The best coach in the Big Ten.
To senior Penn State cornerback Stephon Morris, that comes down to two words:
“Loyalty and honesty,” he said of first-year coach Bill O’Brien.
“He’s not the kind of coach who bullshits you. This year’s team played more loose. We were playing with a lot of passion and playing fast. We weren’t always on our heels. He allowed us to play our game and inspired us to go out and have fun.”
Certainly, O’Brien quickly built a trust and strong relationship with his players, put them in the best positions to succeed, and shrugged off NCAA sanctions and player defections to lead the Nittany Lions into the surprise team of the league.
And so O’Brien swept both of the Big Ten’s coach of the year honors (voting from media and coaches), beating out Urban Meyer and his 12-0 Ohio State Buckeyes.
Plus, he reportedly told an Atlanta radio station that he will return for Penn State next season, undoubtedly.
Meanwhile, veteran Penn State players blossomed under him and his new staff, from Mike Mauti being named the Big Ten’s top linebacker to Matt McGloin leading the league in passing. New stars also emerged, from Allen Robinson becoming the school’s all-time single-season receiving leader to Deion Barnes being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
So many players simply said O’Brien helped them get better but made it fun, too. He turned the music up at practice, encouraged players to celebrate big plays and turned even brutal outside winter conditioning sessions into competitions.
During a team meeting the night before the Wisconsin game, the seniors were able to address the team, one by one. All of them thanked O’Brien.
“Last year, at this time, a lot of us were not given the opportunity Coach O’Brien gave us,” Morris said. “We have a whole different scheme (on defense) and he just allowed us to go out and have fun. He put us in the right places at the right time. He never put a player in the wrong position.”
Morris talked about that when the offense not only was struggling but showing little enthusiasm in spring practice, “he hated that to the max. He wants us to get excited.
“He pretty much brought football back here, and a lot of that was having fun on the field. He put the fun back in the game. It’s just being passionate about what you do.”
As a result, six of his Lions earned All-Big Ten first-team honors Monday night. With a help of an impressive staff he hired — including holdovers Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden — his team won eight of its final 10 games and Barnes earned Penn State’s first Big Ten freshman of the year honor since Curtis Enis in 1995.
Next up for O’Brien is the Bear Bryant National Coach of the Year award, where he is on the watch list.
“From the time I first met Bill in February, I thought he was the perfect fit for Penn State football,” said Gerry DiNardo, Big Ten Network analyst. “He had an immediate and great connection with the team and quickly became their leader …
“When you watch him call plays, he is one of the best play callers in college football. He is a passionate football man who has connected with the players and the community.”
Joe Paterno won Big Ten coach of the year honors in 1994, 2005 and 2008.