Behind the Scenes at Coach O'Brien's Radio Show
Another Penn State football season is in the books.
And with it goes another season of the "Bill O'Brien Show," which took place throughout the fall at Damon's Grill in State College.
For 12 weeks, O'Brien took his seat alongside Steve Jones to talk Penn State football on the Penn State Sports Network for an hour. During that hour, he looked back at the previous week's game, looked ahead to that week's opponent and took questions from the fans who made their way to the restaurant.
The show didn't begin until 6 p.m., but fans typically start to arrive 90 minutes early according to Damon's manager Brandon Perret.
"Usually, by five o'clock, we're full," says Perret. "Especially for home games. It's a big buildup going into a home football weekend. Fans get a chance to talk to the coach, get his autograph, ask him questions, things like that."
On Nov. 21, Damon's clubhouse was full by 5 p.m. An overflow seating area was filled shortly after that.
"We staff extra to accommodate all of the people. It's just a busy night," Perret says.
The show is pretty simple — it's O'Brien and Jones talking football. Since it's a radio show, there are no fancy sets or monitors. On this night, O'Brien came straight from practice in sweatpants and a pullover.
Roger Corey, producer and co-host arrives a couple of hours before the show goes on the air.
"It takes about an hour to set up," Corey explains. "It's an every week thing. You get your system down and it doesn't take long."
As Corey and Company closed out season No. 2, he said that he's been impressed with the crowds. The Penn State faithful turn out in force whether the team is coming off a win, loss or even a bye week.
"The food is good and the drinks are cold," Corey says. "They have a chance for a little face time with coach. Not one-on-one face time, but they want to make sure they can get a pretty close seat ... or a table close enough so that their friends can sit and join them and have a good time."
While Corey and Jones are the voices fans hear the most on the Penn State Sports Network, it's O'Brien's show. The coach — who just finished his second year at 7-5 — makes sure of it.
"It's a fun show," Corey says. "And coach O'Brien does a great job with it."
It's not just a Centre County crowd that shows up to see the coach. According to Corey, Nittany Lion fans from across the country come out in droves.
"We had a guy in here last week from Los Angeles," Corey says. "Now OK, he came to the game and he got in early ... but knowing they come that far and that early ... it's like a pregame pep rally. We have folks that come every week and we have folks who come just for the one game a year they're in town."
Corey says there's always someone from out of town in the audience. On this night, he was right again.
Marcia Schroll from Lake Tahoe, Nev., was in town for the home finale and decided to check out the show.
In fact, it was her first trip to State College.
"I grew up in Pennsylvania and I've always loved Penn State but I've never really been here," she said. "I'm excited, for sure."
Then, there are the regulars. Jack Sell of State College says he checks out the show whenever he can.
"I like to watch the interaction and hear coach O'Brien pontificate on what happened the week before and what's going to happen the next week," Sell says.
Unlike Schroll, Sell has been to his share of Penn State games.
"I've been a fan since 1963. I'm a 1967 graduate," he says. "I'm not a fair-weather fan. Even if they lose a couple, I'm here."
Around 6 p.m., the show goes live. Jones and O'Brien chat about a myriad of topics while Corey navigates the clubhouse, taking questions from fans.
When the show ends at 7, O'Brien departs. If he has time, he signs autographs and poses for photos.
"He's so good with the fans," Corey said, "and he has a good time with this."