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Bill O'Brien: The Penn State Years

Posted Jan 3, 2014

Bill O'Brien was named the 15th coach in Penn State football history on January 6, 2012. Upon his hiring, a common sentiment was reverberated by not only those in Happy Valley, but everyone inside the football world.

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Bill O'Brien was named the 15th coach in Penn State football history on January 6, 2012. Upon his hiring, a common sentiment was reverberated by not only those in Happy Valley, but everyone inside the football world.

"He's an educator and he's a very humble guy," Dave Joyner, PSU's Director of Athletics said.

"He is a coach who is really a teacher and an educator."

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Bill O'Brien," former New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi added.

"They're getting a great man," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said.

O'Brien's tenure at Penn State began in midst of unprecedented times, with the program and university reeling in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Longtime and revered head football coach Joe Paterno had stepped down; creating the opening O'Brien was hired to fill. With crippling sanctions levied by the NCAA and roster turnover at an all-time high, O'Brien’s task was not only to rebuild a team, but to repair an entire program.

It is safe to say he succeeded. On his biography page of the Penn State website, the glowing terms used to describe O'Brien's tenure in Happy Valley are evident as soon as you start reading.

"To call Bill O'Brien's first year as a head coach 'great' would be a vast understatement. A thesaurus is unable to contain all the superlatives that could be used to describe the overall efforts by O'Brien, his staff and the Nittany Lion squad members during his thrilling, challenging and memorable first season as head coach at Penn State."

That first year ended with an 8-4 overall record, including a 6-2 mark in Big Ten play. The Nittany Lions finished second in the league, capped off by a 24-21 defeat over nationally ranked Wisconsin to end the season. His eight wins were the most by a first-year Penn State coach in the 126 years of the storied program.

O'Brien, who served as offensive coordinator in addition to his head coaching duties, helmed a dynamic and up tempo offense that led the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions averaged 437 yards per game in conference play, and were second in scoring offense (32.6 ppg).

The PSU offense featured the Big Ten's passing leader (current Oakland Raider Matt McGloin) and top receiver in Allen Robinson. McGloin's passing prowess broke nine school records while Robinson snagged a Penn State season record 77 catches.

O'Brien's hard work and team success garnered many accolades including some of the biggest that college football has to offer.

The Dorsett, Massachusetts native captured the 2012 Bear Bryant Coach of the Year, ESPN Coach of the Year and the Maxwell Football Club Collegiate Coach of the Year. In addition, O’Brien was named a finalist for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year and the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year by the Football Writers Association of America.

The Big Ten Conference awarded him with the Dave McClain Coach of the Year (media) and Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year (coaches). O'Brien was just the seventh first-year head coach to ever win the McClain award.

Year two of the O'Brien era saw continued success, with Penn State going 7-5. The Nittany Lions once again defeated Wisconsin, this time on the road, and captured a thrilling four overtime win over Michigan.

With freshman Christian Hackenberg under center, O'Brien's offense once again put up big numbers. The Nittany Lions tallied 432 yards per game, good enough for fourth in the Big Ten. Hackenberg was named Big Ten Freshman of the week on five different occasions.  The first year signal caller was also named the Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year.

Despite facing limitations, O'Brien's tenure in Happy Valley can only be viewed as a positive. The Nittany Lions are trending upward, the exact opposite direction from the day O'Brien took over.

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