Bill O’Brien was named The Pennsylvania State University’s 15th head football coach on January 6, 2012. Entering his 20th year in a successful and varied coaching career, O’Brien has worked tirelessly in his initial months on the job, with an emphasis not only on hard work in the classroom, practice field and weight room, but on the importance of character, respect, integrity and competition for all members of the football squad and staff.
O’Brien’s experience as a former collegiate player and a college and professional coach and knowledge gained by working with some of the nation’s premier offensive minds has prepared him for his first season as a head coach. His coaching experience includes 14 years at the collegiate level and the past five years spent as an offensive assistant coach with the National Football League’s New England Patriots.
A member of the Patriots’ coaching staff since 2007, O’Brien was instrumental in helping New England reach two Super Bowls in the past five years, including Super Bowl XLVI. From 2009-11, O’Brien coached the Patriots’ quarterbacks, being promoted to offensive coordinator for the 2011 season, when New England led the AFC in scoring at 32.1 points per game.
O’Brien has worked with some of the game’s most successful and innovative coaches and players in his career, with Bill Belichick, Ralph Friedgen, Chan Gailey and George O’Leary among the coaches he has worked alongside. Tom Brady, Deion Branch, Kevin Faulk, George Godsey, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Randy Moss and Wes Welker are among the players he has mentored during his coaching career.
A graduate of Brown University, also the alma mater of his College Football Hall of Fame predecessor Joe Paterno, the engaging, detail-oriented and intense O’Brien spent 14 years coaching college football at Brown, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke before spending five highly-successful years on Belichick’s staff.
“The Penn State football program has a great legacy and has contributed enormously to our University community,” said Penn State President Rodney A. Erickson at O’Brien’s introductory press conference on January 7, 2012. “A program of this caliber requires a special kind of leader – a leader who will embrace that legacy and maintain the University’s commitment to excellence on the field and in the classroom. We have that leader in Coach O’Brien, and I look forward to working with him in his new role.”
“We have found the man to take Penn State football forward,” said Dave Joyner, Penn State Acting Director of Athletics, at O’Brien’s introduction to the Nittany Nation. “Needless to say, we have been looking for someone with some very special qualities, beginning with a heart that beats to the values and vision of Penn State University and our Penn State football legacy and tradition. That was our starting point, and Coach O’Brien exemplifies those traits that Penn Staters hold so highly. In addition to his model characteristics as a man and a teacher, he’s all about producing winners, and doing so the right way. He will embrace tradition, demand excellence and pursue Success with Honor in every phase of our program.”
O’Brien joined the New England coaching staff in 2007, served as the Patriots’ wide receivers coach in 2008 and was the quarterbacks coach in 2009-10 prior to his promotion to offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in 2011.
During the 2011 campaign, O’Brien was instrumental in New England earning a 13-3 record, the No. 1 seed in the AFC and advancing to Super Bowl XLVI. The Patriots scored 513 points (32.1 avg.), the AFC’s highest mark and No. 3 in the NFL. New England was second in the NFL in total offense (428.0 ypg) and passing yards (317.8 ypg).
Under O’Brien’s tutelage, Brady threw for 5,235 yards (No. 2 in NFL) and 39 touchdowns during the 2011 regular season, as the Patriots won their final eight games. Wide receiver Welker led the NFL with 122 receptions and his 1,569 receiving yards ranked second in the NFL. Welker and tight end Rob Gronkowski (90-1,327) ranked No. 1-2 in the AFC in receiving yardage in 2011. Gronkowski led the NFL with 17 touchdown receptions and was second with 18 overall scores.Tight end Aaron Hernandez also was prolific in the passing game with 79 receptions for 910 yards and seven touchdowns during New England’s AFC Championship season.
From 2009-11, O’Brien coached Brady and the quarterbacks. Brady was selected the first unanimous Associated Press NFL MVP in 2010 after leading the Patriots to an NFL-best 14-2 mark.
“Over the course of his long coaching career, Bill O’Brien has met every personal and professional challenge head on with great passion and competitiveness,” stated Belichick at the time of O’Brien’s hiring. “I expect Bill to draw on his deep background in college football and the NFL to continue attracting and developing top players. For five years, Bill’s outstanding work with our quarterbacks and entire offense has led to record-setting performances. His presence and command before our team has grown into that of an inspirational leader. This is a great match between a storied program and a old-school football coach.”
O’Brien began his coaching career at his alma mater, working with the tight ends in 1993 and the inside linebackers in 1994. He joined George O’Leary’s Georgia Tech staff in 1995 as a graduate assistant, helping the Yellow Jackets to bowl appearances in each of his last six seasons, including wins over Notre Dame, Stanford and West Virginia. In his first year as running backs coach, O’Brien helped the Ramblin’ Wreck to the 1998 Atlantic Coast Conference championship, just their second ACC title, and a Gator Bowl win over the Fighting Irish.
Working with then-offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, O’Brien served as the Yellow Jackets’ running backs coach from 1998-2000, with GT finishing no lower than third in the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing all three seasons. O’Brien was promoted to Georgia Tech’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2001 and assistant head coach in 2002. In 2001, he helped George Godsey break school season records with 3,085 passing yards and 249 completions and lead the ACC in passing yards (257.1 ypg). He completed 64.8 percent of his passes, threw 18 touchdown passes and ran for four scores in 2001.
O’Brien was reunited with Friedgen in 2003, joining his Maryland staff as running backs coach. The Terrapins finished second in the ACC in rushing in his first season and defeated West Virginia, 41-7, in the Gator Bowl. Following two years in College Park, O’Brien served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Duke in 2005 and ’06 before joining the Patriots’ coaching staff.
Born in Dorchester, Mass. O’Brien was raised in Andover, a Boston suburb. He played linebacker and defensive end at Brown from 1990-92, graduating in 1992 with a double concentration in political science and organizational behavior management.