STATE COLLEGE ó Yet another book lay on the coffee table in his spacious office.
Bill OíBrien is Ivy League material who studied political science and organizational behavior as an undergrad, public policy after that.
To know him is to imagine his mind working non-stop, on another game plan, a recruiting pitch, or a coachesí meeting. From that lecture he promised his high school buddy to the stadium tour heíd give his college teammate.
His high-grade reputation truly blossomed at Brown University ó Joe Paternoís alma mater ó with not only learning every nuance of playing his position but the stunning particulars of everyone else on the field as well.
Reading is another way he soaks in the worldís debates, how he learns and tests theories and tweaks his methods of motivating in sports and beyond. He said he often works on three or four books at a time.
In the late spring, the newest addition in his office was Laura Hillenbrandís ďUnbroken,Ē the hardback best-seller about Louie Zamperini, the young Californian sprinter who ran in the 1936 Hitler Olympics before going to war.
There, he remained exquisitely focused and upbeat and pulled through countless near-death experiences and torture at the hands of his Japanese captors.
OíBrien had not yet opened that one.
This was a week before the guilty verdict in the Jerry Sandusky trial. A month before the scathing Freeh report was released. The crippling NCAA sanctions followed it all, driving several of his prized recruits to leave the fold almost immediately. Some of his stars from his current team did the same.
Meanwhile, OíBrien locked into his strengths and his resources and simply built one day upon another.
He talked to his mentors, the top football coaches in the country.
He re-charged in a perfectly timed week at the family hangout in Cape Cod, sharing meals, telling stories, busting chops and hitting golf balls.
At Penn State, he grabbed four or five hours of sleep each night. Heíd arrive at his spacious office early and rarely slow down from studying practice and game film and planning everything from staff meetings, team-building activities and recruiting pitches to alumni events and a multi-week bus tour.
Always, at the end of whatever he digested that day, he packed it away and made the short drive to his new home in Boalsburg to be with his wife and two young boys.
Colleen OíBrien is every bit his intellectual joust, magna cum laude at Boston College, top five in her law school class and a sports junkie. But the fit truly works like this ó he burns hotter, an Irish-Catholic from New England; she operates smoother, calmer and drier.
ďShe thinks things through. Sheís the opposite of ready-aim-fire,Ē Bill OíBrien said. ďShe never gets riled up, hung up.Ē
She ensures that not only firecracker Michael, 7, finishes playing with new friends in time for baseball or soccer practice, but that son, Jack, 10, simply survives happily through another day.
Jack was diagnosed with a rare developmental brain disorder several years ago, not long after OíBrien began his steady but twisting ascent in coaching. Jackís lissencephaly guarantees him no specific amount of life or cognitive abilities ó but no defined limits, either.
Always, they are in a state of detailed vigilance and yet hope.
One crucial segment of life bleeds into another.
In June, OíBrien talked about how so many probe him about the new-found pressure in his life, that of coaching at Penn State.
Rather, he looks to his home and his son. He could have been referring to ďUnbroken.Ē
ďWhat do you define as pressure?Ē he asked, rhetorically, during a one-on-one meeting in his office.
ďThis job is about hard work. Itís about doing the right thing for the kids. Itís about making sure the team is prepared to practice and play.
ďBut pressure is when your child is going through tough things. Pressure is what my wife has to deal with every day. Feed him, bathe him, make sure he has the right medicine. He has to take medicine on the dot. Thatís pressure. If you miss that by an hour, he might have a major seizure. Thatís pressure. You better get your medicine in the kid.
ďItís not third-and-one against Ohio State. Thatís just making a good play-call.Ē
A week before his first game, we know more about the man whoís been on the job eight months. We know more but nowhere close to a majority of defining images.
What is clear is that there is a depth and perspective to OíBrien that guides him better than most would think of a 42-year-old, first-time head coach.
ďIím not easily impressed by most people,Ē said high school buddy George Delaney. ďBut (OíBrienís) always exceeded expectations. There are no shortcuts in this man.Ē
Heís always moving forward, as he has become fond of saying.
One unforeseen and yet steady step at time. ź
In a sense, he grew up as an only child.
Bill OíBrien was 10 years younger than his oldest brother, Jack, and more than six years younger than Tom.
Sports became engrained in each of the boys, though education was the runaway motivator. Their father, John, graduated from Brown University before becoming a success in the semi-conductor business. Each of his boys followed him to Brown, Tom even playing football there.
But Bill OíBrien was different.
His focus and intensity in those games separated him from most everyone. When he was in the eighth grade his parents sent him to St. Johnís Prep, a Catholic school in Andover, Mass.
ďProbably the best thing we ever did for him,Ē John OíBrien said recently.
ďThe peer pressure was to be a good student and an athlete, unlike some public schools where peer pressure was to be an athlete and a wise guy. He thrived with the all-boys (student body) and the sports and academics. They practiced football and heíd come home dog-tired and then do three hours of studying every night.
ďThat was pretty rigorous, and that set him up (for today). Heís well-grounded and well-schooled.Ē
Both of Bill OíBrienís brothers became lawyers, with Tom even running Jackís successful Massachusetts state senate campaign.
Bill went to Brown and played football there, too. Though his defensive skills were limited, he rose above everyone as a leader.
ďHe doesnít have an ego. Heís confident, but he doesnít have an, ĎItís-about-me-kind-of-attitude,íĒ said Jim OíLeary, his high school coach. ďEverybody loved ĎOíBie.í Heís had the ability to make friends and keep them. People follow him.
ďYou have to be able to see beyond the moment and see the big picture.Ē
Those traits sparked him at Brown, where early on he realized his infatuation with coaching.
After graduation and a brief stint coaching tight ends barely younger than himself, he earned his first big break. Georgia Tech needed a graduate assistant.
Of course, OíBrien had to be accepted into the prestigious graduate school just to take the job.
ďHe hadnít taken a test in 2Ĺ years ... and they donít just let you in there,Ē said John Perry, who grew up with OíBrien and coached with him at Brown.
ďBut he went in and nailed (the entrance exam). Those things are always remarkable to me. An average person would take their time and study for six months, but he just went in and nailed it.Ē
The next decade saw him emerge as a successful offensive coordinator and fight through some tough times.
He lost a job at Notre Dame when George OíLearyís resume came into question.
He suffered through losing seasons at Duke and even prospered rather anonymously under Bill Belichick in New England. His sideline shouting match with future Hall-of-Famer Tom Brady provided some sudden national face time.
Two weeks later, he became Penn Stateís surprise pick.
It all completed a stunning arc, but heís been no more or less successful than brother Tom, who runs a real estate development company, and brother Jack, who runs a government and regulatory affairs group for a Texas utility.
Heís made his fortune by crafting masterful on-field matchups, by putting every type of player in a position to succeed, by smoothly morphing his offense around whatever he has to work with, even if the parts seem less than favorable.
He still talks regularly with Alabamaís Nick Saban, OíLeary and Belichick, a few of the top minds in the profession.
ďHeís taught me the discipline of his management style,Ē Jack OíBrien said of his brother. ďThere is a lot going on in (the Penn State football) building getting ready for this season. With everything coming at him, itís how disciplined he is, with how he wants that program to run.
ďGuys like my brother can run other organizations in other industries in other academic settings.Ē
While he has repeatedly embraced Penn Stateís tradition, its academics and even Paterno, OíBrien also made sure to quickly paint his own brushstrokes as well. From a relaxed policy on long hair and earrings to putting names on the backs of those staid uniforms, to opening more practice time to the media to encouraging coachesí families to attend workouts.
ďWe donít want to regret that because weíre coaching football we didnít see our kids,Ē OíBrien said. ďThatís one thing Iíve done during the offseason: I try to help as much as I can at home.Ē ź
For so long, the wonder and anticipation focused on the oddity of starting a season without Paterno, his assistants, his family ó everything that stayed so much the same.
And yet now things are much bigger than that.
Itís almost difficult to quantify it all and how it will feel Saturday in Beaver Stadium in the home opener.
To OíBrien, though, this is simply the first step of his first job as a program leader. He trusts the men heís coaching with. He has been a known plan-builder since the day he arrived.
Penn Stateís past doesnít sway him too hard one way or another. A cloudy future seems only to fuel him.
He began his overhaul by hiring one of the nationís top strength-and-conditioning coaches to go with one of the top offensive line coaches to rebuild a program on basics, in a sense, from the inside out.
It could well be a long-term project, especially considering the multi-year bowl ban and scholarship losses and transfers. But the sometimes fiery and always direct coach also owns a patience.
Heís bought into that during his own career. He sees it every day at home, how his oldest son is elated by the smallest of accomplishments, like crawling a bit on the floor, and how his youngest son willingly watches over him.
His boys have ďprobably made him have a stronger appreciation for whatever opportunities he has,Ē said Brian Aylward, a college football friend. ďHeís that much more dedicated to the kids he coaches. It makes him fight that much more for them to get the most out of their abilities.Ē
Which, after eight months on the job, finally leads to his first game.
It will be emotional and maybe even overwhelming in a packed stadium of more than 107,000 fans, all of it broadcast on national TV.
Maybe hundreds of OíBrien family members, friends and former co-workers from New England will be in the stands watching.
Heís been too busy to even contemplate that moment and what it will be like to run onto that field.
Heís purposely avoided it.
ďMaybe Iíll think about that the night before the game,Ē he said. ďAnd Iíll think about myself and how Iím going to control the emotions.Ē
And then the action on the field will begin.
Eventually it will end.
And there will be another to day to build. ź