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Sunday, January 08, 2012

On Bill O'Brien's Hiring at Penn State

Penn State alums have nothing to complain about insofar as who the powers that be chose to follow Joe Paterno as head football coach. The powers that be so screwed up any meaningful succession process because of the alums idolatry about Paterno that they just need to embrace who they got, period, and move on.

They resisted any meaningful call for a decent succession plan, going so far as to get nasty to anyone who suggested otherwise, even on these pages (where I have touched upon this point for years). And while the passage of time has proven that Jerry Sandusky was far from fit, a toxic cocktail of nepotism (in the form of the overemphasis on Jay Paterno's role, thus impeding any succession planning process), pushing out one possible candidate years ago (Fran Ganter, who might not have been perfect but who did all the right things), Paterno's stubbornness on the question and the pretentious fawning of alums over all things Paterno led to the combustion of the Penn State program and its "we're better than you" image. So, when you have a disaster on your hands, you do the best you can.

By enabling the Paterno aura beyond reason, the powers that be created a situation where the most viable of candidates wouldn't want to enter because how could they "replace" Joe Paterno (as it turns out, given what we believe has happened, that might be much easier to do than anyone thought). By waiting this long, they missed out on some good candidates. By having the scandal on their hands, many people who otherwise would have jumped at the chance probably passed. Say goodbye to Kirk Ferentz, Urban Meyer, James Franklin, Gary Patterson, Chris Petersen, Al Golden and others. So, it's not as though Penn State had its pick, which is a shame, because years ago it would have. What it was left with was a group of risers who might be great be who offer less certainty than an "A" list that would have emerged had those who ran Penn State at the time run it well and not permitted anyone to become bigger than the institution.

Enter Bill O'Brien. Symmetrically ironic in that he went to the same school that Joe Paterno did, Brown University. Interesting in that he's the offensive coordinator for one of the best coaches in the history of the NFL, Bill Belichick. But a question mark because none of Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, Eric Mangini or Josh McDaniels has succeeded as a head coach. And that makes the selection of O'Brien the triumph of hope over experience. At least for now.

And, to a degree, it shows how deep the Penn State administration had to dig to find the right candidate. To LaVar Arrington, Brandon Short and those who are upset, they should ask themselves why they are upset. Are they angry because someone shattered their myth? And, if that's the case, are they angry with themselves for believing in the myth so deeply, perhaps more so than their own religion or self-worth? Are they angry with the guy who sold them the myth? That would make sense. And are they hurting? Of course. They, like the rest of the Penn State faithful, should reflect as to why this happened, why they let any one person have such a disproportionate emphasis on their extracurricular activities and self-esteem, and why their institution -- which should be in charge first and foremost of the betterment of society and the individuals who go there, individually and as a whole -- let everyone down?

But they should not be angry at those who were left to pick up the pieces, to make some sense out of everything and to move the institution forward. When you look at all the problems in the world today, this is a relatively high-class one. We're not talking about avoiding a nuclear war, the overthrow of a government, a plague, massive hunger or double-digit unemployment. We're talking about a state university's football program, and that's all that it is, ever was, or should be. So to get all lathered up about the selection of Bill O'Brien as opposed to someone who has Penn State somewhere in his pedigree doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Because that culture was flawed.

Bill O'Brien will try to play nice, and he'll say all the right things. He'll be diplomatic with those with whom he has to be, but if he's smart he'll try to put his own image on things quickly. He'll use the intellect that gained him admission to Brown in the first place and the passion that he's demonstrated on the sidelines to create a program that not only talks about how good it is, but that really is good and stands up where it counts. I don't have any qualms with Arrington or Short -- they are hurting and like the rest of us lost something late last year -- but O'Brien cannot rebuild a program by worrying about the feelings of anyone with a history with the program.

No sir. Bill O'Brien must create a vision and lead toward it. It shouldn't be about a P.R. machine, about image building and defending, the building of statues or anything else.

It should be about the values that we all hold dear and that led to the ripping asunder of the same institution that disappointed everyone so completely because in the end, it forgot those values and didn't live them.

O'Brien may or may not be the right choice, but it doesn't really matter now. He is the choice, he deserves the full support of all Penn State faithful, and he should be given every chance to succeed. Comparisons to his predecessor might be inevitable, but they for right now are very much unwarranted.

The quicker Penn State moves forward into the next chapter of its football history, the better.

It's time for the alums to end their mourning period. What happened was terrible.

Let a new chapter begin.


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