Blue White Illustrated

March 2024

Penn State Sports Magazine

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7 4 M A R C H 2 0 2 4 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M T he Penn State football team made a subtle but significant change to its online roster in late February. It's true that you had to scroll to the very bottom of the page to find it, but it's also true that the switch was more impor- tant than its placement on the website would indicate. The Nittany Lions have officially listed graduate assistant Danny O'Brien as their quarterbacks coach. O'Brien is a multiyear member of head coach James Franklin's staff, and he also played for Franklin at Maryland. Earlier this year, he changed his bio on X (formerly Twit- ter) to include his title. While graduate assistants have long been tied to certain positions, Penn State never identified them with that much specificity until now. Doing so for O'Brien makes sense. After all, he picked all six winter workout competi- tors of the week at quarterback in Feb- ruary. He was already being described as the team's de facto quarterbacks coach, he's the point man for passers who have been targeted as potential re- cruits, and he will oversee junior Drew Allar, redshirt sophomore Beau Pribula, redshirt freshmen Jaxon Smolik, Karson Kiesewetter and Jack Lambert, plus true freshman Ethan Grunkemeyer this year alongside Franklin and new offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki. "There's going to be three of us who are working with the quarterbacks: myself, Coach Franklin and Danny O'Brien," Kotelnicki said in December. "Danny, who I've interacted with, has been there for the last couple of weeks [after Mike Yurcich was fired in Novem- ber] and does a fantastic job. "You have a chance for a guy who's played professional football, the quar- terback position, to interact with the quarterbacks. I think that's a huge deal. Coach Franklin, being an offensive guy, will be involved, and then myself. I've coached quarterbacks in the past and have been able to see the big picture with them. So, it will be very NFL-like in terms of how we interact with those guys." Before Kotelnicki even arrived, Frank- lin was already singing the praises of the 33-year-old O'Brien, who won ACC Rookie of the Year honors at Maryland in 2010 and later spent six seasons in the Canadian Football League. "Danny has done a great job," Franklin said after a November practice. "I think he's got a really good rapport and way to connect with our players as well as recruits. And he works at it. So, I've got a ton of respect for him. And I'm biased because I've known him for a long time, but I think the staff feels a similar way, and I know the players feel that way." College football players never speak badly about one of their coaches in a public setting. But rarely do they offer effusive praise in the way Penn State players have talked about O'Brien since he moved into an on-field role before the 2023 season. "I think Danny aligns with the pro- gram in the right way and obviously played under Coach Franklin for a year at Maryland, so he knows how to oper- ate under a Coach Franklin offense and philosophy," Allar said before the Peach Bowl. "I thought that was very impor- tant to have in the room. "Danny played big-time college foot- ball, obviously Power Five, and then played in the CFL for multiple years. He just brings a lot of experience and knowledge to that room. I think he just relates to everybody really well." Smolik echoed those thoughts in a February interview. "Danny is a really good guy," the red- shirt freshman said. "He's always there in the film room. You text him, he'll be there with you working on the offense. He's a really reliable guy. I'm glad he's still here. He's got experience playing. He's a really good college player. That's really cool that your coach knows. He's been through the stuff you've been through, been through the workouts you've been through. He knows exactly what you're going through. And he's a younger guy, too, so you connect with him better." It all helps explain why Penn State wants to make crystal clear to the public what has long been known internally: O'Brien is the leader of the quarterbacks room from a coaching standpoint. His role has reflected that fact since Yurcich was fired in November. Now, his title does, too. It should also be noted that, while making that change, Penn State offi- cially marked former letterman Jordan Lucas as its new defensive graduate as- sistant. Lucas replaces Bryce Jones as the helper in the secondary. Jones left the Nittany Lions for a full-time role at Northern Iowa earlier this year. Lucas originally joined the program earlier in 2024 as a recruiting department staff member. Now, he'll be on the field and joins O'Brien, Kevin Ceh (offense) and Torrence Brown (de- fense) as the team's four-man graduate assistant unit. ■ O P I N I O N G R E G P I C K E L G R E G . P I C K E L @ O N 3 . C O M Danny O'Brien Receives A Well-Deserved Title THE LAST WORD O'Brien has been with the Nittany Lions since 2021, when he joined James Franklin's staff as a graduate assistant. PHOTO BY RYAN SNYDER

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