Bill O'Brien was back at Penn State's 'college football heaven'

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Texans coach Bill O’Brien during his time with Penn State in 2013.

Bill O’Brien stepped foot on Penn State’s campus this weekend for the first time since he left the program in 2013 to take the head coaching job with the Houston Texans. As he looked around the Lasch Building, Penn State’s training facility, he called it “college football heaven.”

Coach James Franklin had invited O’Brien to give the keynote speech at Penn State football’s spring “chalk talk,” which is a clinic for high school football coaches. The Texans’ coach thought, “Man, I think that would be pretty cool.”

After his speech Saturday morning, O’Brien met with the reporters who covered him and his former team during the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and reflected on his time at Penn State.

“I knew, in time, with the support and the type of program that coach Paterno had built here, that this place was going to be back,” O’Brien said. “There were going to be some tough times going through it, but, in the end, it was going to be back, battling through national championships, and you can see it now. All of us who were here, players and coaches, we still keep in touch, and we’re all very proud of what’s going on here now.”

O’Brien admitted that his time at Penn State was a learning experience. After all, he was learning how to be a head coach for the first time, while dealing with one of the biggest scandals in collegiate athletics history.

He said the most important thing he learned in 2012 and 2013 was to be honest with the players about what was going on with the program and to communicate about other aspects of their lives as well.

“The other thing I learned here was about character,” he said. “If you have guys who have great character, who are mentally tough, physically tough, who love the game, love to practice, you’re going to win games. And I think that’s something I’ve tried to carry into Houston.”

When O’Brien took the head coaching job at Penn State in 2012, he led the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 season, followed by a 7-5 record.

“I definitely regret every loss,” O’Brien said. “We could have won more games when I was here. I think the thing I’m most proud of here is the relationships that were built. There was a time when the sanctions first came out that they said this program would never come back.

“I think we all looked at each other who were here and looked at this wall [of honors], looked at the all-Americans, and knew that was never going to happen — that something terrible had happened here, that things were moving forward, and we had the right people in place to bridge that gap to where they are now.”