CHICAGO -- Penn State coach Bill O'Brien took the occasion of Big Ten Football Media Days here Thursday to say his program is finished accepting criticism without responding.
“Penn State's taken a lot of punches the last six months,” he said. “It's time to punch back.”
Vocal senior linebacker Michael Mauti applauded the statement.
“It's about time, man,” Mauti said during a Q&A with PSU beat writers in which he pulled no punches. “Someone has got to stand up and see what is going on here.”
The Nittany Lions were hit with significant NCAA sanctions earlier in the week stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Neither O'Brien -- who was hired in January -- nor his players had any involvement in the scandal.
One penalty was the ability of current players to transfer out of the program and be immediately eligible to play at another FBS school -- including fellow Big Ten programs. And it has had a side effect NCAA president Mark Emmert may not have anticipated.
Mauti said Penn State players are being badgered because there are few rules on how opposing coaches can contact them. He said at least 40 schools have tried to contact him even though he's maintained that he intends to stay at PSU.
“There's been coaches hounding our players (with) 10-12 calls per day,” Mauti said. “(They are) on our campus, outside our classrooms. Even some coaches from this conference.
“At this point in time, the fact that there's no rules -- the door has been opened,” he added. “You don't have to have ethics in this game. That's the game they created.”
Asked how Emmert could say so much about integrity while handing down the punishments and then create this sort of situation, Mauti at first replied: “I think it's kind of ironic.”
He was asked to elaborate.
“For them to say that is helping (the players), for them to say they're doing us a favor to (be able to transfer) with no rules -- I'm going to choose my word carefully here -- it's a joke,” Mauti said. “An absolute joke.”
Wednesday, Penn State players tweeted that Illinois coaches were on the University Park campus. Thursday morning, first-year Illini coach Tim Beckman denied that. He said he and members of his staff set up shop in two State College (the town next to the university) establishments.
“We called some individuals and asked if they wanted to come by,” Beckman said.
Two of the most high-profile coaches in the conference -- Wisconsin's Bret Bielema and Ohio State's Urban Meyer -- both said they'll listen if a Penn State player calls them but that they would not actively recruit any Lions.
“I have a problem with that,” Meyer said.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach O'Brien and everything he stands for,” Bielema said. “I'm not casting doubt on anybody. But we made a decision that we would not actively recruit any Penn State players.”
Mauti declined to identify which Big Ten coaches or assistant coaches he and his teammates saw on campus. But he said he'll remember it when the season rolls around.
“I'm a competitor,” he said. “If someone tells us they feel for us or wish us well, but at the same time they want to go after our guys, I've got a problem with that.”
He also took exception to Emmert's comments that Penn State football had not placed the proper emphasis on academics.
“Who said that?” Mauti said. “Penn State graduates eight of 10 players. No other school does that. To say my degree means less because of (the Sandusky scandal), no way.
“Hey, I was watching Barney when that happened,” he added, referring to the alleged 2001 cover up of Sandusky's actions by school officials. “Our freshmen were like 6 years old.”
O'Brien had no problem with his linebacker's strong opinions. He actually enjoyed seeing the fighting spirit.
“I consider it a fight in this aspect -- it's about overcoming adversity,” O'Brien said. “It's about what right for the kids at Penn State. It's about doing a great job and keeping them together.
“Life's about adversity, about how you deal with it,” he added. “What do you do, say, 'well, this happened to us, what do we do now?' No, you fight back.”