It might not be sexy, but John Urschel said one major difference about this year’s team has been flying under the radar.
Urschel said most Penn State fans are probably unaware of the overall improved relationship between coaches and players among the well-known personnel and strategic changes. In particular, the Nittany Lions said the honesty from coaches about what the future holds for individual players has quickly become a strength of the staff.
Coach Bill O’Brien’s first season hasn’t begun under the easiest of circumstances, as he has had to deal with a lot of turnover on both the coaching staff and the roster. Yet, linebacker Glenn Carson said O’Brien paved the way for an honest relationship in the summer after the announcement of the sanctions.
“During the sanctions, he basically came right out and said, ‘This isn’t easy. It’s not an easy choice for you guys,’ ” Carson said.
“He was completely honest of everything we were going to face.”
Urschel said the transparency has continued into the season, allowing for an optimal playing environment on game days.
The guard added that O’Brien’s coaching staff has been very approachable, creating “open lines of communication” to discuss anything on their minds.
“When a coaching staff is very honest with you, up-front, it builds trust,” Urschel said. “And teams perform better when the entire team has the utmost trust in a coaching staff.”
Safety Malcolm Willis said the coaching staff has especially been up front with players about their specific responsibilities on the team.
“As a player on this team, you have to mind your role in order for the team to win,” Willis said. “There really isn’t any kind of fantasy [about our role] but that’s the main thing that’s allowing everybody to play to the best of their ability.”
Linebacker Michael Mauti said, in addition to honesty from coaches, the same has been expected out of players.
The fifth-year senior described the relationship as “reciprocal” and said it has directly led to players successfully executing what the coaches have been preaching.
O’Brien said, throughout his football career, he has always understood the importance of players embracing their roles.
Dating back to his playing days at Brown, O’Brien said he was never the most talented player, but he made the most of his ability by striving to fulfill his particular role on the team.
“I wasn't a great player,” O’Brien said. “I just loved to play and if they asked me to switch positions, I would switch at a moments notice, just to help the team. [I did] whatever I could do to help the team, run down the kickoff team, whatever.”
The coach cited players like linebackers Mike Hull and Ben Kline who have grown a similar pride in their special teams play, despite ultimately wanting to be full-time defensive starters.
“Maybe they started some games, they backed up other games, but at the end of the day, they helped the team win,” O’Brien said.