Mike Poorman: Penn State Athletics’ Leadership Needs to be Coached
It’s just not possible that one person can – or will – will lead Penn State athletics out of the huge morass that has been the past nine months.
But, as Bill O’Brien proved again on Tuesday, he’s the first among a host of very capable equals who might be up to the task.
In the midst of an athletic department meeting on Tuesday, a longtime Penn State coach asked a pointed question about the media driving the public dialogue about the never-ending scandal.
And that’s where O’Brien came into play.
The new football coach – just 191 days into the job – spoke up and spoke out in her defense, according to a number of sources. It was a bold move by a coach whose team has yet to play a game. But it showed true leadership, perhaps a new kind of leadership at Dear Old State: It was public, it was supportive, it cut across gender lines.
It’s the kind of quality leadership in both word and in deed that Penn State athletics actually has right now in spades – whether anyone knows about it or not. And, like it did with the coaches caravan, PSU should play that hand a lot more often. Now.
Those leaders are the head coaches, a very Dr. Suessian group: Old ones, new ones. Olympians, national champions. Black, white. Male, female. A guy named Guy, another guy named Pat. And a lawyer and a Rose.
In addition to O’Brien, an articulate and forthright speaker with strong on-the-field credentials, Penn State athletics has a host of marketable and top-caliber head coaches who can – and should – be the new face, voice, body and soul of Penn State sports.
Bill O’Brien can’t do it alone.
O’Brien, no doubt, is first among equals. But he hasn’t acted that way.
He O’bonded with basketball, track and golf coaches alike on the caravan. He’s opened his door to practically everyone, both the media and the masses. And he’s close to a number of his colleagues; for example, he and basketball coach Pat Chambers had a meeting scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
Interim athletic director Dave Joyner has a huge task – a bleeding bottom-line, a morale-sucking scandal, a title that is temporary, a tarnished product, trustee roots.
He can’t, shouldn’t be and is not the face of Penn State sports.
The students are what is best about Penn State, whether they are athletes or not. Their story is compelling: Nearly 400 Penn State student-athletes earned a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher during the 2012 spring semester – 58 percent of all PSU athletes.
They are the true faces, of course, of Nittany Lion athletics.
But the names that are recognizable, the voices that are most consistent and clearest-heard – those of the head coaches -- are the ones who can truly lead Penn State sports. That’s not just on the University Park playing fields and in the homes of possible recruits, but on the nation’s sports pages and websites as well.
They have a good story to tell, and they are equipped to tell it. Right now, they are among Penn State's biggest assets.
Basketball coach Coquese Washington, who has her law degree, is successful, a great role model and an excellent public speaker who is both inspiring and funny. Her counterpart, Pat Chambers, speaks from the heart, is demanding and community-oriented. Both have overcome big obstacles: Washington following an earlier Penn State scandal, Chambers almost dying after being slashed in the neck.
Wrestling coach Cael Sanderson has won two NCAA championships in three seasons, has an Olympic gold medal and was arguably the finest collegiate wrestler in history. Field hockey coach Char Morett was an Olympian herself and has been a stalwart in Penn State women’s sports, establishing a history of class and success.
Beth Alford-Sullivan oversees a huge operation that is men’s and women’s track and field, as well as men’s and women’s cross country. Her leadership and organizational skills are many, while her programs are national caliber and she is respected nationwide.
Ice hockey coach Guy Gadowsky’s roots are in Princeton, while soccer coach Erica Walsh also coached in the Ivy League before coming to Penn State, where she has maintained the Lady Lion juggernaut – while also helping to coach the U.S. Olympic and national teams.
Then there’s Russ Rose, the grandfather of them all. He’s given Penn State five national championships, many academic accolades and a wry view at life. Rose also teaches “Principles and Ethics of Coaching,” one of the most popular courses on campus, even before the scandal.
All are accomplished. All are articulate.
All have gone about college sports “the right way.”
All need to lead Penn State.
- Penn State Football: 7 Summertime New Looks and Old Friends - July 6, 2012