Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Penn State Coach Works to Heal

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Penn State Coach Works to Heal

Article excerpt

WOODBRIDGE -- The healing has begun, progressing with each hearty handshake Bill O'Brien offers, with each sermon to the faithful that restores its belief.

The new Penn State football coach only took 10 steps into a hotel banquet room Wednesday afternoon before a line of waiting alumni stopped him. They each wanted a moment alone with him, a chance to share a brief word and maybe pose for a photo.

O'Brien then stood before them -- his blue tie emblazoned with the Nittany Lions logo -- a preacher addressing his rapt flock of 120 or so.

"What I believe is this is a very special university," he said, his voice rising as his 20-minute speech neared its conclusion. "I'm very well aware of what happened here in November. ... But we got to move forward. ...

"People asked me last week, 'There's dark clouds over the program?' There's no dark clouds over this football program. There's sunny skies. There's clear skies."

But a storm is brewing. Again. Still.

The Jerry Sandusky trial is scheduled to begin next month, threatening to reopen the gaping wounds suffered in the fall. The former assistant coach was charged with 52 counts of child sexual abuse, and legendary coach Joe Paterno had knowledge of at least one alleged incident but did not report it to authorities outside the university.

O'Brien faces the enormous task of rebuilding a reputation maybe forever tarnished after the scandal erupted. And the former New England Patriots offensive coordinator must do it without treading on the legacy of an icon still revered there after a 46-year reign.

That's why O'Brien, 42, was in New Jersey - in the heart of Rutgers country - on one of the 18 stops of a seven-state Nittany Lions coaches caravan, spreading his message to alumni.

He also was there to reassert the Garden State as a fertile recruiting ground, part of his vision to become "The East Coast team."

O'Brien's greatest asset has been his previous lack of ties to the program.

He had never stepped foot on campus and had no ties to the university before he was hired in January - two months after Paterno was fired. …

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