CHICAGO - Bill O'Brien fought back his tears, barely, but his eyes turned red and his voice briefly cracked as he opened up emotionally talking about one memorable and moving moment in his life.
O'Brien has been a rock through all of Penn State's troubles since becoming the football coach in January, displaying a tough, confident demeanor every step of the way, and in particular the past few days since the NCAA severely sanctioned the Nittany Lions.
Early Friday morning, however, near the end of a grueling series of media appearances, O'Brien broke down for a brief moment.
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien meets with fans during an autograph session during Big Ten media days Friday in Chicago.
It had nothing to do with sanctions or players transferring or coaching football.
It had to do with what he called "real life."
O'Brien and his wife, Colleen, have a 10-year-old son, Jack, who has a rare brain disorder called lissencephaly, which means smooth brain. O'Brien hasn't spoken much publicly since coming to Penn State about Jack's condition and its impact on the family, but he opened up to reporters near the conclusion of Big Ten media days.
"He's a great little boy, and his teachers have always loved him," O'Brien said of Jack. "He's got a special air about him. He's got a great laugh, great smile."
It wasn't until Jack was a year old that Bill and Colleen learned of his condition.
"We were first-time parents, so we didn't have a clue, but both of our moms kind of knew something was up that he wasn't developing at the proper rate," O'Brien said.
Tests revealed the lissencephaly, which causes neurological impairment and has no cure.
"I'll never forget it," O'Brien said of learning the news. "He was a little baby, we put him into an MRI because they were going to MRI his brain, and then soon thereafter we got the news.
"That was a tough day. That was a tough day. I'm going to tell you what: That was a hell of a lot tougher than last Monday [when the NCAA sanctions came down]."
The O'Briens have faced many challenges raising Jack, but their resolve remained, and three years after his birth they had another son, Michael.
With everything they had been through with Jack, Colleen was adamant that Michael be tested for lissencephaly.
"They immediately took him, little baby boy, put him in an MRI to make sure that he didn't have [it]," O'Brien said.
"I'll never forget that because when he came out he was healthy as a horse," he added. "He's like too smart. He's like my wife, he got all the brains."
O'Brien handled telling those parts of the story very well Friday. The next part was tougher.
"I remember calling our parents and telling our parents that ..." he said before pausing briefly to clear his throat.
He made it only halfway through the next part before his emotions took over.
"That uh, that he was healthy. And that was a, that was a big thing. That was a big thing," he said, looking off to his right before staring straight ahead and taking a few seconds to gather his thoughts.
There's no doubt O'Brien has one of the toughest jobs in college football history, succeeding Joe Paterno, having to deal with the NCAA punishment and trying to help Penn State University get through an unprecedented scandal.
This is a man, though, who knows how to handle adversity, how to meet it head on and how to get through it.
He also has a perspective on what's important in life, and his job is not at the top of his priority list.
"This is football," he said. "I mean, we've just got to figure out a way. Look, at the end of the day, if we don't get it done, we get fired, we've got to go find a job.
"But what I deal with and what many families deal with at home with a handicapped child and trying to raise a family ... that's life. I mean, this is life, too. But that's real life."
Some Penn State fans and former players were skeptical when O'Brien got the job, and there was one infamous quote by former Nittany Lion linebacker Brandon Short about the hire.
"There is a tangible standard at Penn State that this poor guy knows nothing about," Short said. "I feel badly for him [because] he is clueless and will not have the support of the majority of the Lettermen. This is a hornet's nest [for him]."
Neither Short nor any other critics at the time had any idea that O'Brien not only could handle the hornet's nest, he could do so in a way that has won him rave reviews from fans and media alike.
"Extremely pleased," was how PSU athletic director Dave Joyner described his thoughts about O'Brien on Friday.
"He's the right person at the right time. He really is built for this kind of thing."
O'Brien's personal adversity has helped make him that way, and he gives all the credit to Colleen for the many sacrifices she's made in her life. She earned a law degree but gave up her career to take care of the family.
"We stuck together," O'Brien said, "and we knew that what we had to do was get up and get going and do the best job we could to give Jack the best life possible, and that's what we've done, especially my wife. That's what my wife has done since day one."
Colleen was not available to comment for this story, but her husband said the family has been welcomed with open arms in State College.
"The people here have been great to my family since the day I arrived," O'Brien said. "My wife has great friends already, and there's great wives on our staff that she's friendly with, and that's been big, and Dr. Joyner's wife (Carolyn) has been awesome. We have great neighbors."
O'Brien doesn't want any pity for PSU's situation, doesn't want anyone talking about how the football program will be devastated. As he said repeatedly the past few days, he's "not buying it."
His only focus is staying positive, something he learned from the challenges he's faced in his personal life. And he sounds as if he wouldn't have had it any other way.
"It's been a fulfilling experience, that's for sure, for my wife and I," he said.