When Bill O’Brien was a Tech assistant

Greetings-

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

54 comments Add your comment

Year of Lee

January 10th, 2012
11:37 am

HighTech

January 10th, 2012
11:43 am

O’Brien has his work cut out for him. Sorry to hear about Jason Peters. Hope the injury isn’t too serious.

Thank you Ken for your work on this blog. I have enjoyed it very much since you took over.

Tommy

January 10th, 2012
12:03 pm

Thought Ted Roof wasgoing to UCF?

Scott

January 10th, 2012
12:11 pm

Ken any idea on when Uzzi will announce whether he is leaving or staying for his Senior year? I believe he has until Sunday to declare, but with classes starting back this week he had to enroll and attend class to stay eligible.

Supersize that order, mutt

January 10th, 2012
12:52 pm

I was a little disappointed with O’Brien as OC at Tech. He seemed to have the knowledge and the tools, but for whatever reason, he just didn’t seem to be able to pull it all together and make it work. If I remember correctly, there appeared to be times when he got too complex for his own (or the team’s) good. I think all Tech fans believed he would pick right up where Friedgen left off, and I DO believe he tried. But for some reason, it just didn’t work. I do wish him luck though. He’s a good man and hopefully in the years since he left Tech, he has grown and improved.

5150 UOAD

January 10th, 2012
12:52 pm

Penn State the Georgia Tech of the north.

SansWorld

January 10th, 2012
12:53 pm

Best wishes to coach O’Brien. Would not take that job for the world.

Thanks for all you do Ken. You have brought much good to the Tach blog and help drive out some of the nonesense.

5150 UOAD

January 10th, 2012
12:53 pm

Speculation is that Friedgen will be the Penn State OC.

Joey D.

January 10th, 2012
1:14 pm

O’Brien was a good guy but this was not a good hire for Penn St. Here’s a by the numbers look at his body of work in college. Pretty putrid.

http://coachesbythenumbers.com/penn-state-gets-patriotic-settles-on-bill-obrien/

GT Grad

January 10th, 2012
1:18 pm

@5150 UOAD, Penn State isnt gonna be the GT of the north, they will actually throw the forward pass, and COMPLETE THEM

5150 UOAD

January 10th, 2012
1:31 pm

GT GRAD moron I didn’t say the Paul Johnson TECH TEAM. LOOK at the TECH teams these guys coached. It is still the Georgia Tech of the north because that is where all these guys got together at one time.

crackbaby

January 10th, 2012
1:53 pm

Good read. Thanks, Ken. Forgot about ol’ Mac McWhorter.

I guess PSU wants to clean house after the handling of the Sandusky debacle but O’Brien should probably try to hire a couple guys with ties there or he may be destined to fail a la Rich Rod at Michigan. Old guard never bought in.

crackbaby

January 10th, 2012
1:54 pm

BTW – 5150 UOAD – probably best not to namecall other Tech fans. Just a suggestion.

GT Rich

January 10th, 2012
2:04 pm

O’Brian is pulling in coaches with long-standing recruiting ties in the southeast & Texas. Probably good, since there isn’t nearly as much talent to draw from in Pennsylvania. No scholarship losses, so his battle is mostly public perception. Wiping clean of the old guard is a smart move. Maybe steal away a Pitt coach to gain access to the small quantity of local talent…

Ken Sugiura

January 10th, 2012
2:06 pm

crackbaby – if i read correctly, he’s kept two or three members of the previous staff, so there is some carryover. a tricky balancing act, i’d imagine.
thanks for the kind words, everyone. i greatly appreciate it.

Ken Sugiura

January 10th, 2012
2:07 pm

Scott – I’m not sure if he’s going to “announce,” particularly if he chooses to stay. I’d say chances are pretty high he’ll stay.

Ken Sugiura

January 10th, 2012
2:08 pm

you might be interested to know, and i wish i’d remembered to include this, that jeff greene and vad lee were tweeting yesterday about throwing together.

GT Lee

January 10th, 2012
2:21 pm

Gotta feel bad for Bradley at PSU-he’s asked to hold things together thru the crapstorm then gets shoved out the door….wonder if he’ll wind up taking Roof’s spot at UCF????!!!

George Stein

January 10th, 2012
2:58 pm

Will you remain on the Tech beat next season, Ken, or has that decision not been made? I enjoyed your work this year. Thanks for your efforts.

Supersize that order, mutt

January 10th, 2012
3:41 pm

Yeah, Ken, I echo the question and sentiment of George Stein. I sure hope you will be back with us next year. You have done a great job of keeping us informed as well as putting up with some of the antics that go on on these blogs. You have become one of the Tech family, and we don’t want to lose you.

Technically Correct

January 10th, 2012
5:02 pm

Wow! Anyone who doesn’t think that the Athens Journal-Constitution is in the tank for Dwags football, just check out all the ink over the last week. There are stories about commitments and stories about those who didn’t commit. There are stories about how good the Dwags feel about next year. There are stories about honors to Dwags players. Meanwhile, Ken writes about – well, frankly, it seemed like drivel and I couldn’t make myself read it. The bottom line is that the anemic coverage afforded Tech football makes us appear irrelevant. Maybe perception is reality.

Yeah, Ken...

January 10th, 2012
5:18 pm

…Roof left Auburn for UCF(just ahead of getting fired) – is he still going there are will he really be going to PSU?

5150 UOAD

January 10th, 2012
5:20 pm

I Love all the DWAG coverage. All that Coverage is what makes them so Delusional about their standing in the SEC.

TECH really needs to get some MORE and Better Recruits. IF I say IF had a good Defense we would be playing for the ACC Championship every year. Paul Johnson and the Triple Option can win plenty of games. TECH just needs the Defense to STOP the other teams.
The worst part of being TECH is the Best players in the state want to go to the Bamas, LSU’s, FSU’s, & the such FIRST. If they can’t go there the fall to the DWAGS. If they can’t go there they consider TECH. The STATE and TECH in particular lost a few good recruits to STANFORD and that really hurts me.

Supersize that order, mutt

January 10th, 2012
5:33 pm

I don’t think it’s just a matter of recruiting per se; I am sure the coaches do everything they can to try to attract talent to the Flats. But Tech as a whole does not sell itself. DRad needs to get a Madison Ave type marketing man to promote Tech as a school, and as an athletic entity….especially within the state of Georgia. Of course outstanding student who want a science/engineering degree almost automatically put Tech on their lists, if not at the very top. But average students coming out of HS who MIGHT have an interest in the curriculum that Tech offers as well as athletes who get sold a bill of goods by other schools (can you say over-signing Saban?) probably never even consider Tech. And it’s the same with sports fans in general in the south. Tech needs to sell itself to those people. Obviously nothing sells better than winning, and basketball has proved that through the years; despite what the UGA posters on these blogs say, NOBODY thinks of UGA when it comes to basketball. But even in football, every team has down years but still manage to attract interest, and that’s because somebody is out there selling them. It’s time for Tech football to come into the 21st century and do the same.

5150 UOAD

January 10th, 2012
5:51 pm

SS my buddy with 4 boys (ALL Dwag fans) has 1 son who wants to go to TECH. He is getting into the Robots. The issue is between Pre-K thru 12 the State doesn’t do enough to PUSH kids into math and Sciences. The Athletes even less so. It is still true that kids that can play ball get passed even when taking the easiest classes. Tech is recruiting against the Southern Educational & Social System that celebrates Dumbing Down to be Cool and Jocks Rule.

Supersize that order, mutt

January 10th, 2012
6:03 pm

UOAD, you are 100% correct

Supersize that order, mutt

January 10th, 2012
6:06 pm

UOAD, you might get a kick out of this, There is a family at my church with 3 boys and a girl (2 of the boys are fraternal twins). They are a BIG BIG UGA family. BUT, one of the twins transferred to Tech this past Fall from Augusta State (I forget what his major is). I asked him during his Christmas break if he had become a Tech fan yet. I was moderately surprised to hear him say “yes.” But I was STUNNED at his answer when I asked him if he had gone to the Tech – UGA game and whom he had pulled for. He said he was a solid Tech fan now and had pulled for the Jackets like all good students should do. I guess he is now the black sheep in his family….LOL

Dawg48

January 10th, 2012
6:07 pm

5150
TECH really needs to get some MORE and Better Recruits. IF I say IF had a good Defense we would be playing for the ACC Championship every year. Paul Johnson and the Triple Option can win plenty of games. TECH just needs the Defense to STOP the other teams.

Did you pull up a stool at the kool aide bar? Lol

5150 UOAD

January 10th, 2012
6:15 pm

48 I run the damn BAR!

Supersize that order, mutt

January 10th, 2012
6:53 pm

Get a room, you guys. LOL

TechRon

January 10th, 2012
9:13 pm

Anyone notice that Calvin Johnson and Demarius Thomas are world beaters in the NFL? What if they had been used properly at GT? But, no. The arrogant PJ knows best. I think if he stays, we will go lower and lower. I hope not, but I fear that we will. Sure, we will beat the teams that we are clearly better than, but when we meet real competition, they will shut us down. Put that with a horrid defense and you have this year, over and over and over. Small, insignificant bowl. Lose the bowl game, looking like bums. Get rid of PJ and Groh, please.

Sure, Richt leaves something to be desired (ask any UGA fan), but he is much better than our coach.

HighTech

January 10th, 2012
9:52 pm

Techron helps prevent the grimy deposits that degrade an engine’s cleanliness.

Horrid? Really? I suppose you would say UGA’s defense is fabulous, then. lol.

Supersize that order, mutt

January 10th, 2012
10:11 pm

TechRon, Johnson didn’t coach Calvin; Gailey did. And Gailey never used him the way he should have. At least Johnson turned an average BayBay into an outstanding receiver.

Techie

January 11th, 2012
1:16 am

oh for an All-A. DB or just a good one or heck, just an average one…sub par secondary for years, we should probably rush 11 men….

Techie

January 11th, 2012
2:35 am

Been a Techie since mid 50s, NEED a kicking game, GT has always been known to have a kicking game, it can win games for you, ask Bama, ask me…need a secondary, !!Jesus!!, need a secondary, a good hi-sch thrower can beat us, love to watch the triple-o work but need to put in something extra for bowl games because of the added prep time the opp.s get…Tech has almost never been a team to adjust at half time, I rem one year we had Auburn 30-0 at half and LOST ??-30 damn…it kills me to admit this but we have almost never played with heart in 4 qtr., I have diff rem when we rallied in 2nd half to beat a superior team…I’d like to see PJ smile at a kid or pat one on the hat after a mistake or show some concern or care for a kid who screwed up or needs a little emotional boost…he is a hard a*s on the sideline but he is who he is and he is and has been fairly successful, I’d like to hear what some former players say about their feelings for him, that subject speaks to family…their is more to coaching than planning plays and chewing out a player…I rem Bobby Dodd very well and PJ could learn a lot from a man and a coach like Dodd…I’ll die a White and Old Gold Engineer !!
to Hell with georgy…….

Birmingham Jacket

January 11th, 2012
7:50 am

As impossible as it might seem, Penn State just went from bad to worse. Doesn’t matter.

PSU like ND and GT are historical programs that will never be of relevance again because of their academic standards and in the case of PSU and ND, their putrid locations.

one thing that is never mentioned

January 11th, 2012
11:31 am

about tech wr’s is that because of the offense we deploy they have to be some of the better skilled wr’s at blocking. END OF STORY!

if you dont block well you dont play at gt….. if you dont block well you sit on the bench in the nfl.

that is a huge plus in my opinion.

what i find funny is that Hill scored higher in the wunderlich test than did matthew stafford... arqueabley the smartest guy on the dawgs team when he was there.

January 11th, 2012
11:32 am

Enter your comments here

dawgfan

January 11th, 2012
1:09 pm

“Penn State the Georgia Tech of the north.”

Hmm..so you Techies are sweeping child abuse under the rug to protect your pristine choir boy image too? Sounds about right. I wouldn’t put it past you.

GT Girl

January 11th, 2012
2:20 pm

dawgfan, you are SICK!

what i find funny is that Hill scored higher in the wunderlich test than did matthew stafford... arqueabley the smartest guy on the dawgs team when he was there.

January 11th, 2012
2:52 pm

…I thought the Wunderlich was given at the combine, not before, and Hill just declared last week, so it is doubtful he has even taken that test – and, I further thought that Stafford scored extremely high, like 28 out of 30, or something like that – it will be interesting hear what Andrew Luck scores…

Wonderlic scores...

January 11th, 2012
2:54 pm

…Wonderlic scores for the NFL’s projected starting quarterbacks: perfect score is 50…

1. Ryan Fitzpatrick 48

2. Alex Smith 40

3. Eli Manning 39

4. Matt Stafford 38

5. Tony Romo 37

6. Aaron Rodgers 35

6. Matt Leinart 35

8. Tom Brady 33

9. Matt Ryan 32

10. Matt Schaub 31

11. Philip Rivers 30

12. Matt Hasselbeck 29

12. Marc Bulger 29

12. Brady Quinn 29

15. Mark Sanchez 28

Wonderlic scores...

January 11th, 2012
2:57 pm

…Notice the Harvard guy is first…

Wonderlic scores...

January 11th, 2012
2:59 pm

the rest of interest…

15. Peyton Manning 28

15. Drew Brees 28

18. Josh Freeman 27

18. Joe Flacco 27

20. Carson Palmer 26

20. Jay Cutler 26

20. Kyle Orton 26

23. Ben Roethlisberger 25

24. Jason Campbell 23

25. Brett Favre 22

25. Tim Tebow 22

25. Chad Henne 22

28. Bruce Gradkowski 19

29. Vince Young 15

30. Donovan McNabb 14

30. David Garrard 14

Unknown: Matt Cassel, Matt Moore

Top quarterback prospects in 2010 NFL draft

Sam Bradford, Oklahoma 36

Colt McCoy, Texas 25

Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame 23

Tebow 22

Other Wonderlic scores of note:

Brian Griese 39

Drew Bledsoe 36

Steve Young 33

John Elway 29

Chad Pennington 25

JaMarcus Russell 24

Mark Brunell 22

Trent Dilfer 22

Michael Vick 20

Daunte Culpepper 18

Dan Marino 15

Randall Cunningham 15

Jim Kelly 15

Terry Bradshaw 15

Chris Leak 8

Techie

January 11th, 2012
5:11 pm

absolutely true about blocking wr’s, looking at tape you always see a good wr block in successful long run or play… or you see that wr’s man making the tackle that stopped the big play while that idiot wr is standing there most likely jumpin up and down watching…yank him and put another one in until they learn to block !!!

Techie

January 11th, 2012
5:15 pm

dawgfan—-you’d know most about sweepin stuff under the rug

Scott L.

January 11th, 2012
11:01 pm

Mac McWhorter should have gotten the Tech job when O’Leary left, but Braineless wouldn’t even interview him. He’s a great coach.

Full Metal Jacket

January 12th, 2012
6:43 am

I enjoy the great job you’re doing as beat writer, Ken. I don’t post much anymore but I still keep up with GT sports through this site. Tech can be proud of having 3-4 coaches on the new Penn State staff, and it really makes you wonder what O’Leary could have built here if he’d have stayed. He did well when he was here, and were it not for the Notre Dame fiasco, I believe he would have thrived here. I’m also pleased to hear about the MTSU quarterback who is transferring to Tech this semester. Washington and Lee (sounds like a good idea for a college!) can use someone pushing them, and the program needs as much talent as it can get. I am a fan of CPJ overall, but it is becoming clear that recruiting the best talent for his system is a real challenge across most positions.

Full Metal Jacket

January 12th, 2012
6:45 am

Michael Vick must have been wonder-licking dogs at the time of the test.

mtraininjax

January 12th, 2012
10:36 am

Roof would do well to stay at UCF and get a refresher course from O’Leary on D. O’Brien does not need a terrible D to start his tenure, and Roof’s performance this year at Aubury was horrid. Some of the worst stats ever on the Flats. Mac is a good choice for Billy, he is a good stable figure.

I now have 2 teams to root for, Billy and the Staters and the might GT Yellow Jackets!