UNIVERSITY PARK - Though the second leg of Penn State's Coaches Caravan did not return to the Bryce Jordan Center until after midnight, Bill O'Brien was back at it early Friday morning.
And if his demeanor in recommending candy corn to visitors and his willingness to put an awaiting salad for lunch on hold was any indication, Penn State's new head football coach was clearly in a good frame of mind.
O'Brien has been extremely well received since Jan. 7, when he was named to succeed Joe Paterno, but as he is quick to point out, "We haven't played a game yet."
The gleam in his eye, though, showed he can't wait for the season opener Sept. 1 against Ohio University, but he's content to live in the moment until then. Between his current players, former players, fans and media, he's already met thousands who will help form the backdrop at Beaver Stadium.
O'Brien reflected on his first four months on the job Friday in a question-and-answer session with the Altoona Mirror's Neil Rudel.
Mirror: Have you been able to go out to dinner here without being recognized?
O'Brien: A little bit. Most of the time you're recognized, but I can go out. That part of it is all new for me, obviously, but I definitely enjoy meeting people. It's not an ego thing. I just enjoy it, and the people in State College are just nice people. That's been great.
Mirror: How do you feel your family has adjusted, particularly your two sons?
O'Brien: Good. My wife (Colleen) is doing well. They've been here about a month. My oldest (Jack, who suffers from a rare brain disorder) is at Easterly Parkway Elementary, and that's a great school, and people have been great to him there. And my youngest (Michael) is at Mount Nittany Elementary, and he's already been invited to a birthday party. So he's doing pretty well.
Mirror: You've obviously replaced a giant. Can you gauge the warmth you've felt from Penn State fans as you've traveled across the East?
O'Brien: I feel a lot of support. People have a huge passion for this football program. I'm sure they're waiting to see what's going to happen, but they've been very supportive.
Mirror: On a scale of one to 10, how do you rate the success of the caravan and the overall interest in Penn State football?
O'Brien: I wouldn't rate it. I'd say it (caravan) has been successful, in my opinion. There have been great turnouts, and the support and passion have been very impressive to me that people have for this football program.
Mirror: Now that you've settled in, can you assess the facilities here compared to other places you've seen?
O'Brien: I give Coach Paterno obviously a lot of credit for many things, but one of them is the structure of this building. What a fantastic football facility - offices, meeting rooms, technology, weight-room space, training room, fields, indoor facilities. It's top-notch - one of the best, if not the best.
Mirror: You made some pretty fast decisions relative to support staffing. Can you speak to your philosophy on getting your own people in positions?
O'Brien: I just think it was important for me to come in here and make sure there were people underneath me with the same philosophy, ideals and the same values. A lot of these people I've worked with before, and that was important to me.
Mirror: During the time you were living at the Penn Stater Hotel, did you find yourself driving past the Paterno statue and did you ever spend a moment there alone?
O'Brien: I've driven by the Paterno statue quite a bit. One time I went for a walk from the office at night for some exercise and I walked by there, and I spent some time reading the plaques and records and looking at his statue.
Mirror: What kind of exercise, recreation do you like?
O'Brien: I run, and I'm on some interval training that Fitzy (strength coach Craig Fitzgerald) put me on to help desperately keep the weight off. And I love to play golf.
Mirror: What's your handicap?
O'Brien: (Laughing) playing. In the 20s.
Mirror: How have the two assistants retained, Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden, transitioned to your regime?
O'Brien: Well. The transition's smooth. They both are good teachers. They're family men. They're strong recruiters. They've done well.
Mirror: Football question. Will you inform the quarterback who you have determined at this point to be third team prior to camp in case he has transfer options?
O'Brien: I'll keep that answer between myself and the quarterbacks, but they know exactly where they stand right now.
Mirror: One local kid for us is Shane McGregor. What's your impression of Shane and the role, on or off the field, he might play?
O'Brien: Great kid. Smart. Thoughtful. Future author. I've had some great conversations with Shane. It's been really neat to get to know him. Just a really nice kid who cares a lot about Penn State and a very, very bright kid.
Mirror: Will you use a no-huddle offense much?
O'Brien: Yes, but it will be a mix.
Mirror: Upon your hiring, you were decisive in saying you would call the plays for the first year. Can you elaborate, and does that mean that responsibility will be delegated in 2013?
O'Brien: It just means I'm going to call the plays the first year and we'll see how that goes and then we'll make decisions on a year-to-year basis. But it will always be the same system, no matter who calls the plays.
Mirror: How much of your decision to change the approach to weight training stems from your experience in the NFL?
O'Brien: Some of it, certainly. Olympic lifting and power lifting, explosive movements, no question about it, but Fitzy and I have stayed in touch over the years, and a lot of our conversations revolved around strength training. (Note: PSU previously uses a high-intensity training workout as opposed to the power-lifting style.)
Mirror: How important do you feel it is to develop NFL players or is being a great college player the mission?
O'Brien: The mission is to make sure you're doing the best you can for these kids to experience a well-rounded college career - be the best football player, be the best student, be the best community person that they can be. And at the end of the day, if they play good enough, and we win, they're going to have a chance to play in the NFL. A lot of that will be up to them and how they take to our training and our coaching and how much they improve on a year-to-year basis.
Mirror: There are news updates and references to the Penn State scandal almost daily. Do you watch it at all?
O'Brien: No ... nope.
Mirror: What did you learn most from Bill Belichick?
O'Brien: I can't really name one thing. Evaluation of talent, team building, calmness, motivational tactics, a lot of different things.
Mirror: Will you wear a hoodie when it gets cold?
O'Brien: No, no. I'll always wear a baseball hat.
Mirror: Did you always fashion yourself as a college coach rather than in the NFL?
O'Brien: I just knew I wanted to be a head coach. I just wanted it to be the right fit and when I was contacted by Penn State, I thought it was really a good fit for what I valued in education and good football and good kids and not a football factory. I didn't think about NFL (vs.) college.
Mirror: Penn State was unique for so many years in that so many of the assistants stayed. What is your philosophy on that? Do you expect more staff movement - promotions and people becoming coordinators or head coaches from this staff - or do you see a stable staff for many years?
O'Brien: Hard to tell. I think we have a really strong staff and a number of coaches who will have opportunities - here, elsewhere - and I'll never be the type of coach to stand in the way of an opportunity. I'll make my pitch to a really good staff member to stay here, but I do think the philosophy of promoting from within is one I'd like to follow. I don't know if I'll be able to do that 100 percent of the time, but I'd like to bring them in as GAs (graduate assistants) and promote them through the system is a good way to do it. I'd like to try to do that and see how it works out.
Mirror: Don't most NFL staffs take a vacation in February? Were you gearing up for a vacation before all this came about?
O'Brien: After the Super Bowl, Bill would give us a week or two off. So, yes, (laughing) I would have been on vacation.
Mirror: Is there a vacation spot for you and your family?
O'Brien: We go to Cape Cod in the summer time. That's where I've been going forever, and my wife and kids love it there.
Mirror: Do you have a favorite musician or band?
O'Brien: Bruce Springsteen ... I'll go with The Boss.
Mirror: How about a favorite football movie?
O'Brien: "All the Right Moves." Love that movie.
Mirror: How soon do you think it's realistic to expect to win a Big Ten title?
O'Brien: I don't get into that. I'm not a genie. All I do is make sure our kids understand how important the Ohio game is, and we really have to understand if we take care of details and come back in the best condition of our lives and we take care of little things in training camp that all of that stuff will take care of itself. And if we don't, if we think ahead to championships and things we don't have any idea about right now, then we're not going to be where we want to be. To me, it's about 12 one-game seasons.
Mirror: Has anybody approached you to have your own ice cream yet?
O'Brien: No (laughing). I haven't even coached a game here yet, let alone win a game. My favorite flavor is Peachy Paterno.