See what O'Brien had to say and the reactions of several lettermen.
The Penn State Football Letterman's Club held its annual golf tournament at the Blue Course on campus Saturday. Second-year Nittany Lion coach Bill O'Brien took the opportunity to thank the former players for sticking with the program through difficult times.
The most difficult time, obviously, was when the program was hit with NCAA sanctions last summer, penalties many thought would immediately tear apart the program.
“I never got a chance to thank the lettermen for what they did for us last summer,” O'Brien said before the tournament. “Not to rehash some bad memories, but on July 22 the sanctions came out, and we were trying to decide what to do to keep that 2012 team together. One of the ideas we had was to invite you guys to speak to our team.
“I'll never forget that,” he added. “We only gave you four or five days advance notice, and we had 500 guys show up. And after that night, only one kid left our football team. So I personally want to thank you for what you did for our football team last year.”
Those comments hit home with the lettermen, most of whom played under the late Joe Paterno.
“It meant a lot,” former linebacker Ivory Gethers said. “He talked about his commitment to the team and former players. We're showing our commitment to the team and former players, and Coach O'Brien, as well.”
“It means a lot that he recognized the lettermen who came before he was even here,” former receiver Graham Zug added. “He knows our support is great. We're here in numbers. It's a pleasure to have him as our coach and [for him] to be here and support us, as well.”
The lettermen tend to keep very close tabs on the program. Former receiver Joe Nastasi has been especially impressed by what O'Brien and his staff have been able to do from a coaching perspective -- especially when it comes to recruiting.
“He's a great motivator,” Nastasi said. “I can't say enough about how he's held it together with getting the new recruits. That alone has got to be one of the most difficult parts of the whole situation with the sanctions. Everything he's done is unbelievable. He really deserves credit for everything he's done to this point. … Bridging that gap from the old to the new is just outstanding. I couldn't be more happy with how we're going.”
O'Brien missed the 2012 tournament because it was held in August and Penn State was in the middle of training camp. The event was moved to late June this year in part so the head coach and several of his staffers could participate.
Hitting the links along with O'Brien were defensive coordinator John Butler, receivers coach Stan Hixon, quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher and head trainer Tim Bream.
Though none are Penn State lettermen, they fit right in with the group. That came as no surprise to Wally Richardson, a former quarterback and the new director of the Letterman's Club.
“Coach O'Brien gets it,” Richardson said. “He understands the tradition we've had here. Guys are very proud and protective of the program and definitely want to make sure it's in good hands. I think with Coach O'Brien and his staff, it's in great hands.”