A Special Coach

The issue won’t be settled for a while.  Only time will tell, and history will document the answer.

But for some, perhaps many, Penn State fans, the question has already been answered.

Is Coach Bill O’Brien the right man for the job?

There is no doubt that Paterno left behind very big shoes to fill, albeit plain black ones.  It would have been a difficult job for anyone to come into, the expectations so high, the pressure to succeed so great.  Even under the best of circumstances, few would be up to that kind of task.

But when you consider the actual circumstances–the scandal, the firing of a legend, and then the death of that legend, one would think a difficult position had become nearly impossible.

But Matt Hayes of The Sporting News thinks Penn State just might have found the perfect man for the job–one who thinks that kind of stress is nothing compared to what he deals with day in and day out.

The episodes come so often and so random, are so mind-numbing in their frequency, there’s never really an opportunity to reflect on the sheer terror of it all.

Multiple times every day, Jack O’Brien stops breathing.

“I’m always waiting,” Colleen O’Brien says. “Please take that breath. Take that breath.”

A breath of life, a breath of perspective.

“People ask me about pressure in this job,” says Bill O’Brien, Penn State’s new coach. “Really? Pressure?”

Here is Bill O’Brien’s view of pressure: His son, Jack, is 10 years old and has the rare neurological disorder Lissencephaly. He can’t walk or talk, can’t feed himself, can’t do things typical boys can do.

And he has seizures, sometimes 10 a day, and as many as thousands a year. From episodes that last seconds, to those that last minutes. All feel like hours, and every single one takes another piece of he and his wife Colleen’s punctured souls while they wait for their son—rigid and non-responsive—to eventually emerge from the place only he knows.

One man’s pressure, it seems, is another’s perspective.

Someone had to follow Joe Paterno; someone had to sit in that office across from that big stadium and eventually be the first fresh face on the sidelines in Happy Valley in nearly five decades.

Bill O’Brien is the man following the legendary icon that is JoePa. To the degree that football allows, O’Brien is the man helping to heal a community ripped apart by horrific allegations of child abuse by former Penn State assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky. The process of replacing Paterno began last November with the revelation of those unthinkable events.

The Sandusky trial begins Monday in this bucolic burg tucked in the central Pennsylvania mountains. The story, so distasteful and incomprehensible, is irreparably linked to Penn State football.

If ever there was a set up for failure, this is it.

Or is it?

Maybe, just maybe, this is the perfect situation: a cosmic convergence of the untenable beaten back by the unwavering. Who follows a coach who was the face of college football, who was fired in writing after the tentacles of the biggest scandal in college football history reached his office; who died from cancer (or was it a broken heart?) months later?

A man with a vise grip on perspective.

I have personally had the opportunity to listen to Bill O’Brien speak.  I have followed this transition with the same passion I have followed Penn State football for over three decades of my life.  I will be the first to admit that I was disappointed with the initial announcement.  I will also say that I have become impressed with this man who has taken the reins from Joe Paterno, or rather, picked them up in the void left after the unthinkable happened.  He has yet to actually coach a real game as the head coach at Penn State beyond a scrimmage, and perhaps he doesn’t have the players we would like him to have on the field this fall, but I am excited to see what this man can do.

Maybe we’re all just rationalizing things.  Maybe we’re looking for the silver lining; grasping at straws, and hoping that the program we have known and loved, sweated and cried for, in success and in defeat, will once again rise from the ashes of this tragedy and bring pride back to Happy Valley–maybe bring happiness back to Happy Valley.

Maybe Matt McGloin isn’t going to be Tom Brady.  Maybe the New England offense won’t work at Penn State.  We don’t have to look any further than South Bend for an example of a similar scenario gone bad.  The offensive guru of the Patriots comes in to a once-great program that has not been competitive for awhile, but then fails to get the train back on the tracks.

But the argument that McGloin isn’t Tom Brady is as valid as the argument that Bill O’Brien isn’t Charlie Weiss.  Penn State isn’t New England, nor is it Notre Dame.

Maybe Penn State won’t win the Big Ten Title this year.  Or the nest.  Or ever again.  Maybe National Championships are things we will talk about only in past tense, like the Irish.

But for now, it appears that we do have a good man for the job.

Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could.  But somewhere down the road, a good man will do something good.

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Filed under Bill O'Brien, football, opinion, Penn State

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