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September 10, 2013Just as George O'Leary did at his press conference on Monday, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien fielded plenty of questions about their relationship during his weekly session in State College on Tuesday.
While the head coach at Georgia Tech in the mid-1990s, O'Leary gave O'Brien the opportunity to first work as a graduate assistant before offering him his first paid coaching position as running backs coach in 1998. In 2001, O'Leary promoted O'Brien to offensive coordinator. He later held the same position at Maryland and with the NFL's New England Patriots prior to his hire at Penn State in January 2012.
At the beginning of the press conference, O'Brien was asked if he knew O'Leary prior to joining the Georgia Tech staff in the mid-1990s.
"I have a fantastic relationship with Coach O'Leary," O'Brien said. "No, I didn't know him before he hired me. It's kind of an interesting story. I was basically a graduate assistant at Brown. When I graduated from Brown, I went to work at Brown. The first year at Brown, I worked for Mickey Kwiatkowski. I was basically the tight end something-- I don't know what I was, but I was helping out on offense.
"Mark Whipple came in, and he got the job after Mickey was let go, and I moved over to defense, and I was like a defensive graduate assistant for Mark Whipple. Then I started to apply for graduate assistant jobs for that year. I want to say it was '94-- I think it was '94.
"Jimmy Bernhardt, who works for us here, had a relationship with George O'Leary from being a high school coach on Long Island. George was an assistant college coach at Syracuse and used to recruit Jimmy's high school. There was a big New York/Long Island connection there. So Jimmy coached me at Brown. This is a long story.
"Jimmy coached me at Brown, and I said, Jimmy, I want to be a graduate assistant. So Jimmy called George, '94 thereabouts, and said, hey, look, I-- actually, George called Jimmy, I think it was, and said, Do you know anybody that's smart enough to get into graduate school at Georgia Tech and dumb enough to want to coach?? And Jimmy said, I got just the guy for you.
"So I then began a relationship with Doug Marrone because Doug Marrone was the Director of Operations at Georgia Tech at the time, and he was the guy that I worked through to all the logistics, and finally George O'Leary hired me, and I started there in, I think it was, May or April of '95. So that's how it happened."
O'Brien is one of several coaches on the O'Leary coaching tree to rise up the coaching ladder.
"We had a lot of really good coaches on those staffs (at Georgia Tech)," O'Brien said. "George was the head coach. We had (former Maryland coach) Ralph Friedgen. We had (Buffalo Bills coach) Doug Marrone. We had (Penn State assistant) Stan Hixson. At times we had (Penn State assistant) Mac McWhorter. (Maryland coach) Randy Edsall was on there at times. We had a laundry list of some really good, topnotch coaches, many of whom went on to become head coaches. Danny Crossman, who's Doug's special teams coordinator in Buffalo now.
"We just had a lot of good coaches there, and I learned a lot from them, and I contributed what I contributed to that staff, but I think we all learned from Coach O'Leary.
"And 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, things like that. But, yeah, there were a lot of great coaches on those staffs."
O'Brien was asked how much he has kept in touch with O'Leary and whether he offered any encouragement when he accepted the job at Penn State.
"Certainly, I've kept in touch with Coach O'Leary over the years," O'Brien said. "Neither one of us are real big phone guys. You know, when-- especially after I became the head coach at Penn State, I called him a few times, just on different subjects, like practice and different things he did, schedule-wise, travel-wise, with what he did at Georgia Tech and Central Florida, and he's been very helpful to me.
"Probably the most I learned from Coach O'Leary, though, is when I worked for him, and the most I talked to him is when I worked for him. Coaches are busy, and everybody has busy lives and things. But those, I think it was, eight seasons I worked for him is where I really learned a lot from Coach O'Leary."
Later, O'Brien was asked about the "most important lesson" he learned coaching under O'Leary.
"I think that probably I took two big lessons from him that I'll always have for me in coaching that I've always kept with me," O'Brien said. "One was organization. He was a very organized guy, like there wasn't a wasted moment during the day, and that had a lot to do with work ethic. We worked extremely hard, all of us did, when we worked for him. He demanded that of us. So I learned a lot about that.
"And then I just learned about how important the physical toughness, resiliency of your football team is. Like that's a very important part-- characteristic of a good football team. And when you don't have that, then you're going to struggle. I'm not saying you're going to lose all your games, but it's not going to be easy.
"But when you have that, when you have a physical, resilient, tough football team, then you've got a chance to win games. So those are two things that I learned from him."
O'Brien was asked about the challenge they'll face going up against UCF.
"Yeah, we face a big challenge," O'Brien said. "They're an excellent football team. They're very well-coached. They're sound. They're physical. They're physical at all positions. It's not like they're just physical on the offensive and defensive line. To me, they're a physical team at every position.
"Our players better be ready to come and show up for a physical football game because this isn't a game-- this won't be a game for the faint of heart, and that's a Coach O'Leary trademark.
"So one of the things that you have to understand on-- with their offense is they've got a really good quarterback. So, again, it's hard to totally stop a guy like that, but you've got to try to contain him. He's very, very good. He's a pro prospect, Bortles.
"Defensively, they're tough, they're physical. They do some different things that are not easy to go up against, and we're going to have to have a great practice week. Like I said, we have to limit our mistakes on Saturday. Right now, going in, Central Florida, I don't believe, has turned the ball over. We've turned it over way too much.
"Again, if we go in there and we turn the ball over, we're going to have a long night. And commit line of scrimmage penalties and things like that, we're going to have a long night. So we've got to understand that and have a great week of practice and be focused and ready to go on Saturday."
Another question came in regarding UCF's defense and how they've limited "explosive plays" in their first two games.
"UCF, they're very sound on defense," O'Brien said. "They're going to line up, and they're going to know what to do. They're very physical. They're well-coached.
"And that has a lot to do with, you know, obviously the players that they have and the coaching staff they have, but the type of defense they play, again, it doesn't really lend itself to giving up explosive plays.
"So in order to get an explosive play, we're going to have to work real hard to come up with something we think will work and then execute it on gameday. This is a very difficult defense to go against, and you can see that every snap on the tape."