O'Brien took over for coach Joe Paterno and now has to deal with the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. The NCAA issued a string of stinging sanctions against the Penn State program because it determined university administrators and Paterno failed to act when they learned Sandusky, a former Penn State defensive coordinator, was abusing underprivileged boys during visits to the football complex.
O'Brien said repeatedly during interviews with national media outlets O'Leary is one of his mentors and one of the few people he could turn to for advice.
"He can't worry about what's going on in the past, he has to worry about his football team right now," O'Leary said. "You've got to recruit carefully and make sure your guys are ready to play."
O'Leary said he understood the Penn State case required action, but it was unfortunate the sanctions hurt the current coaches and players instead of those directly involved in the Sandusky scandal.
"I think it was such a tough situation, and I know the NCAA had to do something," O'Leary said. "But people should understand it was the act of a sick individual who hurt a lot of people."
The NCAA hit Penn State with a variety of sanctions, including banning the football program from postseason play for four years, reducing the number of scholarships available and allowing current Penn State players to transfer immediately. The players would be eligible to play immediately at the new schools and those programs would have the freedom to exceed the NCAA's scholarship limit.
ESPN.com reported Illinois was among the schools to send assistant coaches to the Penn State campus to recruit current players on the football team. O'Brien said during an interview on ESPN's "Mike and Mike" radio show Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and O'Leary were among the few coaches who called to inform him they were recruiting his players.
"Some of his players have called me," O'Leary said Thursday. "I'm obviously going to listen to the players to see if there's a real interest or if they're just trying to fish. So I went ahead and called [O'Brien] to let him know what was going on. I think that's the right thing to do as a coach.
"The head coach deserves a phone call when the high school coach, a player's father, the player calls you. I think you do that out of respect for the profession. … I think you listen to those contacting you. Obviously, if a Penn State kid wanted to reach out, you're going to listen."
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