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Most in the crowd of 200 at the Penn State-Altoona gym immediately applauded.


THE NEW PENN STATE CEO: Any lingering doubts in Bethlehem about who was in charge were likely erased after O'Brien’s talk before a crowd of about 400.

With the lights dimmed except for spotlights on the stage, O’Brien spoke passionately on various issues before emerging from behind the podium to offer his vision for the program’s future _ complete with a PowerPoint presentation. It had the look and feel at times of a motivational speech for a corporate retreat.

“It’s very, very important that you leave tonight with that vision. Whether you agree with everything or not, that’s not up to me, that is up to you,” O'Brien said. “What’s up to me is to tell you the vision that we have and the direction that we’re going.

One slide identified the four cornerstones of O'Brien’s program: academics, football, respect and integrity.

“What is important to me is that the foundation of this program stays,” O'Brien said. “What built this program, what people believed in this program will never change, and it’s built on four cornerstones.”

Acting athletic director David Joyner said O'Brien’s preparation and organizational skills were evident from early on in the interview process. A few weeks after being hired, O'Brien handed Joyner a white, spiral-bound booklet about a half-inch thick that contained his policies and procedures for the program.

“I think he’s been working on his plan for being a head coach for a long, long time,” Joyner said at his campus office.

An assistant coaching veteran, O'Brien cites stints at Georgia Tech under George O’Leary and with the Patriots under Bill Belichick as influences for fulfilling a lifelong pursuit to become a head coach.

The questions about football itself? O'Brien doesn’t mind answering them one bit, even if it’s about the ongoing saga over the starting quarterback race.

But for some fans like Susan Docker, a 2004 graduate and paralegal from Easton, what happens on the field is the least of their concerns.

“I wouldn’t care so much about how the football team does. I just hope that he can restore some semblance of normalcy and moving on in the wake of this situation,” she said. “Never to forget what happened, but to move forward.”