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Penn State AD lauds football coach O'Brien, thinks he'll stick around

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Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien led the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 record during his first season at the helm.

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Scott Brown
Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 7:30 p.m.

Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner looked at the speculation that caused angst among fans as affirmation that the school had made the right choice when it hired Bill O'Brien as only its third head football coach since 1950.

And Joyner said he believes O'Brien is as committed to Penn State as he was before leading the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 record and earning Big Ten Coach of the Year honors.

“He's here, and he's not going anywhere,” Joyner told the Tribune-Review on Wednesday. “He and I have a lot of respect for each other. Other coaches have great respect for him as he does for them, and I think it's a great environment. I'm gratified that he's here and I look forward to a very long association with him.”

O'Brien drew national acclaim for the job he did in holding the football program together after the NCAA levied severe sanctions against it in July — and for leading Penn State to eight wins in its final 10 games after an 0-2 start.

His success and NFL background also spawned talk that O'Brien will be a target of NFL teams looking to fill head-coaching vacancies after the 2012 season.

O'Brien has a contract that runs through 2020 and a buyout that would cost him about $9 million. But Joyner said he believes O'Brien's long-term future at Penn State is secure because the former New England Patriots offensive coordinator looks at his job as transcending football given all the program has had to overcome in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

O'Brien told an Atlanta radio station Tuesday that he plans to be at Penn State next season.

“When we were looking for the next coach, we wanted someone that wanted to be here for a long time,” Joyner said, “and we wanted somebody that wasn't looking at this as a steppingstone because this is a special place, and we wanted someone that embraced that, and Bill has embraced that from the first moment I talked to him. Every second since then it's done nothing but continue.”

O'Brien's job only gets tougher after a season in which Penn State won six of eight Big Ten games and capped it with a 24-21 overtime win over Wisconsin.

Because of the sanctions, Penn State is only allowed to offer 15 scholarships annually over the next four years. The Nittany Lions will be allowed to have 65 scholarship players — the maximum allowed by the NCAA is 85 — from 2014-17.

The diminished numbers will make it difficult for the Nittany Lions, and it will make it harder for them to recruit against schools that don't operate under the same restrictions.

“One big question with the depleted roster is, will they win?” national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said.

Penn State almost has filled out its 2013 class, and Farrell said he expects most of the players who have verbally committed to sign in February.

Tight end Adam Breneman, quarterback Christian Hackenberg, offensive lineman Brendan Mahon and defensive end Garrett Sickels are the anchors of the class. It bodes well for Penn State signing the four, Farrell said, because they have become friends and have pledged to stick together.

The difficulties Penn State faces in recruiting, Farrell said, have been minimized by O'Brien proving himself as a head coach and the momentum it generated by the 2012 season.

“I think it's going to be a couple of years before you have them in the top 25 recruiting, but this year could have been a disaster,” Farrell said. “If 0-2 had fallen to 2-10, I don't think we'd be talking about the same situation.”

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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