O'Brien's upcoming exit no problem for Patriots
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)
Bill O'Brien wore a cap with a Patriots logo as he prepared his players for Sunday's AFC championship game.
New England's offensive coordinator would like to keep wearing it for a couple of weeks - through the Super Bowl - before switching to a Penn State hat in his next job as head coach of the Nittany Lions.
For now, he's preparing his offense to face the dominant defense of the Baltimore Ravens.
''We're definitely all focused on the game with Baltimore and that's what our team is preparing for,'' coach Bill Belichick said Thursday. ''He's done what we've asked him to do last week and this week and, hopefully, we'll be able to play well on Sunday.''
On Jan. 8, shortly after the Denver Broncos beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 29-23 in overtime to advance to the divisional game in Foxborough, the Patriots announced they had hired Josh McDaniels as an offensive assistant.
He was the Patriots' offensive coordinator from 2006-08, served as Denver's coach in 2009 and part of 2010, and was offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams this season.
''Josh has integrated very smoothly into everything that we do because he knows most everybody here,'' quarterback Tom Brady said. ''He knows the offense. His input is greatly appreciated, whether it's tips for me or tips for other players. He sees some things and is very helpful. It's been good.''
On Thursday, O'Brien talked with Brady and other players at practice while members of his new staff focused on recruiting. Seven of his Penn State assistants are on the road at one time and he makes recruiting calls himself.
National signing day is Feb. 1, four days before the Super Bowl.
''We're certainly making the best of it we possibly can,'' offensive line coach Mac McWorter said Thursday in a telephone interview. ''You certainly have to commend coach O'Brien for finishing his obligations to New England. That says a lot about the way he does things.''
On Jan. 6, Penn State announced it was hiring O'Brien to replace Joe Paterno, who was fired Nov. 9 after child sex abuse charges were filed against retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
O'Brien spent the next two days, the weekend of the Patriots bye week, in Happy Valley. That Saturday, he was formally introduced at a news conference on campus. On Sunday, he received a standing ovation after being introduced at a basketball game and later met with his new players.
Then it was back to Foxborough to prepare for Denver last Saturday night. The Patriots won 45-10, the most points they've scored in their 20 postseason games in Belichick's 12 years as coach.
At his introductory news conference at Penn State, O'Brien said, ''There is no way that I can stand up in front of our football team and our recruits and talk about loyalty and commitment and then leave the Patriots in the middle of a playoff run or the start of a playoff run. I have committed to the New England Patriots to see them through that playoff run.''
With Belichick's approach of having each player focus on his job and shut out potential distractions, O'Brien's juggling act doesn't seem to be a problem.
''It's about our focus on our game plan,'' wide receiver Deion Branch said of the key to each practice. ''That's the entire thing we can be focused on (and not) what's going on outside of the game and (losing) sight of what our plan is to go into the game.''
The morning after the win over the Broncos, O'Brien was back at Penn State. He spent about nine hours there, meeting with recruits and their families and then with his coaching staff. He also took part in a formal photo shoot - jackets and ties - with all his coaches for the university's website and publications.
O'Brien is in daily contact with his assistants by phone, primarily in the evenings. Since his hiring, he has met in person with his staff just once.
The success of the Patriots' high-powered offense hasn't hurt on the recruiting trail, either.
''You know the exposure we're getting,'' McWorter said, ''by way of what (the Patriots) are doing. ... You can't buy that.''
Charlie Weis had a similar challenge when he was hired as head coach of Notre Dame on Dec. 12, 2004, after serving as offensive coordinator in the Patriots 35-28 win over the Cincinnati Bengalis that afternoon. He stayed with New England through their third Super Bowl championship in four years.
''You had to make your mind up on how you were going to handle it,'' Weis, now head coach at Kansas, said Thursday. ''I feel that if you're making a run at the Super Bowl, you really have an ethical responsibility to finish the job. I really do believe that. I hope that's how it turns out for the Patriots. I hope it turns out that way for Bill and Billy.''
AP Sports Writers Genaro C. Armas in State College, Pa., and Dave Skretta in Kansas City contributed to this report.