In the fall, Penn State will have a familiar look with their blue jerseys, white pants, black cleats and white helmet with a single blue stripe down the middle. Oh, and no names on the back of the jerseys. The fans will still tailgate in the parking lots, and the Blue Band will continue to perform the floating Lions drill for pre-game. The drum major will still do his patented flip, and the fans will still cheer "We are!" and "Penn State!" as directed by the Nittany Lion mascot and cheerleaders.
There will be plenty of familiar sights and sounds on game days in the fall in State College, but make no mistake about it. This is Bill O'Brien's program now, and he's looking to leave his mark on the program in his first stint as a head coach.
Creating a new identity on the staff was the easy part. Any time a new head coach comes in from the outside, a heavy coaching turnover on the staff is practically expected. Retaining Larry Johnson, Sr. and Ron Vanderlinden enabled O'Brien to keep some of that Penn State tradition on defense intact, but the addition of Ted Roof as defensive coordinator and a fresh take on the rest of the coaching staff quickly established that things were different.
Tom Bradley, gone. Jay Paterno, gone. New faces, new life.
O'Brien has ideas on how to continue to lead this football program, which undoubtedly is looking forward to getting back on the gridiron with a clean start in September. The football team will usher in a new tradition at the end of every game, singing the alma mater with the band and students whether the teams wins or loses. It is one of the subtle things O'Brien has done and one of many that has been received well by fans, alumni and students who may still be trying to adjust to life in the post-Paterno era in State College.
Sure, O'Brien has big ideas for the future of the program, such as his desire to see a series with Pittsburgh be picked up more often and potentially playing some marquee non-conference matchups in NFL stadiums in the New York and Washington D.C. areas. All of these are bold statements by a coach and a bit of a change of pace from the previous regime that saw Joe Paterno insist on playing as many home games as possible inside Beaver Stadium.
But, O'Brien started leaving his mark on the program as early as his introductory press conference last January. Hired amid some controversial reactions from former players who would have preferred to see Tom Bradley stay in the Penn State family, O'Brien knew exactly what he was walking in to. More importantly, he knew exactly what message he wanted to send not only to his critics, but to the entire community in and around Penn State and beyond.
"I think the number one message is what type of program we want to be," O/Brien said back in January as he was introduced as the new head coach of Penn State.
It is going to be a program of integrity. It is going to be a program of honesty. It is going to be a program of extremely hard work. It is going to be a program that is going to make Penn State people very proud. We want to be a tough, physical, smart football team on the field. And then off the field, we want to make sure we are going to class and earning our degree so that when we are done at Penn State, whether we play pro football or not, we can have a meaningful life and contribute to society in a meaningful way.
His words have been strong ever since. On a recent bus tour of Pennsylvania, Ohio, New England, New York, Maryland and New Jersey O'Brien echoed many of these statements and easily charmed Penn State alumni at every stop. Now, with the bus tour behind him, O'Brien has a better understanding of what Penn State is all about.
"I think it definitely helps," O'Brien said of getting out in the public and meeting Penn Staters, young and old, in a story by ESPN.com.
Like I've said, I wasn't here in November. My staff wasn't here. But we're well aware of what happened in November. So I definitely think it helps to get out and meet people and make sure people understand where we're headed.
Having seen two stops on his caravan tour up front, I can tell you it is working. He shakes hands, he talks with anybody and everybody that comes up to him. He will pose for pictures, whether somebody has someone take a picture on their camera for them or if someone just holds out their own cell phone to get a quick snapshot with the coach.
O'Brien needs to do this, but he wants to do it even more. O'Brien is self-aware as well.
Replacing a legend is never easy, and he knows that. Nobody ever wants to be in that position because the track record is full of coaches who failed to match or exceed the standards set by their predecessors.
"I'm very well aware of that list," he said in a story by USA Today. "I'm just trying to be me."
So far, it's working.
Quotes provided by Penn State athletics unless noted otherwise.
Kevin McGuire is the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast, managing editor of Nittany Lions Den and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and add him to your Google+ circle.