O’Brien to be featured on HBO show

One week after Penn State’s football team suffered negative publicity with a Sports Illustrated story about changes to its medical care program, the program can expect some good press this week.

HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” is featuring coach Bill O’Brien, specifically his relationship with his 10-year-old son Jack, who suffers from the brain disorder lissencephaly. The piece airs as part of the show at 10 tonight, with repeats later in the week.

The segment, reported on by Andrea Kremer, interviews O’Brien and his wife Colleen, along with former quarterback Matt McGloin and athletic director Dave Joyner.

A rough advance copy runs through the timeline of Joyner taking over as athletic director as the Jerry Sandusky scandal dawned through hiring O’Brien, the NCAA sanctions, and an 0-2 start last fall.

Joyner, who hired O’Brien from the New England Patriots, said Patriots coach Bill Belichick told him O’Brien was not only one of the best coaches around, but one of the best human beings.

“(Belichick) said he’s devoted to family, but never misses trick at work,” Joyner said. “A rare human being.”

While the 0-2 start was difficult on O’Brien at work, he also dealt with Jack suffering 10 seizures a day at home, any of which the family has feared could be fatal. Jack is a special needs child who cannot speak or walk, and needs basic regular assistance.

But O’Brien said thinking about his son, who was not expected to live past 3 after being diagnosed at 1, helps calm him down.

“When I think about Jack, I always think about his smile, his face. I think about when you wake him up in the morning, it’s like the greatest thing in the world,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien is also candid about some of the lows at Penn State, such as when the NCAA sanctions hit last summer with a four-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions on top of a $60 million fine.

“When the penalties were announced, I was thinking ‘What did I get myself into here,” said O’Brien, who admitted wondering how he’d field a team in 2012 if too many players transferred in their wake.

But the Nittany Lions recovered from that and an 0-2 start to finish 8-4, and the piece quotes McGloin as saying the season-ending win over Wisconsin was better than any bowl.

The O’Briens have an 8-year old son, Michael, who does not have this genetic disorder.

“I’ll never forget having Michael as long as we live. The tears down our parents’ faces as we had a healthy baby boy,” O’Brien said.