Penn St. coach Bill O’Brien got his first big break when George O’Leary hired him on at Georgia Tech as a graduate assistant. From there he moved on to Maryland, Duke, the New England Patriots, and eventually the head coach position at Penn St. The Nittany Lions will host O’Leary’s Central Florida team this Saturday, with Penn St. six point favorites and the total set at 51. O’Brien talked about O’Leary in this week’s press conference at Penn St:
Bill, how would you describe your relationship with George O’Leary, and did you know him before he hired you at Georgia Tech?
COACH O’BRIEN: I have a fantastic relationship with Coach O’Leary. No, I didn’t know him before he hired me.
It’s kind of an interesting story. I was basically a graduate assistant at Brown. When I graduated from Brown, I went to work at Brown. The first year at Brown, I worked for Mickey Kwiatkowski. I was basically the tight end something?? I don’t know what I was, but I was helping out on offense.
Mark Whipple came in, and he got the job after Mickey was let go, and I moved over to defense, and I was like a defensive graduate assistant for Mark Whipple. Then I started to apply for graduate assistant jobs for that year. I want to say it was ’94?? I think it was ’94.
Jimmy Bernhardt, who works for us here, had a relationship with George O’Leary from being a high school coach on Long Island. George was an assistant college coach at Syracuse and used to recruit Jimmy’s high school. There was a big New York/Long Island connection there. So Jimmy coached me at Brown. This is a long story.
Jimmy coached me at Brown, and I said, Jimmy, I want to be a graduate assistant. So Jimmy called George, ’94 thereabouts, and said, hey, look, I?? actually, George called Jimmy, I think it was, and said, Do you know anybody that’s smart enough to get into graduate school at Georgia Tech and dumb enough to want to coach? And Jimmy said, I got just the guy for you.
So I then began a relationship with Doug Marrone because Doug Marrone was the Director of Operations at Georgia Tech at the time, and he was the guy that I worked through to all the logistics, and finally George O’Leary hired me, and I started there in, I think it was, May or April of ’95. So that’s how it happened.
It seems like a lot of the guys you worked with at Georgia Tech in some form have influenced not only the way you coached but also your coaching staff. Why for you was this such an influential time in your coaching development?
COACH O’BRIEN: One of those?? I don’t know. Probably more than one of those years, but I know?? one of those staffs, I should say?? we had a lot of really good coaches on those staffs.
George was the head coach. We had Ralph Friedgen. We had Doug Marrone. We had Stan Hixson. At times we had Mac McWhorter. Randy Edsel was on there at times. We had a laundry list of some really good, topnotch coaches, many of whom went on to become head coaches. Danny Crossman, who’s Doug’s special teams coordinator in Buffalo now. We just had a lot of good coaches there, and I learned a lot from them, and I contributed what I contributed to that staff, but I think we all learned from Coach O’Leary.
And I think every one of those guys would say we owe a lot to Coach O’Leary because he taught us about tough, physical football, great organization, things like that. But, yeah, there were a lot of great coaches on those staffs.
Q. What has the UCF defense done to really limit big plays? I think they’ve only allowed two, and you guys have been pretty good on creating them this year on offense.
COACH O’BRIEN: UCF, they’re very sound on defense. They’re going to line up, and they’re going to know what to do. They’re very physical. They’re well?coached. And that has a lot to do with, you know, obviously the players that they have and the coaching staff they have, but the type of defense they play, again, it doesn’t really lend itself to giving up explosive plays.
So in order to get an explosive play, we’re going to have to work real hard to come up with something we think will work and then execute it on gameday. This is a very difficult defense to go against, and you can see that every snap on the tape.