When Penn State takes on Central Florida Saturday night at Beaver Stadium, the two head coaches will have a connection that goes back nearly 20 years.
The Nittany Lions’ Bill O’Brien got his first full-time job in coaching in 1995 at Georgia Tech thanks to then-head coach George O’Leary, now the head man at UCF. The staff turned out a number of collegiate head coaches including Ralph Friedgen (Maryland), Doug Marrone (Syracuse), Randy Edsall (Connecticut), Ted Roof (Duke) and Brian Polian (Nevada).
“We had a number of great coaches there,” O’Brien said Tuesday at his weekly teleconference. “I learned a lot from them. I contributed what I contributed to that staff but I think we all learned from coach O’Leary. I think every one of those guys would say we owe a lot to coach O’Leary because he taught us about tough physical football, great organization and things like that.”
O’Brien said he tries to stay in touch with O’Leary, 67, who is in his 10th year as head man of the Knights, but added that “neither one of us are big phone guys, especially after I became the head coach at Penn State.
“I called him a few times just on different subjects like practice and the different things he did, travel-wise, at Georgia Tech and Central Florida. He’s been very helpful to me.”
When O’Leary accepted the head coaching job at Notre Dame in December 2001, O’Brien was ticketed to be his offensive coordinator. But the position fell through after O’Leary was discovered to have lied on his resume. O’Brien stayed one more year at Tech and then moved on to Maryland and Duke before joining the New England Patriots staff in 2007.
O’Brien left the Patriots in January 2012 to take the Penn State job.
O’Brien said UCF has a tough, physical defense that is very disciplined and allows few big plays. Offensively, Knights redshirt junior quarterback Blake Bortles is an NFL prospect, according to O’Brien. UCF has outscored the opposition 76-7 through its first two games.
The Nittany Lions also are 2-0 going into this game but O’Brien wants to see far more efficiency on third down, where his team is just 2-of-26 this season, and consistency along the entire offensive line.
He said the problems on third down often are influenced by an inability to move the ball on first down.
“We’ve got to get off to a better start on first down,” he said. “Whether it’s a penalty to put us back or a lost-yardage play, now you’re in second and long and you’re already off schedule. It’s not a good thing. Then once we get to third down, we have to execute better.
“I thought on Saturday there were plays to be made there. Whether it was a protection breakdown or a poor throw or whatever it was, we just didn’t make the play.”
Of the offensive line, he said, “I think that certain individuals up front have played really well. I don’t want to get into specifics. But I think that overall, we need to play more consistent up front. I’ve talked to the guys about that. I think we’ve played decent. I don’t think we’ve played poorly. But I know we can play better.”