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Penn State Football: 1,000 Days After Firings, Changes Should Bowl Over Mitchell

by on July 31, 2014 11:05 PM

On Monday, Penn State football officially begins drills for its 2014 season.

That will mark 1,000 days since Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier were fired.

Over that period of time, Penn State has had three university presidents, three provosts, four Board of Trustee presidents, four athletic directors and five head football coaches. That’s counting acting, interim and real thing.

But that doesn’t count the three of Penn State’s seven associate athletic directors – all Penn State alum – and the eight of the 24 varsity head coaches who have departed since Nov. 9, 2011, as well.

Or that since the start of the 2011 season, Penn State has had 31 different on-the-field football coaches.

The Penn State personnel paradigm has shifted. Seismically so.

If George Mitchell, the NCAA’s point man for Penn State’s sanctions, is looking for change, he’s come to the right place. Again and again. 

So far, former Sen. Mitchell has liked what he’s seen in The 814. Last September, Mitchell recommended that some of Penn State’s football scholarships – taken away by the NCAA after the Sandusky scandal – be returned. And some were. Still, two more years of scholarship reductions and two more years of a postseason bowl ban remain. To say nothing of the bulk of a fine that was originally pegged at $60 million. 

Now, as Mitchell is no doubt preparing to deliver his annual report on Penn State to the NCAA in the next month, there’s the very real possibility that further sanctions could be reduced or eliminated – like the idea that Penn State, if it wins six or more games, would be eligible to go bowling in 2014. Last fall, Mitchell himself said that was a possibility.


On May 14, Mitchell met with new Penn State president Eric Barron and his predecessor, Rod Erickson, to review Penn State’s progress relative to an athletics integrity agreement signed by PSU, the NCAA and the Big Ten. Said Mitchell at that time: “Dr. Barron pledged that I would continue to receive complete cooperation from the University, as has been the case since the inception of my duties.”

Barron made good on his word shortly thereafter. He also made good on Section 5.3 of the Freeh Report’s recommendations for “Intercollegiate Athletics Organizational National Searches.” Penn State reports that section is:

“Complete/Substantially Complete – A new University Policy HR-101 (Positions Requiring National Search) has been adopted. The new policy requires national searches for candidates for Division I head coaching positions and positions in Intercollegiate Athletics with the titles of Associate Athletic Director and above, with exceptions as approved by the President of the University.”

Barron, wisely, didn’t opt for the exception.

Instead, he went for the national search jugular.

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Barron had been on the job as Penn State's 18th president for just 34 days, when it was announced on June 17 that Dave Joyner was stepping down as athletic director. It took just 39 days after that for Barron to announce that Sandy Barbour would be Penn State’s next AD. 

Compare that to Barron’s track record with athletic directors at Florida State. Barron, named FSU’s 14th president on Feb. 1, 2010, had been on the job for 40 months before he axed his AD, Randy Spetman. Folks in major college athletics thought Barron moved fast when he hired Stan Wilcox just 63 days later to succeed Spetman.

At Penn State, even if Barron wasn’t acting quickly to get Barbour hired and the move announced – she officially begins Aug. 18 – in order to show Mitchell he meant business before the Senator’s annual report, it likely had that consequence anyway.

Barbour was just the latest of a few more changes to come. Penn State’s Old Main will soon hire its first in-house, executive-level, full-time communications director in nearly two years. And Penn State is on the cusp of its first football marketing director since branding guru Guido D’Elia was given the boot 30 months ago. 

If those hires are done by the time the fall semester begins on Aug. 25, the university’s president, provost (chief academic executive), Board of Trustees president, PR/communications executive, athletic director, head football coach, associate athletic director for business and communications, and head of football marketing will have been on the job at Penn State for a combined 142 weeks.

In contrast, when the Nittany Lions’ 2011 football season opened the folks in those eight positions had been at Penn State for a combined 241 years.

Forget Bowie’s ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. Try the Beatles’ revolution.


On Saturday, after Barbour was introduced as the new AD, Barron disputed my characterization of the aforementioned spate of changes as “almost stunning.”

“I’m not so sure the turnover is as remarkable as anyone here might experience,” Barron replied. “That is a lot. You will watch many, many different institutions when they have a change in leadership, everybody submits their resignation and they pull in a whole group of people that are loyal to them.

“I’m not a big fan of loyalty. I’m a big fan of performance.

“And so I come in and there’s a natural set of individuals who, for whatever reasons, are retiring or stepped in for a period of time. And then your job is to find that next excellent person, But then you start to look at the other people who are here – and they’ve been here a year or two years – and you can tell they love the place, they’re committed and they were excellent hires.

“So,” Barron concluded, “it doesn’t strike me as something to worry about.”

By George, Barron’s probably right.

In just over a month, Mitchell could very likely be bowled over.


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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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