clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

B1G 2012 // Penn State's Smartest Guys in the Room

Getty Images

ike Ohio State, Penn State was faced with having to replace a head coach that had brought historic levels of success to their program. Unlike Ohio State, Penn State was not in position to bring in a blockbuster hire to play the role of white knight.

Where Urban Meyer is was seen as can't-miss, the Bill O'Brien hire was initially considered by many to be a failure. Former players railed against a hire from outside the Penn State family; Lavar Arrington got all butt hurt and claimed he was going to put his Penn State trophies into storage because "I'm done. I'm done with Penn State. If they're done with us, I'm done with them."

More reasonable observers were still surprised at how obscure the O'Brien hire was. Even with the circumstances, the expectation was that Penn State should have been able to bring in the type of rising star college coach that was already at least a blip on the national radar. A common reaction was the thought that O'Brien was being brought in as an inbetween coach who would absorb the worse fallout of the scandal and allow the next hire, the good hire, some distance between both the scandal and the shadow of Joe Paterno. How many times did you hear a talking head say something along the lines of "Nobody wants to be the guy that follows The Guy. You want to be the guy that follows the guy that follows The Guy"?

We're a couple months into the O'Brien Era now. I think the consensus is that the guy has handled himself extremely well so far. He and his staff are vigorous recruiters and he's embraced the traditions of the university while modernizing many aspects of the program that had gotten a little staid. That being said, let's review the resume he brings to the table that was so concerning to fans a few months ago.

The Head Coach -- Bill O'Brien

The Skinny

O'Brien was most recently the Offensive Coordinator for the New England Patriots. He therefore follows a line of Belicheck assistants who have recently failed as head coaches, following in the wake of Charlie Weis, Eric Mangini, Romeo Crennel, and Josh McDaniels. The New England credentials are a bit of a mixed bag. Tom Brady and the offense have been humming along just fine for years there, so it's not like O'Brien is the architect or talent developer responsible for that success. That being said, in his three years he guided the offense through a transition from being heavily wide receiver based to the tight end focused phenomenon it was last year. He's shown the ability to mold his offense around what players he is given, which would be a great talent at the college level where rosters are constantly turning over.

Prior to the pro's, the bulk of O'Brien's career has been at the college level. He caoched in college for 14 years, four of which were as an offensive coordinator at Georgia Tech and then Duke. While he was associated with a lot of success in New England, the same cannot be said for his time as a college OC (from Coaches By the Numbers):

  • O’Brien’s numbers as a college offensive coordinator leave a lot to be desired. In his four years as an offensive coordinator, O’Brien’s teams averaged 21.08 points per game and 331.03 yards per game. Of active and inactive offensive coordinators since 2001 with a minimum of four years experience, only three coachesscored 30+ points a lower percent of the time than Coach O’Brien.
  • As an offensive coordinator, O’Brien’s teams won 32.65% of their games. In O’Brien’s two years as the OC at Duke, the Blue Devils went 1-22.

Not pretty. Penn State fans have spent a lot of time this spring getting excited about how O'Brien will modernize the offense, and for good reason. The fact that our team audibled around three times a game in the past is really pretty pitiful in this day and age, and just the ability to check into or out of a run when that's what the defense is giving you should translate into a lot more first downs. O'Brien has already picked a starting QB, something that the previous regime didn't do... ever...last season. From the bits and pieces fans have heard, the players are very excited about the new playbook and the new coaching.

There has been a lot of slack regarding offensive playcalling at Penn State, and any young, smart, experienced offensive coordinator should be able to produce better results than last year. That being said, O'Brien has flat out not had success calling plays in college. We can hope that with better personnel and with the knowledge gained in New England he is going to produce better results than at Georgia Tech and Duke, but unfortunately if he is successful at Penn State that will be his first real success as a college OC in his career.

Quotable O'Brien on what his recruiting message is:

"I think the number one message is what type of program we want to be. It is going to be a program of integrity. It is going to be a program of honesty. It is going to be a program of extremely hard work. It is going to be a program that is going to make Penn State people very proud. We want to be a tough, physical, smart football team on the field. And then off the field, we want to make sure we are going to class and earning our degree so that when we are done at Penn State, whether we play pro football or not, we can have a meaningful life and contribute to society in a meaningful way."

Twitter Trend: There's no real Bill O'Brien twitter, but his fake evil doppleganger has emerged on @evilbillobrien. Might be worth checking out for the background picture alone. In lieu of a real twitter, how about the Youtube video of him fighting with Patriots QB Tom Brady that was the only thing any of us knew about O'Brien before his first press conference?

Tom Brady, Bill O'Brien Getting it in... (via MrKingte3636)

The Coordinators

Assistant Head Coach & Wide Receivers Coach - Stan Hixon

Bill O'Brien will act as Offensive Coordinator and be calling the plays. In lieu of copy-pasting the profile you just read, let's take a quick look at Penn State's new Assistant Head Coach, also coaching wide receivers. Hixon has coached at a number of schools, including South Carolina, Wake, Georgia Tech (meeting O'Brien), and LSU. At LSU Hixon worked under Nick Saban and was part of the 2003 National Championship team. Following the championship season he left for the NFL and spent time with the Redskins and Bills from 2004 through 2011. The guy has 32 years of coaching experience to bring to the table and seems as if he's done a very good job developing collegiate and young professional receivers. He's described himself as a teacher and that helping develop young players was the motivation for returning to the college game. It doesn't seem as if he'll be drawing up any plays but odds are that he will make some significant, positive contributions on the offensive side of the ball.

Twitter: No deal.

Unresearched O/U on years it will take to be a Head Coach: The guy has been a wide receivers coach for decades and hasn't made the jump to coordinator. Seems as if that's role he likes and that's what he will be sticking to.

Defensive Coordinator -- Ted Roof

Ted Roof is the most controversial of O'Brien's hires. On the one hand, he is an experienced assistant with a national championship (Auburn 2010) and head coaching experience on his resume. O'Brien was his offensive coordinator at Duke for a short period of time and, prior to that, they were on the same staff at Georgia Tech in the late nineties, so they have a solid relationship. A little closer examination, though, and the other foot drops: Roof went 4-42 in four seasons as the head coach at Duke (same years that tanked O'Brien's stats above), and while they won big at Auburn he followed up the championship season with a defense ranked 78th in the nation in yards allowed.

Wins don't come easy at Duke. Defenses regress after Nick Fairley leaves after his junior year. 78th in total defense, however, is not the type of unit Penn State fans are used to or willing to accept. While we've wanted for years to see more of the blitzing and man coverage that Roof intends to employ, we aren't going to be too happy to start seeing it if we're getting roasted for long gains.

It's worth mentioning that the entire defensive staff has not been replaced. Larry Johnson Sr. remains on staff and is a nationally-heralded defensive line coach who has consistently produced top draft picks over the last decade. LB coach Ron Vanderlinden stays on as well. Regardless of how the defensive schemes may change, expect Penn State to continue to produce stout front sevens that keep them in most Big Ten games.

Twitter: Pretty sure that @TedRoofAu, who's profile reads "the most horrifically bad defensive coordinator in all of Auburn football history, my zones are as soft as a teddy bear" is not the real deal. Well I really, really hope it's not.

Unresearched O/U on years it will take to be a Head Coach: Not sure if Roof would be seen as head coaching material again in the future. He was released by Auburn following last season, and then caught on as the DC with UCF. After a 33-day stint over the holidays he was picked up by O'Brien and given another shot in a major college league. The talent and expectations for Penn State's defenses are already high; Roof would have to produce some staggering results to put himself in contention for another HC gig.

BONUS: Director of Strength and Conditioning -- Craig Fitzgerald

You haven't heard the whole story on the new Penn State coaching staff until you're familiar with new training coach Craig Fitzgerald, plucked early in O'Brien's tenure from South Carolina. As the head strength coach, Fitzgerald has the opportunity to meet with the players more than any other coach during the offseason. Penn State fans are hoping that his updated training regime can transform our guys into elite athletes, but perhaps even more they are hoping that his intensity will rub off and instill a greater sense of competition on the squad. What kind of attitude does he bring to the program? You can spot him at about 6:45 in the video below, he's the guy wearing shorts and a t-shirt before the sun has risen on an early February day in central Pennsylvania (yeah, that's snow in the background).

Inside Winter Workouts with Penn State Football (via GoPSUTV)