Players responding to coaches' honesty

What's the biggest change with this new coaching staff?

John Urschel, who performs brain-teasers as part of a pregame ritual, paused so long for that question that a moderator asked if he was still on the phone.

"I'm here," the offensive guard said during a conference call. "I'm just thinking."

The redshirt junior eventually settled on one defining word for this staff: Transparency. Bill O'Brien and assistant Mac McWhorter will tell Urschel exactly where he stands and what the expectations are. If he underperforms, they'll chastise him. If he surprises, they'll praise him.

"When a coaching staff is very honest with you and upfront, it builds trust," he said. "Teams perform better when the entire team has the utmost trust in the coaching staff."

Players this week steered clear of labeling the past coaching staff as a pack of opaque liars -- but Matt McGloin and Stephon Morris previously expressed their past frustrations.

McGloin sought out Joe Paterno and his son last season and asked what it would take to start. But he told ESPN in August that he never received an answer. McGloin scratched his neck or shrugged his shoulders when reporters peppered him each week with the same questions. Even he didn't know what it would take to walk first off the team bus.

Morris said in August he, too, felt constantly in the dark with the old staff.

"I busted my ass last training camp, and all I wanted was honesty," he said at the time. "I just wanted honesty. I just wanted to know what my role was."

Morris nearly quit the team. He planned to transfer -- until O'Brien came into the picture. The coach quickly earned Morris' trust, and players this week said this staff's defining characteristic was just how upfront it is.

"During the sanctions time, [O'Brien] basically came right out and said this isn't easy," linebacker Glenn Carson said. "He was kind of upfront about what's going to happen, and he was kind of completely honest with what we were going to face. It was kind of a hard pill to swallow, but he was honest with everybody.

"It's really important for your coach to be honest because it really helps develop that strong bond."

O'Brien has been a follower of that philosophy since his playing days at defensive end and linebacker at Brown. He was admittedly not an elite player, so he switched positions whenever asked. His coaches were honest about his role, and he carried that trait with him to Georgia Tech, Maryland and New England.

"That's what the deal is in New England, and that's where I really saw what it would mean for a successful season," O'Brien said.

O'Brien's assistant coaches will watch film with their players Monday. First, they'll show what they liked -- and, then, what they didn't like. Unlike last season, McGloin doesn't have to corner the coach in the Lasch Building to talk about his role or play. He can ask him anywhere.

And that honesty isn't limited to starters either.

"He was very upfront with me," said special teams player Jesse Della Valle. "And that's what I really respect about Coach O'Brien. He's always really honest with me."