UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - He was talkative on Monday morning, on the defensive, and this is not common for Bill O'Brien. He generally treats news conferences as distractions that need to end soon so real work can continue. The gatherings are very casual. He even wears sweat pants.
This time he was clothed in a sports coat and a button-up shirt, no tie (he said he was dressed for a later event), and spoke for nearly 15 minutes on his own, before any questions were asked. He had business to discuss. Specifically, business to deny.
O'Brien insisted his salary has not been raised from $2.3 million a year to $3.6 million through a donor. He said he communicates often with acting athletic director Dave Joyner whom, he said, he respects and with whom he did communicate last week. And he reaffirmed his affinity for Penn State, while conceding that the NFL is the top destination for someone in his profession and would make decisions based on what is best for his family.
In those concerns, O'Brien provided clarity to matters that have been murky and discussed ad nauseam since reports of NFL teams' interest in him sparked last week. The opposite could be said about possible changes or reform to the football program now or in the coming months, a subject he and Joyner, who spoke to reporters after the news conference, left plenty opaque.
"The inner circle is not here," O'Brien said, explaining why he felt the news conference was not a forum for such discussion.
Here's what O'Brien did say: That he and Joyner have routinely talked about necessary changes and improvements for the program since he took the job. That recruiting coordinator Bill Kavanaugh could - maybe - use some more help. That weightlifting equipment should always be state of the art. That the university's marketing department might be able to come up with more creative ways to help football. That he wouldn't request it but wouldn't object if a donor such as Ira Lubert or Terry Pegula steered some money into the program.
His best hint at specificity came when he mentioned the possibility of bonuses for assistants and the need to keep his staff as intact as possible. Joyner declined to discuss personnel issues, or how Penn State would be able to accommodate certain requests given its constrained budget.
"With assistant coaches we're always trying to help people and make things the best we can," he said. "What may or may not occur is not relevant right now."
What mattered to them, as both men more or less said, is that O'Brien is still here. He said he spoke with NFL teams but declined to say which ones.
Joyner said the discussions he had last week with O'Brien proceeded as he assumed they would, denying a strained relationship between the two while reaffirming his trust in O'Brien despite the prospect of more NFL interest in coming years.
"It's always a risk with any great coach," he said. "If people weren't talking about Bill O'Brien, then we made a lousy hire. So the fact that people are talking about how great he is and what he would do at other places, that's a real compliment about the process we went through and how we did. Look, Bill O'Brien is committed to Penn State. I personally believe he wants to be here a long time."
O'Brien didn't go quite as far in establishing his commitment. He said he was excited about the upcoming season and had just met with some members of the team at 7 a.m. Monday. He didn't try to say he would never leave for the NFL; rather, he admitted that many coaches aspire to such a position.
When it came to looking down the road, he joked that all he knew for sure was that he wouldn't coach as long as his predecessor, Joe Paterno. He said he loved Penn State and couldn't think of a better place to be. He said he loved coaching the kids.
At the beginning of the news conference, while reflecting on his hiring from a year earlier, he also said this: "A lot of things can happen in a year."
On a day with plenty of answers but a few lingering, unanswered questions in a place recently defined by unpredictability, the comment seemed to fit.
First Published January 7, 2013 5:00 AM