How a Leader turned Chaos into Triumph: A Penn State Story

How a Leader turned Chaos into Triumph: A Penn State Story

“For five years, Bills outstanding work with our quarterbacks and entire offense has led to record-setting performances. His presence and command before our team has grown into that of an inspirational leader. This is a great match between a storied program and an old-school football coach.” — BILL BELICHICK, New England Patriots coach

Who is Coach Bill O’Brien?

So, who is this guy anyway? He was born in Dorchester, MA. and raised in Andover, a Boston suburb. He played linebacker and defensive end at Brown University from 1990-92, graduating in 1992 with a double concentration in political science and organizational behavior management. He started out his coaching career at his alma mater. He worked his way through the college ranks before landing a job with the New England Patriots in 2007 under the great Bill Belichick.

During a bye week with the New England Patriots, Coach O’Brien was permitted to speak with the Jacksonville Jaguars for their head coach position. Fortunately, this never happened but instead interviewed for the head coaching position at Penn State. On January 7, 2012 O’Brien became the 15th head football coach after the firing of Joe Paterno following the largest child abuse sex scandals in all of college football history.

So, after all the scandal and bad publicity that Penn State was going through why would anyone want to be the successor to the legendary Joe Paterno as Penn State’s football coach, you might ask? Just ask Dave Joyner, Penn State’s Acting Director of Athletics.

“We have found the man to take Penn State football forward,” said Dave Joyner, Penn State Acting Director of Athletics, at O’Brien’s introduction to the Nittany Nation. “Needless to say, we have been looking for someone with some very special qualities, beginning with a heart that beats to the values and vision of Penn State University and our Penn State football legacy and tradition. That was our starting point, and Coach O’Brien exemplifies those traits that Penn Staters hold so highly. In addition to his model characteristics as a man and a teacher, he’s all about producing winners, and doing so the right way. He will embrace tradition, demand excellence and pursue Success with Honor in every phase of our program.”

Despite all the negativity Coach O’Brien was faced with from the former players and fans, he was determined to lead one of the nation’s premier college football programs with true old school style leadership.

What we can learn from Coach O’Brien. He is an old style, in your face type coach, not afraid to voice his opinion or speak his mind. People must respect this. He is extremely detailed/task oriented with a system in place for just about everything. He is a very engaging person that loves people and wants to make a difference in the lives he touches. He’s an intense man with a vision for success. He loves a challenge and will not back down. He faces every challenge head on. He’s very intelligent and knows the game like the back of his hand. He has coached every position and had some of the best mentors the games have ever produced. Lastly, his has a strong presence and command about him. When he walks into a room, he has something about him that is instantly respected and admired.

Coach O’Brien is an ordinary man that gets extraordinary results in everything he does. His goal is to rebuild the image of a program and to recreate that aura of prestige and class. With an 8-4 finish, O’Brien brought that feeling back to the campus and its iconic football team. This was the reason Coach O’Brien was named “Big Ten Coach of the Year” over the likes of Urban Meyers, Ohio State Buckeyes and Brian Kelly, Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

In his last interview, he had to say this, “It was a tough, tough year here, especially if you go back to November, but I think these kids — and again it goes back to this senior class — they’re wise beyond their years,” O’Brien said. “As time went on they realized that it’s not about bowl games, it’s about making sure that we do our part to help put an end to child abuse but at the same time go out and play as good of football as we can and like every season we wish we had some plays back and some games back, but I think at the end of the day we played pretty good football.”

About the Author

John R. Salkowski is a retired Police Officer after an impressive 15 year career who is now a Highly Sought-After Leadership and Motivational Speaker and Trainer. John can speak for crowds ranging from 20-20,000 sharing his unique leadership strategies in his signature presentation:

“Leadership in the Line of Duty”
Lessons for Making Split-Second Decisions from a Cop Who Has Been in Life and Death Situations

John regularly speaks for a variety of leaders (ranging from entry level to experienced executives) for corporations, business groups, associations, colleges, universities, youth groups and sports organizations. Pulling from his 15 years of real world, in-the-trenches (and even life and death) Law Enforcement situations, John now teaches leaders one of the most important key components of leadership (that is often overlooked):

“How to make split-second leadership decisions when the direction and success of your organization depends on it!”

John has received numerous distinguished awards for Bravery, Merit and Unit Citations. He has also received several employee recognition awards for serving as a leader within his community, including being featured in the Philadelphia Magazine as one of the area’s Top Business Leaders.

Any organization that wants to develop their people into becoming “Extraordinary Leaders” needs to hire John for a keynote and/or workshop training.

To request John to speak at your next event, please email his office at

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