Considering the circumstances he walked into, Penn State's first year under Bill O'Brien was above and beyond expectations. Recall national analysts by the dozen declaring roadkill of Penn State's season after the Nittany Lions dropped September games to Ohio and Virginia.
Instead of cratering, Penn State responded. They ripped off five straight wins and went on to take victory in eight of their final 10 games.
With the wins came recognition. O'Brien was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year and the Bear Bryant Coach of the Year. O'Brien's work was also noticed on the professional level as teams with head coaching vacancies came calling for the former New England Patriots offensive coordinator.
"I listened but that's about as far as it went," O'Brien said of his NFL interest. "I love the players here. They made a commitment to us, and we made a commitment to them."
In fact, commitment was the first virtue O'Brien attempted to teach his Penn State players, and it happened before he even moved to State College. Named Penn State's head coach on Jan. 6, 2012, O'Brien did not join the Nittany Lions until after the Super Bowl and his duties as the Patriots' offensive coordinator were complete. "How can I talk about loyalty and commitment and then leave the Patriots at the start of a playoff run?," O'Brien asked at the time.
Now, going into his 21st year of coaching, but just year No. 2 as a head coach, O'Brien took stock of how much he's learned after his first 12 months in the big office.
"I learned about how much I really cared about these players," O'Brien said. "When you're an assistant, you've got your guys, your position, your unit. You're not in charge of the whole time. Now you're a head coach and you really form a special bond with the players, and that's a really special bond. I learned a lot. I really love being a head coach, but I've got a long way to go and a lot of improving to do."