PSU's O'Brien 'all business'

Bob Cohn
| Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012

Until his name was blasted over TV and the Internet as Penn State's new football coach, most of America knew Bill O'Brien mainly as the New England Patriots assistant coach who screamed at his considerably more famous quarterback Tom Brady on the sideline during a game against the Washington Redskins a few weeks ago.

In Warwick, R.I., Mickey Kwiatkowski watched a replay of the spat and enjoyed it immensely.

"My jaw was on my chest," said Kwiatkowski, who coached O'Brien as a defensive end and linebacker at Brown University and gave him his first coaching job. "I said, 'Oh, my God. You go, O'B!' "

The Penn State search committee headed by acting athletic director Dave Joyner seemed just as enthused and presumably learned a few more things about O'Brien, 42, enough to name him successor to the legendary Joe Paterno.

O'Brien couldn't be reached for comment.

Penn State scheduled a news conference for 11:30 this morning to introduce O'Brien. It will be televised by the Big Ten Network.

Amid the general surprise and reviews of the choice ranging from approval to extreme dislike, Kwiatkowski was ecstatic.

"The circumstances that presented themselves were so unique," he said. "This opportunity doesn't come along to a young guy -- who truly deserves it -- very often. They're getting a great guy, and I hope they give him a chance.

"He's a kid that I love who I've grown tremendously to respect. He always seemed to do the right thing. Never an issue of gray. When his eligibility ended, I immediately said, 'Come help us.' He has a great amount of dignity, a great amount of self-awareness, and he doesn't lose sight of what he's involved in."

As for his football mind, O'Brien, the Patriots' offensive coordinator, is "a really good tactical coach, excellent," said retired quarterback Trent Dilfer, an NFL analyst for ESPN. "As good as I see in the NFL right now."

It might not seem like a challenge coaching Brady, who is one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks and a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But this year he exceeded 5,000 passing yards for the first time in his career, and the Patriots have the No. 2 offense in the league.

O'Brien in four years worked his way up from offensive assistant to wide receivers coach, quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator, the latest assistant groomed by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick for a high-profile head coaching job. But the combined record of Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini and Josh McDaniels is not especially glittering.

Crennel, Mangini and McDaniels went a combined 68-104 as NFL head coaches. Weis was 35-27 as Notre Dame head coach but just 16-21 in his last three seasons.

Dilfer said he told a reporter last year, "This Bill O'Brien, he's something else. I love what he's doing."

Playing at Brown, O'Brien "asked a lot of questions, and I liked that he had the self-confidence to explore things with the coaching staff," Kwiatkowski said. "I never got the feeling he was intimidated, unprepared. He was right on point."

After his eligibility ran out, O'Brien still had a few classes to take to graduate. Kwiatkowski said he hired him as his "full-time" tight ends coach "on a part-time salary." O'Brien had to work with friends who were still players, a potentially awkward situation.

"It could have been tough for an ordinary kid, but he didn't have a problem with it," Kwiatkowski said. "When Billy stepped on the field, he was all business. These were guys who were his friends, guys he walked around campus with, but they knew he was to be respected. It was like, 'This is football. This is what we do, and I'm gonna coach you.'"

O'Brien remained at Brown for a year after Kwiatkowski was fired, coaching linebackers. He then held various assistant's jobs at Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke before going to New England in 2007.

"He's a very qualified guy," said Ralph Friedgen, who worked with O'Brien when both were assistants at Georgia Tech and hired him a few years after becoming head coach at Maryland. "Very bright, energetic, hard-working. He's coached at both levels and succeeded at both levels.

"He does a great job relating to people, and I think he's a very good motivator. He's a problem solver. He's competitive, and he's emotional. ... I think he knows when to apply the whip and when to click the horses."

Additional Information:

Bill O'Brien

-- Coaching experience: 1993-94, assistant, tight ends/inside linebackers, Brown; 1995-98, offensive graduate assistant, Georgia Tech; 1999-2001, running backs/recruiting coordinator, Georgia Tech; 2001-02 assistant head coach/offensive coordinator/quarterbacks, Georgia Tech; 2003-04, running backs, Maryland; 2005-06, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks, Duke. 2007, offensive assistant, New England Patriots; 2008, wide receivers, Patriots; 2009-10 quarterbacks, Patriots; 2011, offensive coordinator/quarterback, Patriots.

-- Notable: Linebacker and defensive end at Brown (1990-92). ... In his first season at Maryland, the Terrapins finished second in the ACC in rushing and defeated West Virginia in Gator Bowl. ... During two-years as offensive coordinator, Georgia Tech played in a bowl game each season. ... In 2008, Patriots wide receivers posted their third-highest yardage output in franchise history. ... This season, the Patriots finished third in the NFL in scoring at 32.1 points per game, second in yards per game with 428 and enter the playoffs as the AFC's top seed.

-- Personal: Born Oct. 23, 1969, in Dorchester, Mass. ... Has a wife, Colleen, and sons, Jack and Michael.


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