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Bill O'Brien Presser: Illinois Edition

Beat reporters track down Penn State Head Coach Bill O'Brien to talk about the upcoming opponent, Illinois.


Bill O'Brien appeared totally relaxed to this observer's eye, arriving to the press conference wearing full length, all black pajamas, black sandals, and a huge smile. It was as if Coach O'Brien had just left a day spa, totally relaxed and fully satiated. He even tried to stifle a laugh when the first question was about Illini Coach Tim Beckman, and whether there were any hard feelings. As a reminder, Beckman and eight of his nine assistants flew to Happy Valley, camped out, and called everyone on Penn State's roster the minute sanctions were announced. Two days later, Beckman made a gigantic ass of himself at BigTen media days, as he clumsily tried to deny his actions.

"Hard feelings? No, not at all. The Illini coaches were operating within the rules they were given. I don't begrudge that coach - the only one in the conference to do so - I don't begrudge that coach disdaining his own team, flying out here with all but one of his assistants, trying to take half my squad, and then lying about it. Who could get upset by that?"

I normally can see right through coach-speak. But in this instance, I totally bought every word from Coach O'Brien. He was so relaxed and calm as he delivered it - and really, who could get upset by some carpetbagger doing his level best to take advantage of you in your moment of weakness? Like Reinhard Heydrich, Tim Beckman was just doing his job.

Injuries, Injuries, Injuries

Q. Is your tailback Bill Belton ready to go this week? How does a healthy Belton change what you can do on offense?

COACH O'BRIEN: He practiced yesterday and looked decent, so we would anticipate him being ready to go for the game.

It's a good question, because all of the kids bring a little bit different skillset to the table, whether it's Zordich, Zwinak, Dukes, Belton, and then obviously Derek Day. Some guys are first‑ and second‑down guys; some are three‑down guys; some are a little bit quicker; some guys are bigger; some guys are faster; some guys catch the ball better.

So Billy is a guy that has good feet, good vision, and can catch the football. So it's good to have him back, because he's another type of change‑of‑pace type of running back.

Q. You mentioned Belton. How about Day, Zordich, Dukes? All okay?

COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, all look fairly healthy right now. They all look healthy. Zordich didn't practice yesterday, but I would assume‑‑ like I told you after the game, he's a tough kid. Youngstown, Ohio. Tough dad. I'm sure he's on the phone with his dad and his dad is telling him to get his butt back in there.
I would assume he will be working today probably.

Q. Did you expect to have Stanley and Massaro back, and is Adrian Amos okay after getting his bell rung the other day?

COACH O'BRIEN: Adrian didn't really get his bell running on that one. His helmet just came down. He's fine.
Stanley is probable. I would say he's probable.

And Pete Massaro probably will not play in the game.

Did You Say Normal?

Q. Four games in, is this at all starting to feel like a normal football season for you?

COACH O'BRIEN: Did you say normal football season?

Q. Yeah, getting back to normal at all for you? Getting into a groove?

COACH O'BRIEN: Once training camp started it felt pretty normal. You're practicing once or twice a day and getting into the routine there in training camp. School starts and the regular season starts, and now you're into the routine of practicing in the afternoon and meetings in the afternoon and study hall at night for the kids and game planning and things.

So it's felt pretty normal right from the start of training camp on.

Chaz Fisher, America's Sweetheart

Q. You discussed Charlie Fisher's role with the team before. With Matt McGloin playing this well through four games, can you elaborate how important Charlie has been in practice and games?

COACH O'BRIEN: Yeah, just like all the assistant coaches, we really have a neat staff of guys. We really do. Charlie's role is important. It's pretty neat how it works out, because I have a little bit of a temper, and Charlie is probably a lot nicer than me.

So it's pretty neat the way we kind of play off each other. Charlie has done an excellent job of, No. 1, learning our system. You been coaching for 30‑plus years and come into this new offensive system, and he's learned it himself and so now he's able to teach it.

What stands out to me about Charlie is how he talks to the quarterbacks about mechanics and reads and how to think about plays. I think he's played a big role with all the quarterbacks. He's been around a lot of good quarterbacks and a lot of good receivers, and he's brought that to Penn State.

Something Else Cool

Q. Over the summer you talked about some of the differences between head coach and coordinator. On game days, does it feel much different than when you were a coordinator? What are the major differences that you've noticed on game day itself?

COACH O'BRIEN: It's a huge difference. When you're an assistant coach, an offensive coordinator, the offense goes out there, you either score, you punt, or you turn it over. Hopefully you don't punt or turn it over, but you come to the bench and make adjustments with your offense.

As a head coach, you have to understand one thing is game management. How is the game being played? How is your defense playing? That's going to affect how you call plays on offense. What is going well on offense? You want to stick with that. What can you do that will put the defense in conflict based on what you're doing well offensively? You're thinking about the whole game more.

As an assistant coach you don't call the timeout in the game. You don't think about the clock as much as you do as a head football coach. So game management, you know, all the different things that go into that. I'm involved with the special teams. As assistant coach you're not involved with special teams at all.

So it's a big difference. Just like everybody else in our football program, I'm trying to improve every week and trying to get better.

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