The decision-maker Clear and confident, Bill O'Brien resonates with Nittany Lions
There are the offseason things that every big-time college football coach must do -- recruit, administrate, schmooze, etc.
Those things continue apace for Bill O'Brien.
There were Big Ten coaches' meetings in Chicago two weeks back, where it was said that, within the fraternity, O'Brien's voice is increasing in volume and influence.
His reaction to the NCAA sanctions some believed would annihilate the program has been to simply keep climbing the mountain, and keep ignoring the oxygen debt.
No bowl? A surrogate, a regular-season game in Ireland in September 2014, probably with Central Florida, seems ever closer to reality.
A hopelessly tilted recruiting playing field? Kids keep signing up, the latest a high-school junior defensive back/athlete from Coatesville with serious potential, Daquan Worley, who also had offers from Rutgers and Georgia Tech.
A 65-scholarship roster by 2014? O'Brien is there now, or close enough, or could be if needed.
Then there are the things required of coaches by nobody but themselves.
At a Friday-night get-together on the road last year, somebody asked O'Brien to describe what he looks for in a quarterback, and he launched into a spiel so articulate and thought-through it seemed scripted.
Quarterbacks are different, perceived differently, than everyone else on a football team, he said. The ideal quarterback not only gets that, in all the ways it manifests, but expects and even welcomes it.
He has to be the smartest, most knowledgeable, hardest-working guy in room. He has to know that every minute of every game and practice and meeting, there are eyes on him. Every message he sends, verbally or otherwise, registers.
This all came in such a smooth flow that O'Brien had to have been speaking from memory, referring to a specific, ideal example.
Every year he's at Penn State, I believe, O'Brien will try to find his Tom Brady, not in terms of physical talent and skill (although that would be nice) but of the intangibles he spoke of, and of replicating the relationship he had with Brady as the New England Patriots' QB coach and offensive coordinator.
There can only be one relationship like that -- one Brady -- at a time. Which is one reason why O'Brien likes two-QB systems less than birthdays and neckties and Illinois coaches.
It's also a reason why Steven Bench, the second-string QB as a freshman last year, is on his way out, reportedly to Mississippi State or South Florida. O'Brien told Bench, in a post-spring-practice, one-on-one meeting, that he would never be his Brady.
O'Brien, and perhaps even Bench, would rail against the harshness of that categorization, but that's what it boils down to.
Think of how differently the previous regime would have handled a potential Bench-Tyler Ferguson-Christian Hackenberg logjam. JoePa might still have been "trying to be fair to everybody,'' halfway through next season.
Matt McGloin, as different from Brady in most obvious respects as O'Brien is from Paterno, nonetheless turned himself into O'Brien's Brady last year.
That became clear, according to O'Brien, long before the season started, in the quarterbacks room, when O'Brien named a complex-sounding play and asked McGloin to diagram it.
McGloin showed that he could draw it (fast) and get inside it, describing not only his job and reads and options within it but everyone else's.
O'Brien publicly named McGloin the starter June 1, 2012.
"Matt was way ahead, way ahead, on everything,'' O'Brien said at the Penn State coaches' caravan stop in Lancaster on Thursday.
"He had really spent a lot of time trying to win that job. I felt like it was important for him to be named the starter.''
This year is very different. Penn State is relatively loaded at the offensive skill positions. The offensive line seems in good shape. But the quarterback will never before have taken a Division I snap.
"If you had to pin me down I'd probably say Tyler's a little but ahead of Christian going into the summer, just because he's been here for 15 practices and all the meetings,'' he said.
"There's definitely somewhat of a checklist that's put together with knowledge of the fact that there's a lot of veteran players around this guy. But I'm not gonna name a starter in June.''
Ferguson may not even have been ahead of Bench, in any tangible way. But I'm hearing that Ferguson has done all the right things, and then some, since he got to Penn State in January.
O'Brien didn't deny that, but he didn't quite emphatically confirm it.
"He's 19 years old,' he said. "He came to Penn State without ever having seen Penn State, threw his stuff in a suitcase and came out there, 3,000 miles away from home.
"With all that being said and all the things thrown at him in class room and football arena, I believe he's done a good job.''
Ferguson may not be O'Brien's next Brady, yet or ever. In truth he can't be, until platinum-chip recruit Christian Hackenberg shows up and makes his case.
But Ferguson probably made it clear that Bench would never be. Recall that O'Brien didn't play Bench last year at times, in the dregs of blowout wins, when getting McGloin out just for his health seemed an obvious move.
Most college coaches would have kept Bench, as insurance or as a player he hasn't seen enough to write off. But that would mean a third guy getting practice snaps in August, complicating things, blurring the big picture.
O'Brien may even believe one of his two freshman walk-ons, D.J. Crook and Austin Whipple, can be 80 to 90 percent of Steven Bench and save him a precious scholarship.
Yes, we're back to the NCAA sanctions. They require O'Brien to manage his roster like an NFL coach. Cut and run. Decide and move on. Travel lean and fast.
But he'd do that anyway, without the sanctions. He is, by nature, incredibly, startlingly confident and decisive.
"I don't like to hem and haw,'' he admitted. "I don't think you can be wishy-washy about it. When it's time to make a decision you've got to make it."
You know how this goes. If you're 4-8 instead of 8-4, maybe decisive becomes wildly impulsive.
But not if you're national coach of the year.
Email sports columnist Mike Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org.