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Penn State Football: Five Issues O'Brien Isn't Afraid to Give His Two Cents on

by on May 21, 2012 7:00 AM

When Phil Knight wasn’t lambasting Penn State and the Board of Trustees for their handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal during Joe Paterno’s memorial service, he offered insightful nuggets of Paterno’s role during the coaches' annual retreat in Hawaii.

Knight, head honcho of Nike, told stories of an elder Paterno on stage singing, “Wild Thing” during the talent show. He also said when it was time for business, when coaches shared their ideas, philosophies and vision for college football, all deferred to Paterno.

Just in the last decade, Paterno, who passed away Jan. 22 because of complications from lung cancer treatments, was the driving force behind major change in the sport, specifically the use of instant replay and conference expansion. For the most part, he got what he wanted (still waiting for an Eastern team to join the Big Ten).

For years, Paterno supported a playoff system to determine the national champion, and it looks as if that’s on the horizon in 2014.

Of course, Penn State has a new leader. Paterno’s successor, Bill O’Brien, doesn’t have quite the same pull as the old man when it comes to shifting the tectonic plates of the game.

But throughout his recently completed Coaches Caravan tour, O’Brien was asked about several key issues in college football and Penn State football.

He said all the right things. But he’s also a first-year coach.

"To have a voice and to be able to have an impact on college football, the No. 1 thing you've gotta do is win and if you win, you'll have a chance to have some say,” O’Brien said. “But, right now, I'm just concerned about Penn State."

Here's five issues O'Brien discussed over the three-week tour.

On the proposed four-team playoff: "It's definitely headed down the road of a Final Four, and I agree with [Big Ten Commissioner] Jim Delany and our coaches. I think all the coaches in the Big Ten want to keep it in the bowl structure, especially with how it relates to the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl should be part of the Final Four. My only deal in that is to make sure the Big Ten champion is represented in the Final Four."

On renewing rivalry with Pitt: “I would love to see that game played on an annual basis. I have a tremendous amount of respect for [Pitt coach] Paul Chryst and their program, and that’s a great rivalry. For the fans of Pennsylvania to be able to see that game every year, I think that’s pretty neat.”

On outdoor hockey game at Beaver Stadium: “You'd have to check with [supervisor of outdoor athletic facilities] Herb Combs. That's a great deal. I've seen it first hand, that's pretty neat, so yeah, I'd be all for it."

On early enrollees: "We've got to be careful there.We have to do a great job of understanding what type of kid this is, what he was able to do in high school academically, is he prepared. Because it is very hard to come in there … we can't just think about football, (how) we got to get him into spring practice early so he can play his freshman year … that's not the priority for that guy.

“The priority is can he handle the academic work when he comes here, because it's different coming in January, there's no summer bridge program to prepare you for the fall semester. So we've got to do a good job of finding out the type of high school he went to, how he's been trained academically and make a decision from there."

On scheduling: “What we are trying to do is have a marquee game every year. For instance, we will open the season at a neutral site or Beaver Stadium against a major-league college opponent like an Alabama, like a Southern Cal, like a Stanford. It would give our guys something to shoot for in the summer.”

Related coverage:

Nate Mink covers Penn State football and news for He's on Twitter as @MinkNate.
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