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Countdown to Blue-White / 23 Days: Bill O’Brien is No Longer the New Kid on the Big Ten Block

by on March 28, 2013 2:24 AM

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From Penn State’s Feb. 6, 2013 National Signing Day Press Conference official transcript:

Q. Are those (NCAA recruiting rule) changes good for college football?

COACH O'BRIEN: “I'm just a rookie head coach. I don't know. That's probably for somebody else to answer than me.”

That’s just about the last time the Penn State coach can reasonably get away with that rejoinder (not to be confused with davejoyner). This spring, Bill O’Brien is a rookie head coach no more. But he’s younger than you think.

O’Brien’s shaved head, no-nonsense demeanor and his steady hand on and off the field throughout the Sandusky scandal and its never-ending aftermath belie his youngish age – especially among his Big Ten brethren (including family black sheep Tim Beckman of Illinois).

Of the dozen Big Ten head football coaches guiding their teams this spring, O’Brien is:

-- At age 43 the second-youngest. (Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald is 38.) Nebraska’s Bo Pelini (45) is next in line after O’Brien. The average age of a Big Ten head coach is 51.1 years.

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-- The only coach with just one year as a top boss in his career – in 2012, when Penn State was 8-4 overall and 6-2 the conference. (With two years as a head coach are Indiana’s Kevin Wilson, 5-19 in a pair of seasons, and Purdue’s new coach, Darrell Hazell, who was 16-10 in two years at Kent State.)

-- Tenth in days on the job, with 447, although both Beckman (452 days) and Urban Meyer (485 days) each have also coached only one season in the Big Ten. That’s about all the latter two coaches have in common. Under Beckman, Illinois was 2-10 last season (even with Ryan Nowicki), while as a head coach overall he is 23-26. Meyer, 48, led the Buckeyes to a 12-0 record in his first season in Columbus, and is 116-23, with two national titles, in 11 seasons and four stops as a head coach.

Kirk Ferentz, with 5,226 days at Iowa, is the senior coach in the conference. By comparison, Joe Paterno was head coach at Penn State for 16,688 days – from Feb. 19, 1966, when he was all of 37 years old, to Nov. 9, 2011, the day he was fired. (His first calendar year as head coach was 315 days, his last 313.)

-- Fourth in conference winning percentage at .667, trailing only Meyer (1.000), Michigan’s Brady Hoke (.731) and Pelini (.710, including the Big 12).

-- Second in fewest years coaching (beginning his 21st season), ahead of only Northwestern wonderboy Fitzgerald (starting No. 15).

-- Certainly a guy who has made his years coaching count. He is one of three Big Ten bosses to have coached in the NFL, and the only one of the dozen Big Ten head coaches to have been a coordinator at the highest level of his profession. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz coached for six years in the NFL, including three seasons at Cleveland under O’Brien’s mentor at New England, Bill Belichick. Pelini coached for nine years in the NFL.

-- Part of a pack of newer coaches in the conference. Two-thirds of the Big Ten head coaches have been in the conference for three years or less – and that includes new guys on the block Hazell and Wisconsin’s Gary Anderson.

At least as far as the Big Ten is concerned, those two are now the ones who are the rookie head coaches.

Recent stories:

Day 28: Who Replaces Matt Stankiewitch?

Day 27: Who Steps up on the Defensive Line?

Day 26: Does Adam Breneman Redshirt His Freshman Year?

Day 25: What Will Allen Robinson Do as an Encore?

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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