INDIANAPOLIS -- Due to the fact that Bill O'Brien hasn't met with the media much since taking the job as head coach at Penn State, the New England offensive coordinator was a popular target of reporters' questions at Super Bowl XLVI Media Day Tuesday at Lucas Oil Field.
Though half the questions asked had to do with the Nittany Lions and his new job, O'Brien -- who spent time in Happy Valley during the bye last week -- made it very clear that he was focused on the Patriots right now and the job of trying to beat the Giants Sunday evening in Indy.
The first question asked by the general media was about the dead period prior to national signing day for college football, one that O'Brien deflected.
"This is about the Patriots this week," O'Brien said. "I'm thrilled to be the head coach at Penn State, but I'm really focused on the Patriots and trying to do the best we can to put together a great game plan on Sunday."
Much likeCharlie Weis did prior to New England's Super Bowl XXXIX victory over the Eagles when the then-New England offensive coordinator had already accepted the head coaching job at Notre Dame, O'Brien has been juggling two jobs for the last month. But he downplayed the difficulty of the task.
"I've been asked that question a million times, and it's really about the people at both ends," O'Brien said of the dual roles. "Bill [Belichick] has really helped here as far as the offensive staff and some administrative people that have helped me in New England when I haven't been here, and then I think I've put together one of the best staffs in the country at Penn State, and they've hit the ground running up there."
Part of that support in New England isJosh McDaniels, the former Patriots offensive coordinator and Broncos head coach re-joined the team prior to the start of the postseason. O'Brien worked as a lower level assistant under McDaniels from 2007-08.
"Josh McDaniels, not only is he a great coach, but he's a great friend," O'Brien said of McDaniels, who did not have to take part in media day since he's technically just an offensive assistant with the team at this point. "We have a very, very good working relationship. We're lucky, Bill's lucky, the Patriots are lucky to have him back and I'm lucky to have him for these last three weeks. He's done a great job of just giving us some thoughts on what he sees, especially defensively, but also with our own team."
O'Brien was also obviously asked about one of his most important offensive weapons. All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski has yet to practice since the AFC title game due to an ankle injury. The argument can be made that he's the most irreplaceable player on the Patriots offense not named Tom Brady.
The New England play caller wouldn't say whether the team needs to have to game plans ready for Sunday, one with Gronk and one without.
"We've gone through the practice week this week, and we're a game plan offense, so we're putting together a very strong game plan and we feel good about it to this point," O'Brien said, avoiding talking about Gronkowski specifically. "We've got a few more days to go on it, so we'll be ready to go on Sunday."
Like everyone else, O'Brien knows the Patriots face a strong challenge in the Giants impressive defensive front. But the coach also believes the talent on that said of the ball for New York goes beyond just the front.
"Obviously, they have a really good front four, but [Giants Defensive Coordinator] Perry Fewell has really done a good job of getting them to play good team defense," O'Brien added. "The front four, the linebackers and the secondary really work well together. A lot of those guys have played a lot of football together, so it'll be our toughest game of the year against the best opponent we've played all year."
Either way it will be O'Brien's final game on the Patriots sideline. Early next week he'll return to Penn State permanently, with or without a Super Bowl ring. From one big challenge to another, it's an exciting time for a guy who joined Belichick's staff as just an offensive assistant in 2007. He took a step backwards from his experiences and his salary as a two-time college offensive coordinator and it's paid off big time.
"One of the things I wanted to do in '07 was, if I wanted to be the coach I wanted to be, I had to work for the best," O'Brien said. "Obviously, the best is Bill as far as what he does and how he prepares a team, how he puts a team together. I didn't feel like it was a step back. I felt like it was something where I could go in there and learn and become as good of a coach as I could possibly be. I felt great about it, so that's why my wife and I decided to do it."
And it probably couldn't have worked out any better. Though a win on Sunday would be the perfect end to the perfect Patriots story for O'Brien.