O’Brien and Penn State caravan hits Manhattan

Bill O’Brien grew up around Boston, roots for the Red Sox and

coached for the Patriots.

”I’ve been with the villains,” he said before going to mingle

with New Yorkers.

O’Brien is the Penn State coach now, and when you coach the

Nittany Lions you have to embrace New York. The Big Apple’s metro

area is home to about 28,000 Penn State alumni. Only Philadelphia

and Pittsburgh have more.

O’Brien and the Penn State coaches’ caravan stopped in Manhattan

on Wednesday as part of the school’s attempt to re-connect an

athletic program that was thrown into disarray last year with its

supporters.

”I know we have a lot of former Penn State football players and

athletes that are on Wall Street,” O’Brien said in an interview

with the AP. ”So why not come here and talk to them about our

vision for the athletic program and my vision for the football

program.”

New York was the 10th stop on the caravan, with eight more to go

in Connecticut, Ohio and upstate New York. O’Brien has made every

trip, from Philadelphia to Washington and down to Richmond, Va.,

joined by coaches from various other Penn State teams along the

way.

Women’s basketball coach Coquese Washington was at the New York

event, held in a midtown Manhattan hotel.

But there is no doubt O’Brien, the man given the almost

impossible task of replacing Joe Paterno at Penn State, is the star

of this show, with his power-point presentation and

pump-up-the-crowd speeches.

”I have a lot of energy,” he said. ”I really love what I do.

So at the end of the day, if people aren’t won over by that, then

there’s not much I can do about that. All I can do, is do the best

job with my staff to field a very competitive football

program.”

He seemed a surprising choice to replace the late Paterno, major

college football’s winningest coach.

O’Brien, who was offensive coordinator for the New England

Patriots, had never been a head coach before and now not only is he

replacing an icon, but he was doing so under the most uniquely

difficult conditions.

Paterno was ousted in November as a child-sex abuse scandal

involving his longtime assistant, Jerry Sandusky, was rocking the

school and dominating national headlines.

Many Penn State supporters were resentful of the way Paterno,

who died in January, was let go by the school’s board of

directors.

O’Brien acknowledges part of his job has been restoring faith in

Penn State football among those who might be skeptical or

disillusioned with the program and the school.

”I knew when I took the job, I was very well aware of what I

was getting into. That this was way more than making sure of what

routes we were running on third down,” he said.

”I do I feel like somewhat of an ambassador for the university.

I’m proud to do that because I do believe in the university. I

believe in the mission of the university. I believe in the athletic

program. I believe in the mission of Penn State as it related to

football: to win football games and make sure your players are

experiencing a full college life.”

Among the countless things Paterno did for Penn State was help

provide a strong bond with New York. Paterno grew up in Brooklyn

and Penn State, despite being closer to Youngstown, Ohio, than the

Brooklyn Bridge, always identified more with the northeast than the

midwest.

That’s changed some since in Penn State joined the Big Ten 20

years ago. But make no mistake, the popularity of Nittany Lions

football in the New York area rivals that of any Big East team.

”For decades, there has been a tight relationship between Penn

State and the New York metro area,” said Roger Williams, executive

director of the Penn State alumni association. ”There’s a big

connection with New York city, just in terms of demographics.”

The caravan is also about recruiting for O’Brien and the other

coaches. He can’t have contact with high school players at this

time of year, but he knows his message can get to them.

”You’ve got a lot of former football players that are in

Manhattan working and hopefully they’ll be here tonight,” he said.

”Because they go back to their hometowns and talk about what Penn

State football stands for now under my leadership.”

New York city doesn’t produce many top-flight Division I

football players, though the surrounding area does, especially

northern New Jersey, where many commute to the city for work.

But it’s not just players being recruited. The New York city

area has also been home to many of Penn State’s most influential

alumni, people who often show their support with big checks.

”New York has certainly been instrumental to our fundraising

success over the last quarter century at Penn State,” Williams

said. ”A lot of the leadership of our fundraising campaigns has

been New Yorkers.”

O’Brien said if there are factions of Penn State supporters and

former Nittany Lions who are turning away from the program, he

hasn’t been in contact with any of them.

”There hasn’t been one letterman, and I’ve spoken to a lot of

them, over 100, there hasn’t been one guy to my face that has said

to me anything negative,” he said. ”Everything has been very

supportive.

”Obviously we’ve got to win games. They’re not going to be with

us if we don’t win. But to this point everybody has been very

supportive. The lettermen that live in State college. The lettermen

who live in New York city.”