Hope you’ll find this interesting. I spoke Monday with Georgia Tech senior associate athletic director Paul Griffin and equipment manager Tom Conner, both of whom were at Tech when new Penn State coach Bill O’Brien coached the Yellow Jackets as a grad assistant, assistant coach and then offensive coordinator. Both offered insights I hope you’ll appreciate.
1. Griffin had a brief overlap with O’Brien. Griffin’s first worked at Tech for several months in 2001, left briefly and returned in July 2002. O’Brien joined Tech’s staff in 1995 as a grad assistant, eventually rising to offensive coordinator in 2001 and 2002. He bridged the George O’Leary and Chan Gailey eras.
Griffin described him as an intense, hard-working, confident hard-charger. Sounds a little bit familiar to some other Tech coaches around that time.
Said Griffin, “Bill is a clone of George (O’Leary) and Ralph (Friedgen).”
Conner, who has been at Tech since 1992, saw him similarly. O’Brien was noteworthy in one aspect, that, even as a grad assistant, he didn’t back down from O’Leary.
“The thing about Coach O’Leary is that if you let him run roughshod over you, he would, but if you were one of those guys that kind of stood up for what you believed and what you thought was right, then Coach O’Leary really respected that, and he valued what you had to say,” Conner said. “For a lot of guys, it was hard to make that first move, and Billy didn’t have a problem with that, I can tell you that.”
Conner said he can usually pick out coaches who likely won’t last long in the business, or who will be a career assistant and who has head coach potential. O’Brien fit the last category for the way he understood people, could look at the program from a broad scope, knew the game and could both command respect and be liked.
“He’s just got a way about him,” Conner said. “That’s how those guys are. They understand football from top to bottom. It’s not just coaching.”
Not surprisingly, both believe O’Brien is up to the task in State College.
Conner, an Alabama grad, sees an obvious parallel with O’Brien and coaches who succeeded Bear Bryant. Some, he said, seemed to want to distance themselves as far from his legacy as possible. He thinks O’Brien won’t be afraid of the course that Joe Paterno set prior to his ugly dismissal or not being the fan base’s first choice.
“He’s not somebody, in my mind, that is interested in making people forget Joe Paterno,” he said.
Griffin believes that O’Brien’s similarity to Friedgen and O’Leary will serve him well.
“I don’t think that he’ll back down from the challenges at Penn State, as enormous as they seem to be to most of us,” Griffin said.
2. This is tangentially related, but O’Leary knew a little bit about hiring coaches. With O’Brien’s hiring at Penn State, he now has five former Tech assistants who have gone on to get head coaching jobs – Randy Edsall (Connecticut and Maryland), Doug Marrone (Syracuse), Ted Roof (Duke), O’Brien and Friedgen. All of them, in fact, were on the staff of the 1998 team, which went 10-2 and split the ACC title with Florida State.
Roof will reportedly serve as O’Brien’s defensive coordinator, and two other former Tech assistants Mac McWhorter and Stan Hixon, also reportedly will join O’Brien. Roof is coming from Auburn, McWhorter had retired from Texas after the 2010 season and Hixon was with Gailey in Buffalo.
3. This is unrelated entirely, but former Tech defensive end Jason Peters won’t be playing in the Casino Del Sol All-Star Game because of a back injury.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog