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Penn State notebook: O'Brien says Paterno would be 'proud' of program

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 8:24 p.m.
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Penn State coach Bill O'Brien celebrates after the Nittany Lions scored against Ohio duirng the second quarter Sept. 1, 2012, at Beaver Stadium in University Park.

Bill O'Brien always has spoken respectfully of Joe Paterno.

O'Brien said on Wednesday that he believes his predecessor would approve of how he is running Penn State's football program.

“We're recruiting good kids, we're putting a huge emphasis on academics, we care about the guys we coach,” O'Brien said before a dinner hosted by the Penn State Shenango Alumni Society. “I don't know Joe Paterno personally, but I believe he would be proud of that.”

Paterno died in January 2012, shortly after Penn State hired O'Brien as head coach.

Paterno's legacy again has become a national talking point following the release of a report his family commissioned to counter the Freeh Report.

The Freeh Report implicated four leaders at Penn State, including Paterno, in a cover-up of Jerry Sandusky's child sexual abuse to protect the football program. It led Penn State to take down the statue of Paterno outside of Beaver Stadium and for the NCAA to level the football program with sanctions.

O'Brien, who has been a key figure in leading Penn State past the Sandusky scandal, said he admires the job Paterno did before him.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the body of work,” O'Brien said. “The wins combined with graduating that high percentage of players will never be matched.”

Red flag for O'Brien

O'Brien is not a fan of a new rule that would punish players for helmet-to-helmet hits with ejections.

“This isn't professional football, these are college kids, so to eject a kid for a high hit, that's a slippery slope,” O'Brien said. “I don't think you need to eject them, but that's just one man's opinion.”

The NCAA Football Rules Committee approved the measure Wednesday. If the added protection for defenseless players also is approved by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel, it will go into effect this season.

A player who violates the rule would be ejected from that game. If the penalty occurs in the second half, the player also would have to sit out the first half of the following game.

Video review would be a factor as to whether a player is ejected for an illegal hit.

Big Ten coaches were shown video during a recent meeting of the types of hits that could lead to ejections.

“I'm an optimist,” O'Brien said. “I don't think these guys are out there trying to hurt people.”

Extra points

Athletics director Dave Joyner said Penn State continues to look into playing a future nonconference game in a destination location such as Florida, California, Hawaii or Ireland. “We're just doing some exploratory things right now,” Joyner said. ... The rumored position switch of Nate Cadogan has not happened — yet. The coaches will evaluate the fifth-year senior at offensive tackle, where he has played, as well as along the defensive line, when spring practice starts next month. “We're probably going to look at him half of spring practice on defense and half of spring practice on offense,” O'Brien said. ... O'Brien was asked if any uniform changes are in the works, which is another way of inquiring whether last names will stay on the back of players' jerseys. “We're a long way from the season,” O'Brien said with a grin.

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at sbrown@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ ScottBrown_Trib.

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