The main attraction
The main attraction
Football drives the college-sports bus, and at Penn State, Bill O'Brien is the reason for the trip.
"He's the new leader,'' women's volleyball coach Russ Rose said of O'Brien during the Penn State Coaches' Caravan stop at the Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square Thursday.
"I think all the other coaches like what he's accomplished. He said all the right things about who he was and who he wasn't, and I don't think he's changed tempo, or anything, since he's arrived.''
Rose's teams won four straight national championships from 2008-11. Cael Sanderson's Penn State wrestlers have won the last three NCAA team titles. Yet Sanderson, also at the Marriott for the caravan Thursday, wore an "O'Brien's Lions,'' T-shirt with a suit.
"Bill O'Brien's the man,'' Sanderson said. "It all falls on his lap, and he has taken that lead. When he talks, people listen. He's doing a great job with it.''
What has fallen in O'Brien's lap no one quite names: the primary responsibility for leading Penn State athletics, the front porch of the university, out from under the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.
Seems to be going OK.
Penn State athletes have remained in the top tier of NCAA Division I in academic performance, in the roughly 16 months since the Sandusky stuff hit the fan. Headlines about off-field misbehavior have been minimal.
And the teams keep winning. Penn State is in third place, behind Stanford and Michigan, in the race for the Learfield Cup, given annually to the country's top all-sports program on a points system.
In addition to the national wrestling championship, Nittany Lions have finished in the national top 20 in eight other sports, including a second place in women's soccer, third in women's volleyball and fencing, and fourth in men's gymnastics.
No Learfield points at all have come from the revenue sports, football and basketball.
Yet an 8-4 record in O'Brien's first season was enough to earn him several national coach-of-the-year awards.
That, of course, is because NCAA sanctions have hamstrung O'Brien like no other coach. Scholarship restrictions (15 per year for the next four school years, and no more than 65 on the roster from 2014-15 through 2017-18) have made recruiting like multi-level chess for O'Brien, and comparative checkers for everybody else.
The caravan created some small news in this area Tuesday when O'Brien said the squad might be down to or even below 65 scholarships this year, a year earlier than the NCAA mandated.
This led some NCAA by-law watchers (yes, there are such people) to speculate that the NCAA might end the 65-scholarship limitation a year early.
"I made a mistake; I corrected it yesterday,'' O'Brien said. "Right now, as I sit here going into training camp, we're at 67 scholarships for 2013.
"There could be some run-on players who would be candidates for scholarships, so we could be up to 69 or something. Last year, I think we played with 71.''
Further, if a scholarship player leaves the football program but remains enrolled at Penn State, as O'Brien announced Tuesday that offensive lineman Anthony Stanko was doing, and Manheim Central grad Dakota Royer did last summer, the player retains his scholarship, and it counts toward the 65.
"I'd like to redshirt everybody,'' O'Brien admitted, "but in the situation we're in, we have to play the best players.''
A group of 325 Penn State alumni and fans packed a large banquet room at the Marriott to share punch with Rose, Sanderson and O'Brien and hear them speak. It's one of 12 stops on a tour that began Tuesday in Reading and will end May 9 in Pittsburgh.
In between will be stops as far south as Washington, D.C., and as far north as New York City.
O'Brien is the only coach making all 12 caravan stops. After all, he's the one people want to see.
Email sports columnist Mike Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org.
nBill O'Brien's title at Penn State may be head football coach, but as anyone who has followed the Nittany Lions knows, his job is also about providing leadership for the entire athletic program. And after a successful first season, he has earned the respect of his fellow PSU coaches.