Last updated: February 16. 2013 4:05PM - 219 Views

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He came to Penn State for his first head coaching job, facing circumstances no coach in his right mind would want.

He has to follow a legend who remains an icon to many.

He has to lead his team through the aftermath of a shockingly disgusting scandal.

He has to replace key players who left after unprecedented NCAA sanctions, then try to sell his program to future players who can't play in bowl games.

But Bill O'Brien has the will and the wherewithal to do it.

"Every time you run a drill here," O'Brien said at Penn State's media day last week, "every time you step on the field, our goal is to win.

"We will never accept losing here at Penn State."

He should already be getting ready to accept an award for college coach of the year before even coaching a game. Just because of the way O'Brien has been able to instill a strong sense of stability in the middle of such chaos.

When the NCAA opened the door for any of the Nittany Lions to leave without penalty following the Jerry Sandusky scandal, basically granting the whole team free agency, people envisioned a mass exodus.

You know how many significant players actually left?

Two, running back Silas Redd and wide receiver Justin Brown.

The rest stayed at Penn State partly because of their loyalty to the school, but mostly because of the sales pitch O'Brien made to a team that knew him less than six months.

"He's the perfect coach for this situation," Penn State tight end Kyle Carter said. "He's a real fiery coach. We all respect him because he comes from the NFL."

O'Brien comes to replace Joe Paterno at Penn State fresh off five seasons on Bill Belichick's coaching staff with the New England Patriots – where the motto is you don't make excuses, you just make plays.

So here is how O'Brien plans to deal with the defection of Brown and Redd, arguably the offense's two biggest weapons.

"In pro football," the new Lions coach said, "isn't it the same if a guy got injured and couldn't play the season? Couldn't that happen at a moment's notice? Yes. The next man up on our team.

"Let's get going."

The Lions are going to have fun playing in O'Brien's big-play offense because he is bringing along some of the offense that made the Patriots one of the NFL's most potent teams.

"There'll be some things you see, situationally, red area, two-minute, four-minute," O'Brien said of similar looks his Lions will have to his old Patriots teams. "Will that be very clean here? I don't know."

He does know Tom Brady is no longer his quarterback and high-caliber NFL receivers aren't sitting three-deep on his bench anymore.

"I wouldn't expect the 2007 New England Patriots," O'Brien said.

What we could expect is a disciplined and determined Penn State team that won't complain about being unfairly victimized by the past or in the future, but plays its heart out for the present.

"We're very, very mindful of what happened here," O'Brien said. "But in my opinion, it's time to stop the dour attitude. We've got to be positive."

That starts with the new head coach, who may not have known how big of a mess he was getting into but sure seems like he knows how to get through it.

Paul Sokoloski is a Times Leader sports columnist. You may reach him at 970-7109 or email him at psokoloski@timesleader.com.

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