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Penn State Football: Players, Staff Receptive to Change Around the Program

by on February 02, 2012 12:35 PM

At the back entrance to the Lasch football building, a white sign is stuck to the glass facing outward. It reads:

  1. Know your role/Do your job
  2. Work hard
  3. Be attentive
  4. Always put the team first

Change is all around the Penn State football program, from subtle changes like the white signs to significant changes such as upcoming Lasch weight room renovations, with most of the controlled-weight machines cleared out as part of a revamped Olympic-style strength and conditioning program headed by new boss Craig Fitzgerald.

Head coach Bill O’Brien has the delicate balance of appeasing a fanbase chock full in tradition while making his own mark on the program. It’s never easy transitioning from one regime to the next — let alone one that’s been around for decades — but players are buying it.

“Change is good,” said senior quarterback Matt McGloin, who was given a quarterback manual from O’Brien, read it cover to cover in little more than an hour and took notes on several of its themes, including leadership and work ethic.

“When you get a new staff in here, you’re excited, especially when you got a guy like Coach O’Brien and the success he has and the experience he has is great to see. That’s why I’m more excited than ever before.”

O’Brien has room for one more assistant to round out his coaching staff and is expected to make a decision by the end of next week. O’Brien, the New England Patriots offensive coordinator, is in Indianapolis prepping for Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Giants. He’ll return to State College by Tuesday morning for a human resources orientation meeting.

McGloin said he’s heard the rumors O’Brien may bring Patriots offensive assistant George Godsey on board as the Nits quarterbacks coach, but he hasn’t been told anything is official.

“We'll sit down with the staff and talk to them, get some input on that,” O’Brien said. “I’ve got a great staff with a lot of experience. We can go a few different directions on that.”

Graduate assistants were tasked with creating a 10-clip highlight tape for each returning player to be used in 1-on-1 meetings between players and their position coach.

No one has been promised a starting position. But everyone’s also been given a clean slate.

“The doghouse is empty,” wide receivers coach Stan Hixon said. “Unless you ain’t going to class or you ain’t doing what you’re supposed to do.”

Demands are greater right now, linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden said, for a program that was shell-schocked the last three months. It endured the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal with three games remaining in the regular season, resulting in the dismissal of coach Joe Paterno on Nov. 9. It endured a drawn-out coaching search before O’Brien was hired Jan. 6 that handicapped the coaching staff from recruiting.

Then, Paterno passed away Jan. 22 from lung cancer and a week of mourning ensued on campus and throughout the program.

No doubt, it’s been a trying time as the first week of winter workouts round out and the team heads toward spring practice. But . . .

“Players are very resilient and they’re excited,” Vanderlinden said. “If you asked them, they’re working extremely hard and as hard as they’ve worked in the past. They’re excited about the changes and encouraged about moving forward.”

And in case there’s any hesitation, there’s another reminder stuck to the glass facing inward on the exit door of the Lasch building. It reads:

  1. Prioritize academics and community involvement
  2. Manage expectations
  3. Don’t believe or fuel the hype
  4. Speak for yourself
  5. Ignore the noise

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