PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Dressed in a navy blue suit with a dark tie and a Penn State button pinned near his heart, new Nittany Lions football coach Bill O'Brien kicked off the first leg of a nine-day, 18-stop bus tour in Philadelphia on Monday.
Joined by head men's basketball coach Pat Chambers and field hockey coach Charlene Morett, O'Brien received an enthusiastic welcome from about 250 alumni, former players and supporters who attended the luncheon at the Doubletree Hotel.
"I know it's a very special place," O'Brien said. "What I try to do every single day is go in there with our staff and our players, and work extremely hard to make sure that we carry on the tradition of winning football games and graduating players."
It's quite a task. After all, O'Brien replaced Joe Paterno, who died in January at age 85. And he was hired two months after the child sexual abuse scandal that erupted following the arrest of Jerry Sandusky. A retired defensive coordinator, Sandusky has proclaimed his innocence while awaiting trial scheduled to start in June.
But O'Brien is ready to move the Nittany Lions forward in this ultra-competitive landscape that is college football, while at the same time, embrace Penn State's age-old tradition. It's a difficult recipe to master, but he's intent on trying.
"I want them to know," O'Brien said, "that I'm in charge of a football program that is part of a great athletic program that is a part of a very special university."
Those on hand certainly agreed Monday. And they were more than appreciative when hearing O'Brien, the former offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots, speak of the school's long-standing staples, including the simple uniforms and traveling on blue buses.
"That's what makes Penn State special," said Joseph Lally, a former defensive end. "Riding in the blue bus as a player is so exciting and motivational. Wearing those uniforms made us feel pretty special, and they are the same, year in and year out.
"These are important traditions."
After introductory remarks by the coaches, O'Brien fielded the majority of the questions from the generation-spanning fan base.
O'Brien has kept a busy schedule over the past few months as he has ingratiated himself in the community, despite his New England roots. He has made numerous campus appearances and talked with students.