PSU spring game marks O’Brien’s debut at stadium
In nearly four months in Happy Valley, Penn State coach Bill
O’Brien has delivered speeches, overseen pre-dawn conditioning
drills and started installing a new high-octane offense.
But the most memorable day yet of his new job arrives
The Blue-White game ending Penn State spring practice will mark
the first time O’Brien will jog on to the Beaver Stadium field as
coach – another milestone in the school’s historic transition from
the 46-year tenure of the late Joe Paterno.
”People will look at it as more important than the average
Blue-White game,” left tackle Adam Gress said this week. ”All the
fans want to see what coach O’Brien has to offer.”
In many respects though, Saturday is much more than about
The glorified scrimmage, which typically draws tens of thousands
of blue-and-white backers, is also the first event at the stadium
since Paterno died in January at age 85, less than three months
after being diagnosed with lung cancer. His funeral procession
wound through campus and right by the stadium tunnel through which
Paterno ambled into work on fall Saturdays.
Among many loyal fans, the emotional wounds over his death as
well as the end of his tenure as coach last November are still
fresh. School trustees ousted Paterno in the aftermath of child
sexual abuse charges against retired defensive coordinator Jerry
Sandusky has maintained his innocence as he awaits trial.
Paterno testified before a grand jury investigating Sandusky that
he relayed a 2002 allegation brought to him by a graduate assistant
to his campus superiors, including the administrator overseeing the
Authorities have said Paterno wasn’t a target of the probe. The
Board of Trustees ousted him citing in part a moral obligation to
do more to alert authorities outside the school, and a ”failure of
The wrangling continued this week after Penn State agreed to
provide millions in payments and benefits to Paterno’s estate and
family members under the late football coach’s employment contract,
although a family lawyer says the Paternos did not sign away their
right to sue.
Outside the stadium Friday, Alice Reber and two friends snapped
pictures at the life-sized, bronzed statue of Paterno. A bouquet of
blue and white flowers in a glass vase sat at its feet. The statue
has turned into a makeshift memorial at times, especially since
Like other fans interviewed Friday, Reber said that while
Paterno may share some blame, she also didn’t like how the trustees
handled his departure.
”It wasn’t all football that Joe Paterno had invested in this
school. It was the kids, the caliber of kids and the sense of
family,” said Reber, of Exton, whose son graduated from Penn State
two years ago. She also said the attention over Paterno and the
trustees shouldn’t make people lose sight of the broader issue of
stopping or reporting instances of child abuse.
The scandal though, ”hasn’t made us dislike Penn State. Penn
State can go on without these cast of characters,” she said.
But while the administrators, alumni, students and other members
of the campus community try to focus on the future, the various
investigations into the scandal keep drumming up the past.
O’Brien, for one, has done his best to keep his sights on the
football program moving forward.
”That’s all we talk about. We don’t talk about the past. We
weren’t here when that happened,” he said last week. ”At the same
time, we’re very mindful of things like child abuse and making sure
we understand we have to reach out to victims of child abuse,
charitable organizations and things like that.”
O’Brien was hired in January after serving as the offensive
coordinator for the New England Patriots. He had no previous
connections to Penn State, and some former players briefly
questioned his credentials since it did not include previous
He has worked hard since then to win over lettermen, and his
outreach efforts appeared to have gone over well with fans,
”After he got on board, he made a lot of good moves,” said Dan
McCahan, 48, of Charlotte, N.C., a Penn State graduate who visited
the Paterno statue while his daughter was on a campus tour. ”He’s
positioned the Penn State football program in a better light
through his efforts.”
While promising to uphold the traditions and focus on academics
that Paterno championed, O’Brien has also started to imprint his
own stamp on the program.
A re-tooled offense based on the pass-happy attack he ran with
the Patriots is the biggest change. There’s also a new strength and
conditioning program based more on Olympic-style lifting and free
”Once we started spring ball, it was really icing on the cake
to get out there and just start hitting each other again,”
defensive tackle Jordan Hill said.
Instead of dividing the entire team into two separate squads for
the Blue-White game, Saturday will feature a new ”offense versus
defense” scoring system. For instance, the defense could score six
points for a turnover and four points for a sack.
At least one thing hasn’t changed under O’Brien: for the third
straight season, Penn State is undecided on its starting
quarterback. O’Brien plans to rotate Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden and
Paul Jones for equal stints Saturday, and hopes to narrow the field
going into the offseason.