With the State of the Union Address coming up Tuesday, I thought I’d create my own [Penn] State of the University Address. Or perhaps State of the Program would be more concise.
Many people have asked me what I thought of Bill O’Brien leaving, of James Franklin being anointed the next head coach, and of Larry Johnson leaving. My loyal readers probably already know the answers to those questions, but I will address them herein since the recruiting front is shifting too fast and furious to keep up with right now and there is no other football issues to talk about.
I embraced Bill O’Brien. The aftermath of Paterno’s wrongful termination and then his subsequent death to cancer left a power void-and a morality void–at Penn State the likes that had not been seen certainly since before Rip Engle was head coach, if ever. That void is still evident today. Fans and loyalists took up the torch for Tom Bradley, but the reality was such that the situation was never in Tom’s favor. In likewise fashion, Larry Johnson, Sr. may have been the right person too, but alas found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m sorry to see Larry go, but in the words of someone else . . .next man up!
I agreed that the administration was right and justified to look elsewhere outside the program for a replacement for Joe Paterno. Had Paterno wanted Tom Bradley to succeed him, then that succession plan would have been in place. Looking back on it, as much as we all wanted Paterno to come up with a succession plan, his lack of planning was probably a good thing given the circumstances under which his tenure ended.
But that left a big question . . . WHO?
We [the fans] all fretted the decision. And I will be the first to admit that when word came down that Bill O’Brien was to be our next leader, my first reaction was, Bill Who?
Honestly. I was a Steeler fan and never knew that O’Brien was on the New England staff. Wouldn’t have recognized him if he walked right up to me and introduced himself.
But to his credit, he stepped up at a critical time in Penn State’s illustrious football history–a time that was far from illustrious and darker than the losing seasons of 2003-4. He, along with a core of dedicated players led by Matt McGloin and Michael Mauti, kept Penn State’s football program alive when it could have gone flat line.
Sanctions came. Players left. Opposing coaches swept down on University Park like vultures on a dying man in the desert. Remember this scene when I give you my thoughts on the current recruiting situation.
Was Bill O’Brien the best man for the job? Who the hell knows? He did his job and he did it well. He recruited players like Christian Hackenberg and Adam Brenneman. He made Matt McGloin into a starting NFL quarterback. He made Penn State football relevant again, even despite not being able to win championships or play in bowl games. His teams were exciting to watch, even if they didn’t always win.
I still embraced him. I still don’t agree with his decision to leave. I will never know exactly what he said to recruits, and how he broke the news to those he had made promises to, but I will always be a little bit bitter about it. I am, however, coming to terms with it and realizing that it may be the best thing to happen to Penn State since all this began in 2011.
So why am I so bitter? Why do I wish to see him fail at Houston? After thinking about this over and over, and trying to answer it to people who asked, I think I have finally figured it out.
Because Joe Paterno would never have done that to his student athletes.
Read it again, and you know it is true. I have read Paterno’s books about his turmoil when offered an NFL job, ironically enough, with the New England Patriots.
The first chapter of Paterno: By the Book talks about his back and forth ordeal and how he almost left Penn State. Joe is quoted:
Those rumors, which certainly hadn’t started with me, were the last things I wanted my players to fret about. Some of my most promising kids, favorites as both players and people–John Cappelletti (on his way to a Heisman Trophy the following year), Mark Markovich, Eddie O’Neil, others on that good team–had another year to play at Penn State. I couldn’t send them into a major bowl game on national television with feelings of uncertainty about their coach and his future–about their future. For some kids, that’s like worrying about their father walking out on the family. . . .
And look what I was about to give up for money: Suddenly I saw like a circle around me, the life I was selling out for it. I saw the students, the granite statue of the Nittany Lion, the Blue Band, the eager, sweaty tryouts for the squad. I saw squads of the past, gone, and graduated, grown men who write to me, who call on the phone, who come back and tell me what it was for them.
In the end, I guess I’m just disappointed in Bill O’Brien.
And I’m disappointed in myself. For believing that there will ever be another one like Joe. For expecting someone like O’Brien to live up to that standard.
Joe would have wished O’Brien well and cheered for him. But I’m not Joe Paterno either, and I don’t see myself ever hoping to see O’Brien succeed. Neither of us can live up to the ideals of Joe Paterno. I guess I have that much in common with O’Brien.
Regardless of what anyone thinks about O’Brien leaving, the reality is that he has left.
And once again, Penn State fans are left with a void, and the hope that we can fill this position with the next best thing to Joe Paterno. It’s a lofty goal, and one which cannot and will not be met. But in James Franklin, I think we have found a promising replacement to O’Brien, if not a pretty darn good replacement for Joe.
It remains to be seen if Penn State will continue to have high graduation rates. I think we will. It remains to be seen if Franklin truly has found his dream job and will stay for the foreseeable future. I think he will. And it remains to be seen if Franklin’s teams will be as successful on the field as Paterno’s. I think they will.
Some have lamented about how Vanderbilt must feel. Some are concerned that former commits to Vanderbilt have switched to Penn State. And I have seen it typed on a message board that Paterno would not have done that.
Well, we don’t really know, since Joe never coached anywhere else. But these complainers are treating these recruits like property to be bought and traded. Is it really wrong for a kid who committed to Vanderbilt because he believed in Coach Franklin to not want to follow Coach Franklin? And if Coach Franklin wasn’t happy where he was, was it wrong for him to leave?
No one came to Penn State’s aid when recruits left and players transferred. No one shot the vultures. While I do feel bad for Vanderbilt, it ultimately is not Penn State’s fault that James Franklin left.
Paterno stayed at Penn State ultimately because he loved Penn State, not because it was wrong for him to leave. Bill O’Brien left Penn State because he didn’t love Penn State.
I have been very impressed with Coach Franklin so far and agree with everything he has said. I like the reasons he wants to come here. I like his choice of staff. I will embrace this new era at Penn State until he gives me cause to do otherwise.
Because I love Penn State.
For the Glory . . .