One very small aspect of a coach’s job description is to talk up his own players. It’s one part PR, one tiny part recruiting tactic, one part an honest assessment of a player’s abilities and one part a nod to the (in most cases) positive personal relationship that coach has with the individuals he oversees.
Penn State’s Bill O’Brien, of course, is no different. In fact, he seems to have a true affinity for many of his Nittany Lions – with good reason, as all of the current players stuck with him and with the program through some, shall we say, trying times.
One pattern I noticed in listening to O’Brien over the course of this season: Almost without exception, any time he is asked about a player from Western Pennsylvania – virtually regardless of context – he’ll mention some variation of “he’s a Pittsburgh kid, a tough kid.”
Earlier this week, I asked O’Brien if he was just paying lip service and being polite – or if he truly had grown to carry a certain respect for Pittsburghers at some point over the course of his life and/or career. Here was his answer:
“That’s an interesting question. First, I don’t want to imply that Philadelphia guys aren’t‑‑ I think Pennsylvania kids are tough, let’s say that.
Just in my experience of coaching in the National Football League with New England, just the Pittsburgh Steelers were always just a very tough football team that we played, obviously. Growing up, I followed the Steelers. When I was growing up, the Patriots weren’t very good, and Pittsburgh Steelers were unbelievable in the ’70s. So there was the ‘Steel Town’ toughness of that town. And then coming here and having the honor of being the head football coach at Penn State and with State College being so close to Pittsburgh, I just really like that city, and I like the guys on our team that come from that city. And I think those guys that you just mentioned are very tough guys that love playing for Penn State.
I just think overall, whether it’s Pittsburgh, Philly, Central Pennsylvania, I just really like to‑‑ like I said, from day one, the bulk of our roster, I’d like to come from those areas.”
So there you have it: Bill O’Brien loves Pittsburgh… but he loves all of Pennsylvania.
Hey, if you want to interpret it that he added in the “Philly” part in out of obligation and merely out of an effort to avoid offending those from the eastern side of the state, by all means, I won’t argue with you.