If a “Penn State guy” wasn’t going to be considered for the position, then most wanted a big name – someone like Boise State’s Chris Petersen. But that big name was never announced. Instead, Penn State signed O’Brien to a five-year deal with a base salary of $950,000 and annual 5 percent increase. He will get an additional $1 million annually from radio and TV work and will receive $350,000 from Penn State’s deal with Nike. In addition, there are performance incentives built into his contract that could increase his earnings by as much as $200,000 a year.

Make no mistake about it, O’Brien has a lot of mountains to climb. The Penn State name is soiled. The house that Paterno built has begun to crumble over the past couple of months because of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. It will be O’Brien’s job to rebuild it. Following Paterno’s ouster, the Nittany Lions lost three of their final four games. Big-name recruits de-committed.

He will have to bring back the morals and standards that were associated with Paterno until recently.

“When you talk about dreams, it’s about the opportunity to represent a university you really believe in,” O’Brien said, “that has everything that you want as a head coach: the ability to graduate kids, the ability to win a lot of football games. I have a tremendous belief in what we’re going to be doing at Penn State, and I can’t wait to get going.”
Penn State needs a fresh start. O’Brien is it.

Chris Morelli is an award-winning writer/editor who lives in Centre County and covers Penn State athletics for He’s also a regular on “Sports Central,” which airs on ESPN Radio in Altoona and State College. E-mail him at Also, be sure to check out Morelli OnLion on Facebook!

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One thought on “Morelli OnLion: Changing of the guard

  1. Dustin Parks

    Obviously, there will be a lot of people looking on and saying that Joe should not have been ousted like he was, as was talked about at one of the first Town Hall meetings with Penn State President Rodney Ericson. But, the only thing I ask O’Brien is to hold to tradition and not change what has been built. He is the 15th coach of this program, but he’s taking over a coach that spent 46 years at the helm. Whether Bradley was strongly considered is debatable, as a defensive-minded coach is always a plus, but O’Brien had a great interview in order to get the job.

    I’m not saying I like the decision nor am I saying I don’t like the decision. Instead, I’m going to give him a chance…which is all we can really give him at this point.

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