PSU birthday boy O'Brien has eye on Buckeyes


PSU birthday boy O'Brien has eye on Buckeyes

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Didn't get Bill O'Brien a birthday gift? Don't worry, he won't mind one bit.

Penn State's first-year coach is so focused getting his team ready for Saturday's Big Ten tilt against No. 9 Ohio State that he forgot he was turning 43 on Tuesday.

That is, until his brother sent him a text Tuesday morning. A few of his players followed suit on Twitter.

``I don't know, I'm not a big birthday guy,'' O'Brien said. ``My wife will list all the things that I really don't enjoy- birthdays, weddings, theme parks, the beach.''

There's no danger of football falling on that list any time soon, not with Penn State (5-2, 3-0) on a five-game winning streak and surging as the unbeaten Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0) visit Happy Valley this weekend.

Harsh NCAA offseason sanctions on Penn State for the school's handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal included significant scholarship cuts and a four-year postseason ban. O'Brien and his staff, though, have channeled the players' emotions over the predicament into an every-second-counts mentality on the field. Now, every game is like a bowl.

And after a 38-14 drubbing last week of Iowa on the road, the news dominating the headlines has to do with what's happening on the field, not in the courts.

It's been a while.

``I would definitely say that these guys have earned the right to play in this type of game. They've put a lot of time in. They've been through a lot,'' O'Brien said. ``Everything that we've asked them to do, they've done.''

Especially on offense.

Quarterback Matt McGloin and the uptempo ``NASCAR'' scheme trampled over the Hawkeyes defense. The no-huddle attack is getting better every week, and now the running game is getting on track, too behind the formidable trio of speedy tailback Bill Belton and fullback-like bruisers Zack Zwinak and Michael Zordich.

Under the late Joe Paterno's leadership, Penn State relied on the safe-and-steady formula of running the ball and playing for field position. Now, O'Brien is more apt to go for it on fourth down, especially if he's anywhere near midfield.

It might be time to rewrite the scouting report on the Nittany Lions.

``Penn State is a team that always scraps,'' Ohio State safety Christian Bryant said, ``always fights to the last whistle.''

The Penn State defense gets better every week, too, behind standout linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, and disruptive defensive tackle Jordan Hill. Linebacker U. will have its hands full getting ready for Ohio State star quarterback Braxton Miller, who is listed as the starter this week after getting knocked out of last week's 29-22 victory over Purdue when a defender slammed him to the turf.

Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday he would have both Miller and backup Kenny Guiton, who led Ohio State to victory in relief of Miller, ready for Penn State. Miller has a sore neck, Meyer said.

``He's good to go for practice. There'll be no contact,'' Meyer said. ``Our biggest concern is just how sore he is.''

The most pressing concern for Penn State is special teams after allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown last week and a punt return for a score two weeks ago. The punting game has been so-so at best, while kicker Sam Ficken continues to struggle after making one kick but getting another field-goal attempt blocked against the Hawkeyes.

But special teams woes have been overshadowed in the five-game winning streak. A big-game atmosphere has permeated campus for this ``White House'' Saturday - when the team asks all fans to wear white for the game. The ``Nittanyville'' tent city outside Beaver Stadium is already filled with 144 tents and 1,200 student campers, according to student organizers.

They sense extra motivation to this year's Ohio State-Penn State game, too.

``You know (Patriots coach Bill Belichick) told us in New England, `You only play once a week,''' O'Brien said about his former NFL boss. ``This year, we only get a chance to lay it on the line 12 times, 12 Saturdays.

``Every game is a big game.''


AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller in Columbus, Ohio contributed to this report.


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MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz


MacLellan: Reirden will get the first crack at replacing Trotz

Will Todd Reirden replace Barry Trotz as head coach of the Washington Capitals?

Based on what GM Brian MacLellan said Monday, it certainly sounds like it’s Reirden’s job to lose.

“We’re going to start with Todd here,” MacLellan said. “I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach, whether for us or someone else.”

“We’ll see how the talk goes with him and we’ll make a decision based on that,” MacLellan added. “If it goes well, we’ll pursue Todd. And if it doesn’t, we’ll open it up a little bit.”

MacLellan said he isn’t sure exactly when the interview with Reirden will take place. The front office needs a few days to regroup. It’s also a busy stretch in hockey’s offseason. In the coming two weeks, MacLellan will direct the NHL draft in Dallas, monitor development camp in Arlington and then call the shots when free agency begins on July 1.  

“We need to take a breather here but I think Todd is a good candidate for it,” MacLellan said. “I’d like to sit down with Todd and have a normal interview, head coaching interview. I think most of our discussions are just casual. It’s about hockey in general. But I’d like to do a formal interview with him and just see if there’s differences or how we’re seeing things the same and if he’s a possibility for the head coach.”

Reirden, 46, spent the past four seasons on Trotz’s bench. He was elevated to associate coach prior to the 2016-17 season after coming up just short in his pursuit of the head coaching position in Calgary.

Reirden’s primary responsibility on Trotz’s staff was overseeing the defense and Washington’s perennially potent power play.

Prior to joining the Capitals in 2014, he was an assistant coach for four seasons with the Penguins. And before that, he spent a couple of seasons as the head coach of AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins’ top minor league affiliate.

A native of Deerfield, Ill., Reirden also had a lengthy professional career that included 183 NHL games with the Oilers, Blues, Thrashers and Coyotes.

Asked what he’s looking for in the Caps’ next head coach, MacLellan said he’s looking for a forward-thinker, a strong communicator and a players’ coach.

Reirden is all of those things.

“Someone that's up to date on the modern game,” MacLellan said. “Someone that's progressive, looking to try different things. Someone that has a good relationship with players. They communicate, can teach, make players better. It's becoming a developmental league where guys are coming in not fully developed products and we need a guy that can bring young players along because more and more we're going to use young players as the higher end guys make more money.”

One of the side benefits of elevating Reirden is the fact he already has a strong relationship with many of the current players, meaning there won’t be much upheaval as the Caps look to defend their championship.

“It could be a natural transition,” MacLellan said. “But once we sit down and talk face to face about all the little small details in the team, I'll have a better feel for it.”

MacLellan said a decision on the other assistant coaches—Lane Lambert, Blaine Forsythe, Scott Murray, Brett Leonhardt and Tim Ohashi—will be made after the next head coach is named.


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Brian MacLellan explains the reasoning behind not extending Trotz before the 2017-18 season


Brian MacLellan explains the reasoning behind not extending Trotz before the 2017-18 season

As shocking as the news of Barry Trotz’s resignation on Monday felt, it probably shouldn’t have given that whether or not he would return to Washington after the 2017-18 season was a storyline all year long.

Trotz entered the 2017-18 season on the last year of his initial four-year deal leading to speculation over whether the team was dissatisfied with his results and ready to move on from the head coach when his contract expired. Teams typically do not allow a head coach to enter the final year of a contract so that they do not appear to the players to be a lame duck coach.

Ultimately, that turned out to not be a problem as Trotz led the organization to its first Stanley Cup in his contract year. While there was interest from both sides in an extension in the wake of winning the Cup, ultimately a new deal could not be agreed upon and now the defending champs are without a head coach.

This begs the question, could things have been different had the team worked out a new contract with Trotz before the 2017-18 season? The answer is almost certainly yes, so how did things get to the point where Trotz was allowed to go into 2017-18 without an extension?

During a press conference with the media on Monday, general manager Brian MacLellan explained the team’s reasoning in not extending Trotz in the summer of 2017.

“We were struggling at the time to get over the hump,” MacLellan said. “We couldn't get over the second round and Barry hadn't been able to coach out of the second round yet either.”

In 15 seasons with the Nashville Predators, Trotz was not able to coach his team past the second round in the playoffs. In his three seasons with Washington leading up to the 2017-18 campaign, he had led the Caps to two division titles and two Presidents’ Trophies, but again could not get past the second-round hump that had plagued both him and the team.

Based on MacLellan’s comments, another early playoff exit would have likely led to the team choosing to allow Trotz's contract to expire.

“I think from the organization's perspective, some changes would've had to be made if we lost in the second round again,” MacLellan said.

But what if instead the unthinkable happened? What if the Caps forced Trotz into a “prove it” contract year and he was able to lead the team to the Stanley Cup? Didn’t they risk losing him all along?

Yes and no.

MacLellan confirmed reports on Monday that Trotz’s contract included an automatic two-year extension “at an increased rate” if he won the Cup. So while both sides were negotiating an extension, technically Trotz was already under contract through the 2019-20 season.

In the summer of 2017, MacLellan had a choice to make. At the end of the two-year championship window, he could choose to extend a head coach who had not brought the team the type of postseason success he was hoping for, he could fire a coach who had just won two consecutive division titles, two Presidents’ Trophies and whose team was eliminated in the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, or he could ride out the final year of Trotz’s deal and, in the off chance the team won the Stanley Cup, still rest easy in the notion that Trotz would automatically remain under contract.

MacLellan went with option C. It almost worked.