Monday, January 09, 2012

Penn State Gets their coach – but?

Saturday Penn State University made it official, announcing New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien will be the school’s new head football coach. O’Brien may or may not be the right choice, but Penn State’s allowing O’Brien to be a part of the Patriots run to Super Bowl XLV is nonsensical. After a busy weekend at Penn State, O’Brien returned to Foxboro Monday to help the Patriots get ready for their NFL playoff game Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Nittany Lions, rudderless since Joe Paterno was fired on November 9, need their head football coach immediately - not a month from now (if the Patriots make it to Super Bowl XLV on February 5).

Penn State’s football program imploded on November 4 when former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted on more than 50 charges relating to alleged child sex abuse. Paterno who had been Penn State’s head football coach for 46 years was fired five days later; the Nitttany Lions stumbled to the end of their 2011 season under interim head coach Tom Bradley.

If there was ever a college football program that needed stability, it is Penn State’s. Like a salmon swimming upstream, O’Brien is facing two nearly insurmountable challenges – replacing a legendary head coach and taking over a college football program linked to one of the greatest scandals in sports history.

Penn State needs their new head football coach on campus NOW - not tomorrow - NOW!

O’Brien made clear Saturday that he’ll live by his commitment to the Patriots.

“One thing‑‑ in thinking about this day and how important this day is to Penn State, I want to address that question in this way: There is no way that I can stand up in front of our football team and our recruits and talk about loyalty and commitment and then leave the Patriots in the middle of a playoff run or the start of a playoff run. I have committed to the New England Patriots to see them through that playoff run. That's my loyalty and my commitment to that organization and what they've done for me.

“I will also continue any break I have, which there's not going to be a lot of sleep over the next two to three weeks, any break I have to make sure that I am full‑time as much as I can for Penn State and do the things necessary for Penn State.

“I'm in the process of putting together a staff, okay, in the process of putting together a staff. I'm going to put together the best staff for Penn State, the best staff that fits what we need to do at Penn State. And once I get that staff in place, which will be very quickly, over the next two or three days, those guys will hit the ground running and they'll get going as far as recruiting and those types of things.

“I will say this about our staff: I'm going to obviously talk to all the guys that are on the current staff, and I look forward to that. I was fortunate enough to meet one last night, Larry Johnson, the defensive line coach, who's been here for many years and coached many great defensive lines, and I don't know if he's here today, but I would like to say that he's committed to coaching on my staff, and I look forward to working with Larry”

With all due respect to O’Brien, that just isn’t good enough. It isn’t a matter of loyalty, but what’s in the best interest of Penn State football. Every day O’Brien is with the Patriots represents another lost day for the Nittany Lions. It isn’t a question as to whether or not O’Brien is doing what’s right for the New England Patriots (he is doing what’s right for the Patriots), it’s a question of what’s best for the Penn State football program. It is in Penn State’s best interest to have their new football coach on campus right now.

Compounding the challenge O’Brien is facing are outspoken former Nittany Lions suggesting the process for replacing Paterno “hasn’t been to their liking”.

“It would have been nice if we felt like we were part of the process,” said D. J. Dozier, a running back on the team that won the national title in the 1986 season, in a New York Times report. “This is a pretty important situation in transition for the university and the program. There are a lot of guys that feel a certain way. Today I have more questions than answers.”

Former Penn State All-American Lavar Arrington was very vocal on how he felt about O’Brien’s hiring.

"I will put my Butkus (Award) in storage. I will put my Alamo Bowl MVP trophy in storage", Arrington said. "Jerseys - anything Penn State, in storage. Wherever Tom Bradley goes, that's the school I will start to put memorabilia up in my home. I'm done. I'm done with Penn State. If they're done with us, I'm done with them.

"By these people making the decisions the way that they are making them, basically coinciding with everything that's being written about our university, if they get rid of Tom Bradley, that means they in essence have accepted the fact that we are all guilty. You might as well call it all the same thing” Arrington said.

"What we stood for and what we represented for so long, what we have been taught, what we have been trained to know and the values that I raise my own children with, you're basically telling me it's good, only as long as times are good."

There are also former Nittany Lions that are standing by the school’s new football coach.

Tim Sweeney, the president of the Penn State Football Letterman’s Club, told The New York Times in a phone interview that the negative comments of former players like Arrington, Brandon Short and others were not indicative of all former players. Sweeney said the club fully supports O’Brien and will welcome him into the community.

“You’re talking about 1,000 strong alpha males,” Sweeney said in the New York Times report. “That’s how they roll. We’re going to have some people in our group who are vocal about things that have transpired, and that’s their prerogative to do so. I think Coach O’Brien has a wonderful opportunity in front of him to come to a university that’s steeped in tradition.”

Both side’s positions are easy to understand. However, for the good of the Penn State program it does make the most sense for the school to hire someone like O’Brien - someone who has no connection whatsoever to anyone linked to Jerry Sandusky and the school’s interim head football coach Tom Bradley. Bradley will forever be tainted by the damage Jerry Sandusky created. While not fair for Bradley, it is for the good of Penn State’s football program to adopt a scorched-earth philosophy in moving forward.

Last week, the Associated Press reported a series of internal memos created by Penn State in the weeks immediately following Sandusky’s indictment and Paterno’s firing suggesting the school is very concerned about the impact the scandal will have on Penn State’s ability to raise money for the school.

Under Joe Paterno, Penn State’s football program had become an economic engine, generating in excess of $50 million annually for the school.

The memos focused in part on how Penn State could best manage their communications strategy among the school’s Board of Trustees. At the time of the memos, Penn State’s Board included 31 voting members and 16 emeritus members.

"We need to streamline the communications among and with members of the board," Chairman Steve Garban and Vice Chairman John Surma wrote, days after media reports surfaced of eroding support for Paterno and Graham Spanier. "First and foremost, there have been serious breaches in confidentiality of our discussions and we will take the necessary steps to address these. Second, a smaller group will be more effective to provide feedback to President Erickson."

In the days immediately following Sandusky’s indictment, Penn State was seemingly without a communications plan. When the Board fired Paterno and then-President Spanier on November 9, Penn State’s Board of Trustees began dealing with the media. They stopped waiting for the story to come to them, rather creating it themselves.

Bill O’Brien will be under immense pressure in the coming months. The Board of Trustees (there are at least five former football players on the current board) will have to stand by the decision to hire O’Brien. Replacing a legend is next to impossible. O’Brien and Penn State are still facing the microscope they’ll be under when Jerry Sandusky’s trial begins; challenges entirely unrelated to O’Brien’s ability to coach. Bill O’Brien will have to be a great deal more than a football coach for Penn State University.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Blooom

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