O'Brien, Penn State mindful of past, but ready to move forward

O'Brien, Penn State mindful of past, but ready to move forward
July 26, 2012, 10:15 pm
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Penn State didn't get the death penalty. The football team will play games this fall, instead of the broached penalty of being axed for four years. So with that in mind, Bill O'Brien has to do his job, and that's coach the Penn State football team.

"Penn State's sanctions aren't the end of the world," O'Brien said Thursday at Big Ten media day. "I think people have to keep things in perspective and remember that there's a lot more important things in the world, like the victims of child abuse, like our own families, like these kids and their emotions right now. Like I've said from Monday on, my job is to keep this 2012 football team together, but after that it's just about competing and doing the best job we can."

Whoever succeeded Joe Paterno at Penn State was going to have a difficult time. Nobody could've envisioned the job being as difficult as the daunting task facing O'Brien. But from a purely football standpoint, all O'Brien -- who said he expects 108,000 fans at every home game at Beaver Stadium this year -- is concerned about is winning games.

"I think we have a chance to be a decent football team," O'Brien said. "I think we can field a competitive team and I think that would show a lot of people that we're not dead."

But the sanctions handed down Monday were harsh in an effort to de-emphasize football and attempt to change a culture within the program that helped protect Jerry Sandusky. With no chance of making a bowl or Big Ten championship game, and with severe scholarship reductions put in place, Penn State players are free to transfer to wherever they please without having to sit out a year.

O'Brien hasn't seen a mass exodus from State College, though, at least not yet. The first-year coach said about 50 players have already affirmed their commitments to stay at Penn State.

"It shows you what Penn State is all about, it shows you what these kids are all about," O'Brien said of those players sticking with the program. "This is a prideful bunch of kids, these are tough kids. ... We've got great kids, kids that want to stick together. Now, I know there may be some kids that will leave, I understand that."

Only a handful of Big Ten coaches said Thursday they would look to recruit Penn State players. Illinois coach Tim Beckman was one, and his approach was met with some level of criticism. Most other coaches said they would listen if a Penn State player contacted them, but won't actively recruit anyone away from Happy Valley.

"I have a problem with that," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said of actively trying to add current Penn State players, reiterating the same phrase. "But as a player, a young man has a right to play wherever he wants to play. We have to keep that in mind. However, when he's a part of a team, you're getting into a situation that I'm not quite very familiar with, and we're not going to get very familiar with it."

Michigan coach Brady Hoke was a little more open to the idea, but ultimately decided against adding any Penn State players.

"To be honest with you, we kind of made a decision -- I'd be lying if I didn't say we didn't look at the roster to some degree," Hoke said. "But we've kind of made a decision that we're going to stay and not recruit the guys and keep our business our business."

While O'Brien said none of his players have informed him of their decision to transfer, running back Silas Redd reportedly is considering a move to USC.

"The rules are what they are -- it's like NFL free agency without the rules," O'Brien, who previously coached with the New England Patriots, said. "So other schools can do what they want as long as they tell our compliance office that they're contacting these kids, and it is what it is."

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany would rather the contact between other schools and Penn State be, at least within the conference, nn an athletic director-to-athletic director level instead between compliance departments.

"I want it to happen at a higher level," Delany said, adding that he wasn't in favor of allowing the transfers to happen within the conference. "I argued to some extent against it. Our presidents were clear and unanimous that they want these students to have the opportunity to go where they want to go and with no exceptions, including Big Ten exceptions.

"What I said to our coaches this morning, you know, I get it; this is what the rules are. And I expect you to operate in a way that makes not sense just under the rules but sense to you as adults and grownups, so that if a player is interested in talking to you or has an interest in your university, so be it. Those are the rules. That's what our presidents want. That's what the NCAA wants."

Like O'Brien, who repeatedly expressed a desire to turn the page now that the sanctions have been placed on Penn State, Delany is ready to move forward while still reflecting on the past.

"What's clear to me, though, is that justice can never really be served in this case, because the victims can never receive justice," Delany said. "And that's just the sad fact of the case. And while there are ancillary people who impacted the case in one way or another, affected the Big Ten, it's affected Penn State, obviously. It's affected a lot of people who are not involved in any way shape or form with the case, I think you have to just ... you have to recognize that the 10 individuals and perhaps many, many more, were damaged and hurt. And there's no amount of legal, criminal, civil, NCAA, Big Ten action that can change that or help them.

"And so a lot of people want to debate about NCAA penalties or Big Ten penalties, and those debates are fine. But to me, they miss the point very much because they're not in any way related to what happened to the victims of Sandusky's actions."