STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Because he is a coach, and the NFL is the "highest level of coaching," Bill O'Brien said he felt a need to check out some of the opportunities he had to return to the pros as a head coach before deciding he would remain at Penn State.

However, in explaining his reasons why he stayed, O'Brien emphatically denied Monday that influential university donor Terry Pegula pledged $1.3 million to add to his contract or that he imposed any demands on acting athletic director Dave Joyner to gain more influence within the athletic department.

Speaking at a news conference at Beaver Stadium, his first since the Nittany Lions' season-ending win over Wisconsin on Nov. 24, O'Brien admitted it got "my blood boiling a little bit" when he read a report about the supposed offer from Pegula, who has donated more than $100 million to establish men's and women's hockey programs and build a new arena.

"No one at Penn State has ever come to me and said to me that 'We're going to make a donation so you can get a raise,' " O'Brien said. "That's a bunch of malarkey. It's not true. It never happened. It never will happen. That's the last thing I'm about. If I was about money, more than likely I probably wouldn't be sitting here right now.

"I have never asked anyone for a raise, and no one ever even brought up the fact that you get a raise. It wasn't about anything other than making sure that I saw the opportunities out there and that I do the best job I can for my Penn State football players and my Penn State football staff."

O'Brien said he was vacationing with his family at Disney World while NFL teams contacted his agent, Joe Linta, about their interest in interviewing him. O'Brien declined to specify any of the teams that were interested, but the Eagles and the Cleveland Browns were the two that reportedly spoke to him.

"We had some conversations. That's as far as it went," O'Brien said. "At the end of the day, the most important thing is the decision that I made. I made the decision to be here at Penn State just like I made that decision a year ago, and I can't think of a better place to be."

Regarding his family, he said checking out the NFL opportunities was "my job as the father and the husband in that house that I take care of my family first. That's my job. That's my duty. That's what I did. We couldn't be happier than being at Penn State."

As for reports that he wanted structural or physical changes within the athletic department, O'Brien said he was in constant discussions with Joyner about finding ways to improve the football program, such as with recruiting, academic support, or the weight room.

"We can't just sit and stay the same," O'Brien said. "We've got to be creative. We've got to think out of the box. We've got to do the best job we can for our players and for our staff to make sure we're putting them in the best situation to get a great degree and win football games."

Joyner, who attended the news conference, described his relationship with O'Brien as "outstanding" and said no demands were made of him by the coach. He said the two were in constant communication last week while the coach's flirtation with the NFL was unfolding.

"The week worked out exactly the way he and I talked about at the beginning as far as timing and discussions and things like that," Joyner said. "I was very confident in Bill [staying]. I believe in Bill, and I believed that we would be sitting here talking this way today."

Neither O'Brien nor Joyner had any comment on the suit filed last week by Gov. Corbett against the NCAA challenging the sanctions.

Talkin' football. Deion Barnes, a defensive end out of Northeast High, was named to the Football Writers Association of America's freshman all-American team. . . . O'Brien said seven new players arrived over the weekend and began classes Monday. The players were tight end Adam Breneman, defensive backs Anthony Smith and Jordan Smith, running back Richy Anderson and quarterbacks Tyler Ferguson, Austin Whipple and D.J Crook. All are on scholarship except preferred walk-ons Whipple and Crook, and all are freshmen except Ferguson, a sophomore who transferred from a California junior college. Anthony Smith attended Valley Forge Military Academy last year.

Backup tailback Curtis Dukes, who struggled last season with academics and picking up O'Brien's offense, will not return to the team, the coach said. Dukes played in nine games and carried 26 times for 98 yards. . . . O'Brien said tailback Bill Belton, who lost his starting job during the season to Zach Zwinak, worked hard during the Christmas break and came back ready to go. O'Brien said he will try to find different ways of utilizing Belton, a converted wide receiver, out of the tailback position.

Contact Joe Juliano at jjuliano@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @joejulesinq.