Penn State’s Bill O’Brien wins Big Ten Coach of the Year honors

The first-year coach was rewarded for navigating the Nittany Lions through unprecedented turmoil.

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Often, four losses will send a power-conference team to a forgettable bowl game.

This year, at Penn State, it earned Bill O’Brien Big Ten Coach of the Year honors.

The first-year coach was rewarded for navigating the Nittany Lions through unprecedented turmoil, including harsh NCAA sanctions, to a surprising eight victories and second place in the Big Ten’s Leaders Division.

And so he swept league honors from the coaches and media — beating out another new Big Ten coach with a team on probation in Ohio State’s Urban Meyer with his undefeated Buckeyes.

Look to the other Big Ten awards for some proof of O’Brien’s impact: Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes was named the freshman of the year; sophomore Allen Robinson was voted the league’s top receiver and senior Mike Mauti was the top linebacker.

Barnes, who had 10 tackles for loss, six sacks and three forced fumbles, edged out teammate and tight end Kyle Carter for freshman honors.

He is the first Nittany Lion to win the award since tailback Curtis Enis in 1995.

Six Lions earned All-Big Ten first-team honors Monday night.

“This is a fantastic honor, it’s very humbling,” O’Brien said. “Any time you are named coach of the year, it has a lot to do with two groups of people — it’s your coaching staff and obviously your players. We have a great coaching staff that did a nice job of keeping everything together and teaching our players.

“And our players did a great job of going out there every week and playing as hard as they could. It’s an honor for our program.”

When asked on a Big Ten Network broadcast what he learned about himself this season, O’Brien said, “That I have a lot to improve on. … I’m going to work on trying to improve every single day this offseason.”

Next up for O’Brien is the Bear Bryant National Coach of the Year, where he is on the watch list.

Consider that after taking over the Nittany Lions full time last February, O’Brien was forced to deal with swift and punitive NCAA penalties resulting from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

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