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Penn State Football: As A Coach, O'Brien Still Not Yet A Finished Product

by on September 04, 2013 4:30 PM

Bill O'Brien is a smart guy. There is no debating that. But in all actuality he's still new at what he's doing.

Sure he has coached in college, he has been to the biggest stages in the NFL and worked with one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. He has turned a walk-on quarterback into a legitimate NFL caliber player and has guided a university through a season unlike any other in college football history.

At the end of the day though he's still figuring a lot of things out when it comes to being a head coach.

Each Tuesday during the season, O'Brien sits down with the media and answers questions regarding the last game and the upcoming week. For the most part he provides sufficient insight needed to offer up accurate analysis of the team and where the program is headed. Any reporter would love to hear a coach tell them what is really on his mind but it's not a reasonable expectation.

Even so, if you pay close attention to O'Brien when he speaks, you can pick up a few nuggets and read between the lines. Sometimes a burst of unexpected honesty and transparency can lead to the most compelling quotes of the season.

"Monday we go through the film and I show mistakes that they made and I certainly show mistakes that I made.  Nobody in this program makes more mistakes than me, and I tell the guys that.  That's important," O'Brien says.

"I have looked to try to improve every single day and I look to try to improve them every single day and, again, I'm just trying to go out there and do the best job I can for the team, along with our staff, but there is a two-way street there.  We don't go into a meeting and say, "you, you, you," it's "us" all the way."

O'Brien doesn't have to take all the heat himself. Coaches have a long list of ways to deflect critics of a team's performance without taking the blame themselves. If O'Brien wanted to he could answer questions regarding any struggles in an ambiguous fashion and not really saying anything.

But he didn't on Tuesday.

Although he has never been asked about it, O'Brien seems not to be a man content with staying "as-is" for any long period of time. Much like wrestling coach Cael Sanderson, who hit it off with O'Brien during the coaches caravan, Sanderson is described by those around him as goal-oriented and always looking to tackle the next big mountain. It's a type of drive that underscores many great careers in any field of work.

A similar drive can be seen flickering in O'Brien's eyes as he works long hours through football season and beyond. Even in a low scoring and slightly ugly game at MetLife Stadium, O'Brien beamed through the television cameras answering questions at halftime. It was the look of a man doing exactly what he loves to do.

For fans of any team, it's easy to see a coach as a stagnate fixture, something complete and unchanging but in reality many coaches, especially younger ones, are continuously changing entities. They learn, they adapt and they apply new information and techniques every week.

So does O'Brien.

Early mornings, with likely his closest confidant strength coach Craig Fitzgerald, have been spent coming up with new ideas to train and condition the team. O'Brien brings coaches together to watch film, and has already spent time with true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg reviewing film and learning from one another. It's a constant quest to improve and learn from what they have already done.

"You don't have the luxury of seeing them," O'Brien said, comparing the immediate NCAA season to an NFL preseason model. "It's the first time you've coached them in a game -- not the first time you've coached them but going from the Lasch practice fields to MetLife Stadium is a pretty big jump. So we're figuring each other out. Now (Hackenberg) knows what I'm like on game day and I know what he's like.  It's going to be interesting going forward."

"He is a bright kid, he's been able to pick up so many different things in our offense, so it's more me doing a better job with him than him doing a better job, to be honest with you."

So day by day, week by week, game by game, O'Brien learns a little more about his team, his staff, and his profession. Considering that he has already been named National Coach of The Year once, the ever-evolving career of Bill O'Brien could be an entertaining one to follow no matter where his journey takes him.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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