SportsProf

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Friday, November 19, 2004

Read All About It: Joe Paterno's Succession Planning

Here.

And Here.

Basically, Paterno, if not Penn State, wants an in-house successor. Both probably want someone to continue the program at the same level of integrity that Joe Paterno has instilled at Penn State over the years.

The question is whether both Paterno and Penn State can have it both ways, a top-notch football program that contends for the national title every several years and a program that graduates roughly 85% of its players in meaningful majors. Is that goal achievable, or has it become something of a holy grail?

The one-time Princeton coach Pete Carril was once quoted as saying "there's a great correlation between high SAT scores and slow feet." In his interview with Malcolm Moran of USA Today, Coach Paterno was quoted as saying that he knew that his club did not have enough skill position players. Which begs the question: is there are great correlation between a very compliant, earnest football program and a lack of playmakers on both sides of the ball, the linemen who can control the field and the skill position players on both sides of the ball who make things happen?

Certainly, there's a contrast between Penn State's predicament and, say, Princeton's. Princeton's was tougher in the hoop sense if you think that they really wanted to contend for a national title, which, while they played to win all of the time, they really did not (i.e., if they did, they would not have been in the Ivy League, they would have given athletic scholarships, and they would have lowered their academic standards to ones that are less stringent than they currently are). Trying to get enough "players" if you're a Princeton (or a Penn) to win an NCAA hoops title is very hard. There just aren't enough players who can meet your standards, and, some of those opt for higher profile programs (see, for example, Emeka Okafor, whom the Ivies recruited and who had 1300 plus on his SAT's, but opted for UConn). So, you're happy to crack the Top 25 every now and then, win one NCAA playoff game every five years, and rest in your nice little niche of mid-major, giant killer plus. Which means that if you're big guys could really play, someone else might have grabbed them before you did. That doesn't mean, however, that the big-time programs don't miss out on a kid every now and then, or that a big-time kid doesn't want the Ivies for academics. It happens more often than you think. Even then, there are plenty of kids who are too short, too slow, not good enough shooters, but who play the game as hard as anyone else, because no one told them that they aren't going to be the next Michael Jordan, and, if they were told, they certainly didn't listen.

I suppose I'm making the comparison here because it is the Pete Carril quote to which I referred, but the analogy is not without merit. As for Penn State, are there enough players who will submit to the type of discipline that Penn State requires, are there enough players serious about their academics, and are there enough players who can flat-out play?

The answer, to me, is an obvious yes. While the mainstream sports media is quick to report on the ills of college athletics, there are good student athletes at the top schools. Craig Krenzel, now the Chicago Bears QB, got a lot of publicity for his A minus GPA in a rigorous pre-med major. Read through the bios of kids on Division 1-A rosters, and invariably you see mention of academic prowess. And, even if the kids aren't dean's list students (and there is no requirement that they have to be), there's a big difference between recruiting kids who don't belong in college versus those who are earnest in their studies and might graduate with a C average instead of a B plus. So, unless you know something I don't, and unless Division I-A is an exploitative scam that treats its players like objects, Penn State has a chance to rekindle its greatness.

Yes, they need better skill position players.

They also need a much better offensive strategy.

And it seems like they're having a good recruiting year.

Most importantly for the Nittany Lion faithful, their beloved Penn State at least is thinking hard about succession planning for the toughest position to fill in State College, Pennsylvania.

As for the succession planning, it's always better to promote from within at a healthy institution if you do the succession planning right.

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