AFCA 2013 Notes: Bill O’Brien on “The Blueprint” and his Keys to Success

As of New Year’s Day, Bill O’Brien is the new head coach of the Houston Texans. There were probably several reasons for this, but it’s clear that a big motivation to leave Happy Valley was all of the political games that O’Brien was tired of playing.

Apparently fed up with all the “Paterno people,” O’Brien returns to the NFL, and takes over a Houston team that most assumed would be hosting a playoff game this weekend, and not hiring a new head coach.

Given all of the unprecedented drama of the past couple of years at Penn State, it’s probably fair to say that O’Brien did about as well as could be expected, since he had to field a Big Ten team with about half the scholarships of the rest of his opponents. Still, no matter what your feelings are about him taking another job before the Nittany Lion football team emerged from sanctions, there’s no doubt that at least in some small way, he has helped clean up the image of Penn State Football.

Read on to learn what he had to say at last year’s AFCA Convention in Nashville, fresh off an impressive season, and after winning Coach of the Year.

General Session

Bill O’Brien – HC Penn State

– “I have a lot of respect for the coaching profession.”

– People: When you’re a HC, you have to surround yourself with high-character, no-BS people. You don’t have the time for that in football. They have to be hard working and understand that it’s not gonna be easy.


– 1st thing when he got there was to make sure he had honest, open lines of communication with players.

– On players: “Be hard on him, be fair with him, don’t treat everyone the same. Be honest with them.”

– Meet with your players as early as possible when you’re a HC.

On the NCAA Sanctions, which resulted in huge scholarship losses and allowed players to transfer anywhere without penalty:

– Talked to the team after the sanctions came out. “Think about what your relationships mean. I’m not begging anyone to stay.” “I was myself and I was honest.”

– In winter conditioning, you could tell right away the guys who weren’t gonna make it.

– Worked for some of the best (Mark Whipple, Ralph Friedgen, Bill Belichick). The one common trait between all these guys is that they would’ve been themselves in that tough situation. Since the NCAA gave players permission to leave without a penalty, they knew that anyone still in that locker room was committed to Penn State.

– “It’s all about the guys you surround yourself with.”

On creating your own philosophy:

– To young coaches: Develop your beliefs early, don’t wait for somebody to tell you what you believe in. Start writing it down now (Create your own HC Manual).

– Day one: Put together a flow chart w/ each person’s job. Everyone in the building knows what their role is. The reason Bill Belichick is so successful is because he makes sure everyone in the building, from Tom Brady all the way to the cleaning lady, knows what their job is and what’s expected of them.

– As a young coach, think about how you would want things done. Off time during the summer is a good time to sit back and review.



1. Football should be fun and fulfilling for the student athlete involved

– Not all of football can be fun. We as coaches have to be at the cutting edge of eliminating the drudgery of football. They play music during practice, rotate the type of music, rap, country, etc everyday so that people always have at least one day where their type of music is playing.

– Tries to play fast and get the team into a rhythm

– Competitive drills

– Paintball and other fun activities during camp and summer

– These also worked as team-building activities

2. Football must be a part of the educational experience at Penn State

3. Football is played to win. We will never accept losing at Penn State.

– We will learn from a loss

4. No individual in the program is ever bigger than the team/ program.

5. We will promote a team/ family atmosphere through loyalty and communication.

6. We will have a standard of performance for the players on and off the field

– Life is too short not to have your family at practice, especially when you’re not around 6+ months of the year.

Bill O' Brien


1. Plan: Plan your work, work your plan

2. People: Surround yourself with good people

3. Placement: Make sure people understand their roles

4. Preparation: Give them opportunities to prepare for their roles.

5. Motivation: Every year is different!

6. Management: Provide leadership through planning, guidance, and honesty.

7. Morale: Treat everyone fairly. Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.

– Started out working for Mark Whipple as the guy who made sure the camera lift was oiled and ready to work correctly.

– “Let your coaches coach.”

A football game is broken down into three parts.

  • 1st quarter: Feeling each other out.
  • 2nd/3rd quarter: Making adjustments
  • 4th quarter: Situational football

– Put your players in positions to win in practice.

– Puts up new quotes in the locker room, a new message. That was 2012, this is 2013, it’s a different team.



1. Best person they can be on and off the field. We have to be a team of character and discipline.

2. Best student they can be. PSU is a tough school. We need to strive to reach our academic potential.

3. Best athlete they can be. On the field, in the weight room. Strive to reach our athletic potential.

4. Make our own individual commitment to the team. Each man must sacrifice a little bit of his individuality for the sake of the team’s success.

5. The will to prepare to win. Everyone involved must be prepared to do what is necessary to win.

6. Confidence through preparation

7. Superior Conditioning (Can win you 2-3 games per year)

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