Rose, you see, is more than just a Hall of Fame coach for the Nittany Lion women's volleyball program, with five national championships and every award imaginable to his credit. He is also one of the most respected leaders at Penn State -- so much so that when longtime football coach Joe Paterno was fired in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal in 2011, Rose was named to the committee tasked with finding the legend's successor.
And that successor turned out to be O'Brien, who won several national Coach of the Year honors after guiding NCAA sanction-saddled PSU to an 8-4 record in 2012.
O'Brien is the star attraction of the Penn State Coaches Caravan that is traveling around the East for two weeks. Thursday evening, Rose joined him for the stop in Camp Hill.
In looking back on the hiring process -- O'Brien was the relatively unknown offensive coordinator with the NFL's New England Patriots when he landed the PSU job -- Rose said what stood out to him was the fact that O'Brien called himself “a hell of a football coach.” That passion apparently resonated with the entire committee.
And according to Rose, O'Brien was on the money with his statement.
“I thought it was important to get someone who was a hell of a football coach,” Rose said. “I thought we had a hell of a football coach (in Paterno), and I think we have one now.
“He's doing a great job in a tough time,” Rose added.
And he was not just talking about O'Brien's on-field work. Rose said in a coaches meeting, O'Brien offers a fresh perspective because he is not afraid to express “a view from outside. … He doesn't know how Penn State does things.”
According to Rose, Penn State talked to “four or five people” with ties to Penn State during the hiring process. Initially, at least, the plan was to “identify the best guy in the country and go get him,” much as the university did when it hired high-profile wrestling coach Cael Sanderson away from Iowa State.
As it happened, Sanderson was also on the Camp Hill stop Thursday, and he was sitting right next to Rose during a Q&A with the media. Rose said it did not take the football search committee long to realize the most high-profile football coaches were in a different financial stratosphere than Sanderson.
“Football's a little bit different,” Rose said. “Those guys, because of the money they're making…”
At that point, he turned and gestured to Sanderson:
“Unless you're making $10 million a year.”
Sanderson, without blinking, said, “Not that I know of.”
Rose continued: “One of the guys said, 'I'm really interested. But if I even talk to you guys, I could lose this great contract that's sitting on my desk.' ”
Of course, as it turned out, that looks like a blessing for Penn State, since it is difficult to imagine anyone doing a better job than O'Brien has done so far. And that's been critical, because football essentially foots the bill for the entire athletic department.
“Football is such an important commodity,” Rose said, later adding the athletic department is “a football-driven thing.”
Sanderson, who has led the PSU wrestlers to three straight national championships, agreed.
“I'm just very glad (O'Brien) is here and am very grateful,” Sanderson said. “We all know football is the engine of our athletic department, and as the football program goes, so does everybody else. It's nice to have him leading the train there.”
Though Rose is only doing one day of the caravan -- his team is scheduled to begin a European tour in a few days -- he said having O'Brien and other coaches making the rounds is key given everything that has happened to Penn State in the last year and a half.
“It's important for the fans to know that Penn State is still Penn State,” he said. “And everybody associated with it, we've been working hard and trying to do the best we can.”
• Wondering who Penn State's senior-most head coach is now? If you said Rose, you win. The 59-year-old was hired in 1979. Asked how much longer he intends to coach, Rose said, “I don't know.” Of PSU, he said, “I look at it as right now, it's a great place to be.”
• Rose said he worked without a contract for his first 33 years with the program but that he has one now.
• Sanderson said the athletic department is considering holding a future wrestling match at the Bryce Jordan Center (as opposed to the usual home of the program, Rec Hall). “We'd like to break the attendance record,” Sanderson said. “We'd have to market it and drag students in there.”
• Rose said the athletic department is working to move some men's basketball games from the Jordan Center to Rec Hall, “just to rekindle that energy.”