O’Brien reaffirms commitment to PSU

STATE COLLEGE – Bill O’Brien wanted the media to know the buttoned shirt and sport jacket he was wearing weren’t for their benefit — he was heading to the American Football Coaches Association convention, where he was scheduled to speak.

The other thing that O’Brien wanted to be absolutely clear about was that his reported meetings with two pro teams last week before deciding to stay at Penn State had nothing to do with his salary ($2.3 million per year) or other concessions from the university.

“You really don’t know me if you write something or say something that this guy did it for leverage and money,” O’Brien said Monday in a 15-minute opening statement before he took questions for another 25 minutes in the Beaver Stadium media room. “I didn’t do anything. I had a conversation in the best interest of my family with a few people, and, at the end of the day, this was the decision I made. We’re all faced with choices. I chose Penn State because I love coaching these players, I like our staff, and I like the direction we’re headed.

“I’ve never asked anyone for a raise, and no one’s even brought up the fact that you get a raise. It gets my blood boiling when somebody writes something or somebody tells somebody else that this is about money.”

The Big Ten coach of the year and finalist for several national awards after leading the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 record in his first season despite being hampered by severe NCAA penalties stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, O’Brien flatly denied the rumor that he received a reported $1.3 million raise through a donation from booster Terry Pegula.

“I’ve never asked Dr. [Dave] Joyner or Dr. Erickson for a raise,” O’Brien said, referring to Penn State’s acting athletic director and president. “Nobody at Penn State has ever come to me saying, ‘We’re going to make a donation, so you can get a raise.’ That’s a bunch of malarkey. It’s not true. It never happened. And it never will happen. That’s the last thing that I’m about. If I was about money, more than likely, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”

O’Brien declined to mention the NFL teams he said reached out to him through his agent, Joe Linta, but it’s been widely reported that he met with the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles last week before reaffirming his commitment to PSU on Thursday night.

To hear O’Brien tell it, those discussions with the NFL didn’t get very far, contrary to several reports throughout the week that he was strongly considering leaving.

“It wasn’t a decision to stay. No job was ever offered to me,” O’Brien said. “I had a couple of conversations, and I decided I really love being the football coach at Penn State, and that’s where it’s at.”

Joyner denied that the university was so concerned that O’Brien would leave that it put together a list of potential successors. He said he was “very confident” O’Brien would be back on the Lion sidelines this fall.

“I had confidence in Bill, and I had confidence in his commitment to Penn State and everybody here and the players,” Joyner said. “That hasn’t changed. Bill O’Brien’s committed to Penn State. I personally believe he wants to be here a long, long time.”

Joyner said O’Brien made no demands to Penn State to keep him on board. O’Brien also did his best to defuse rumors that he and Joyner have a strained relationship and he was displeased with the administration.

“I believe in a chain of command,” he said. “Dr. Erickson is the president of this university, and I have a ton of respect for him. Dr. Joyner is our athletic director, and I have a ton of respect for him. And I follow their lead.”

When questioned about an ESPN report indicating part of the reason he was reportedly considering leaving was because he was assured by university officials that the NCAA wouldn’t put the Lions on probation, O’Brien said no one was sure how that would play out when he was hired.

“I took a leap of faith,” he said.

O’Brien said he has asked for improvements related to things like recruiting staff, training equipment, academic support and marketing of the football team but that those discussions have been regular and ongoing with Joyner in the effort to keep the program on par with other top-tier schools.

Joyner said improving in those areas wouldn’t be a strain on the current athletic budget.

O’Brien mentioned ways of improving the salaries of his assistant coaches through bonuses. Even though the Lions aren’t eligible for the postseason until 2016, O’Brien and Joyner agreed there are ways to reward the staff. O’Brien said he felt the assistants are paid well but could be paid better.

“We’re always trying to improve things for people,” Joyner said. “We have budgets to live with, and we have to run it as a good business. But within that, you want to keep your people happy.”

“My horses in the race here at Penn State are my players and my coaching staff,” O’Brien said. “I want to make sure we do everything we can to be on the cutting edge of having the best football program that we can possibly have.”

O’Brien didn’t exactly close the door to the NFL in the future, though.

“Coaching is my profession. Coaching is something that I love,” O’Brien said. “In my profession, the National Football League is the highest level of coaching.”

He said any talk about a similar go-round with NFL teams after next season was speculative.

“That’s next year. I’m committed to this 2013 team,” O’Brien said. “I anticipate being at Penn State. I plan to be at Penn State.”

Joyner acknowledged there are no guarantees.

“Life’s like that. Joe [Paterno] went through the same thing [with the Patriots in the early 1970s],” Joyner said. “It’s always a risk with any great coach. If people weren’t talking about Bill O’Brien, then we made a lousy hire. So the fact that people are talking about how great he is and what he would do in other places, that’s a real compliment.”