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For O'Brien, on- and off-field priorities at PSU

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State coach Bill O'Brien's responsibilities cover so much more than overseeing a football team.

It may not be part of the job description, but four months into his new job O'Brien has turned into a face of a program and school seeking to move forward from scandal. He's hoping to soothe the concerns of loyal alumni shaken after the arrest of a retired defensive coordinator on child sexual abuse charges and the ouster of O'Brien's predecessor — the late Joe Paterno.

The focus is on the current transition to a new coaching and the future of the program.

"I'm very proud to be here, and I can tell you why, because this university stands for everything that I'm about, which is the balance between academics and football," O'Brien said Tuesday in addressing a regional meeting of Associated Press Sports Editors in State College. "You can win many, many games here. You can win championships here, and you can graduate kids here and the players that play here should be very proud that they are Penn State football players, and that's where I would start."

O'Brien is overseeing his first spring practice in the midst of his rookie year as a head coach. The primary responsibility right now is to get his players used to new systems, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The annual Blue-White spring game is April 21.

A four-month offseason follows, a period during which O'Brien plans to crisscross the state to talk to alumni. It's part of his ongoing efforts to become more familiar to the Penn State fan base.

"No question," he said Tuesday when asked if he felt responsibility to make peace with alumni upset by the scandal. "What I talk to (players) a lot about, and I would say this to alumni too ... is that our football players, our student-athletes, should have a tremendous amount of pride in being football players at Penn State."

O'Brien said he doesn't dwell on the past with his team.

"We weren't here when that happened," he said, referring to the allegations. "At the same time, we're very mindful of things like child abuse and making sure we have to reach out to victims of child abuse, charitable organizations and things like that."

The team will do more outreach in the offseason, O'Brien said.

At the same time, he stressed again that he would remain respectful of the program's storied traditions and Paterno's legacy — 409 wins, two national titles and loyal backers that appreciated his philanthropic efforts as well.

"When I say 'change,' it's my vision of the program," he said. "It has nothing to do with how we feel about the previous (50 years) of Penn State football."

With a trial looming for former assistant Jerry Sandusky, who maintains his innocence, the issues aren't likely to go away any time soon. Penn State trustees have tabbed former FBI director Louis Freeh to conduct an internal investigation, and the NCAA has launched its own inquiry, too.

Yet against that backdrop, O'Brien appears to be doing relatively well on the recruiting trail with verbal commitments from several highly rated high school prospects for the Class of 2013. His interactions with recruits' families have been "very positive," he said, and he hasn't heard any concerns from assistants.

"You can tell there's a sense of moving forward, and that's what we're doing," he said. "The other thing that's really, really important for us to understand too is we're very up front. We talk to them about our philosophy of the program. It's about respect ... Those things are somewhat of a pre-emptive strike."

The transition is simpler for the players — it's mainly about learning about the new schemes and coaching philosophies.

"Coach O'Brien has been intense. It's been a lot of fun for us," linebacker Michael Mauti said. "Our team is definitely behind him 100 percent. He's shown us he's ready to take over. When he tells us to jump, we'll say 'How high?'"

Notes: O'Brien said WR Devon Smith is out the rest of spring practice after spraining his left foot. ... Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden and Paul Jones are alternating reps at first-string quarterback each day. O'Brien said he plans to hold off on naming a starter until prior to the season opener April 1 against Ohio.