Joyner Legacy Complicated, But Focus Should Be On Stability Left For Future AD
When Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner retires in August there may not be much fanfare -- or many thank yous -- when he leaves his office one final time.
Controversy surrounds him, and a professional yet sometimes chaffing personality did little to win over the Nittany Lion faithful, and in many cases, the coaches he oversaw during his nearly three year tenure as AD.
Those things may have been overlooked in the past. Administrators are often called on to make choices that will be unpopular. In a time when Penn State lacked the luxury of indecisiveness, Joyner was faced with far more hard decisions than easy ones and was nothing if not decisive.
But Joyner didn't take over as AD during a normal time in Penn State's history.
From his seat on the Penn State Board of Trustees, Joyner had become the easiest target for Penn State alumni who did not trust the decision makers in the administration. The fallout of the Jerry Sandusky scandal left a divide between alumni and leaders of the university that was nearly unrepairable.
With that trust and faith eroded, some saw Joyner as the embodiment of a feeling that Penn State was still stuck in its old ways. Critics saw an old boy culture and a lack of transparency -- that to a certain extent contributed to many Sandusky scandal-related issues.
In perhaps the most basic of motivations though -- in the minds of a vast number of alumni -- Joyner was simply another board member who had voted to relieve Joe Paterno from his coaching duties that fateful November afternoon. They saw him as another member of the "old guard" who their votes could not reach. The anger and resentment aimed at Joyner was as much a reflection of Penn State's old way of thinking as it was a legitimate dislike for Joyner's actions, decisions and comments.
But like many people, Joyner will be remembered more for he did rather than a wide array of emotional opinions that surround him.
To that end, Joyner will be credited for the hiring of Bill O'Brien and James Franklin as head football coaches. O'Brien was an undeniable grand slam of hire -- more so in hindsight-- and James Franklin was certainly a fan favorite, even if his results are still largely to be determined. While some may argue about Joyner's role on the search committee, his name was atop its formation -- and more importantly -- its result in both cases.
In a similar vein, Joyner hired Olympic caliber coaches that improved the status of their respective programs. Additionally, Joyner looked outside the university for those hires, something that is only a recent trend for Penn State. While Joyner may have never been the ideal leader, but he did an excellent job surrounding himself with people who would succeed long after he departed.
Joyner also took chances. He supported Penn State basketball's return to Rec Hall and helped with Penn State wrestling making the move to the Bryce Jordan Center for a meet. In a time where Penn State could have done the safe thing for the next decade, Joyner wasn't afraid to support bold ideas, ideas that perhaps, did not have that essential administrative support in much calmer times.
Outside of immediate athletic concerns, Joyner and other Penn State administrators worked hand-in-hand with the NCAA and Senator George Mitchell to adopt the various suggestions of the Freeh Report. This cooperation was a small part of what would eventually lead to the reduction of scholarship sanctions, the most painful of the sanctions the NCAA handed down post-Freeh Report.
Some will point to the athletic department's weakened finances, an issue Joyner largely inherited but one that required a personal touch that he sometimes lacked. Joyner's personality was not always best suited for the humble confidence of fundraising but he was nothing but professional when the task required it.
Ultimately though, Joyner's legacy is simply the foundation he leaves behind. His personality, his credentials and his accomplishments are the footnotes at the bottom of a bigger picture.
Because of that it is hard to say that Penn State is in a worse place than it was three years ago. Joyner may not have been a perfect leader but he was a willing one, and one who managed to hire coaches that increased the status of the athletic department. All of this came at a time when Penn State was doing all it could to stay afloat.
“It has been an honor and privilege to serve Penn State,” Joyner said announcing his retirement in August. “Our student athletes, coaches, staff and the University community were a daily source of inspiration for me. The spirit of Penn State is strong, and the department’s commitment to integrity, as well as academic and athletic excellence is stronger than ever.”
Many will never give Joyner credit for his accomplishments no matter what he has done. But if the entire Sandusky saga should have taught fans and alumni anything it is that people are rarely perfect, least of all in trying times. Whatever his faults may have been, Joyner took the job with the best intentions and largely succeeded at the tasks he was required to handle.
As a result Penn State president Eric Barron will have to find a leader who can pick up where Joyner left off, with a Penn State athletic program that is on solid ground once again.
With all the bad that has happened in Happy Valley the past few years Dave Joyner will leave with Penn State headed in the right direction.
And despite their anger, Penn State alumni and fans might owe Joyner at least a thank you for that.