After his team fell to under .500 in the Big Ten and remained winless on the road this season with its loss at Minnesota Saturday, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien was in his customarily, shall we say, less-than-completely-jovial post-defeat mood.
His postgame press conference lasted less than eight minutes, and he did not allow any of his players to speak with the media – a first in his tenure (those who have covered the program over the longterm said this happened periodically under late coach Joe Paterno). O’Brien even said he didn’t care what other people think: “I just care about our staff and our team and my family.”
Earlier in his postgame comments, O’Brien went somewhat off-topic in answering a question about the weather conditions to offer – partial – insight into what his postgame speech to his players was:
“In the locker room right now I told them, ‘No. 1, we’re going to coach them better. I said, “We’re going to make sure that we put you guys in a better position to make plays.’
“No. 2, we’re going to make sure we do everything we can as a coaching staff to make sure we help these seniors go out as winners, because this senior class means a lot to me.
“And No. 3, I’m not going to tell you what I said as No. 3.”
This is all speculation, of course, but here is my theory on what O’Brien’s third message to his players perhaps could have been: Everyone is against you. Now that you’ve lost a few games, the media and fans have turned on you. Let’s show them what we’re made of and what we’ve got in us.
(disperse a “bunch of fighters“or two in there)
Again, that is totally a guess, but here is my reasoning: First, O’Brien kept the players from the media, allowing an opportunity to frame the message to them himself. Second, check out some of these tweets from players in the hours after the game Saturday:
“It’s ironic how the same people that will pat you on your back will be the same ones that kick you when your down”
“Ignore the noise”
“Brutus killed Caesar & Judas killed Jesus, (what the heck) is LOYALTY? #TrustNone”
–CB Da’Quan Davis (I can’t post the link because it carries a reference to an abbreviation for a bad word, but here’s his profile page)
Interestingly, even the athletic department’s official website uses the “L” word in an attempt to get fans to buy tickets. (If you view on mobile or have already been to the site today, the ad might not pop up, but here it is).
The “us against the world” rallying cry is arguably the most used in sports. It can be effective, too. Maybe I’m way off with this, and maybe these players have some other reason to be publicly pondering “noise” from the outside, “loyalty” and how they might feel turned-against. Perhaps a couple fans yelled negative things as they left the TCF Bank Stadium field Saturday. Maybe anonymous Twitter followers sent nasty messages at them. Maybe even those tweets had nothing to do with fans or media and I am just connecting too many unrelated dots here.
Just a theory.
Luckily for Penn State, next on the schedule is a Purdue team that might be one of the worst squads in the more than century of history of the Big Ten. Could make for a nice Saturday of reconciliation between 90,000-plus fans and their beloved team at Beaver Stadium.
Cut out of the story for space reasons were the recent (troubling) stats from the Nittany Lions’ “other” wide receivers:
Brandon Felder, the most experienced of Penn State’s “other” wide receivers, has just 15 catches in his past five games.
Matt Zanellato’s reception at Minnesota was only his second since having two Aug. 31.
Geno Lewis has been held without a catch in five of the Lions’ nine games.