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Penn State Football Can Handle The Truth

by on July 17, 2013 6:41 AM

Bill O'Brien has been nothing short of spectacular since taking the reigns of the Penn State football program. He has guided it through its most tumultuous time and has provided steady and firm leadership and an exciting brand of football, not to mention a remarkable enthusiasm for everything Penn State.

Since taking the head coaching position over a year ago, he has seen the University's leadership willingly accept NCAA punishment that included a significant loss of scholarships, a bowl ban of four years and a $60 million fine. He has fought valiantly, and mostly succeeded, in keeping players with the program even as the NCAA and the University's leadership colluded to allow his players to transfer anywhere else without consequence. With a handful of exceptions, he kept his players from going to other successful programs where coaches were promising greener pastures.

He withstood a difficult 0-2 start. He implemented his system and has seen the players buy in. The results have been impressive. He has handled with aplomb a social media firestorm over innocuous comments that were misheard and could have become a greater additional burden.

He has battled other longer-tenured coaches for impact recruits, has dealt with a high-profile recruit's legal woes, has overcome questionable officiating calls and a trusted assistant's departure.

He was pursued by NFL teams and handled those overtures well and worked out a new contract for himself that better suited both his interests and those of the University.

There are lawsuits pending against former Penn State administrators, an apparent fine from the Department of Education in the offing and ongoing investigations of Jerry Sandusky and the University from the Attorney General's office and federal investigators. O'Brien has kept his and his players' focus throughout all of this.

Through it all, he has managed to keep his team improving, moving forward with precision, excitement and desire.

After an especially successful first season and a positive offseason, expectations are reasonably high for a solid second campaign with O'Brien in charge.

But to hear many of the columnists and beat writers tell it, O'Brien and the program may be brought down - or at least their task made much more difficult - by a group of alumni.

Sure, alumni have brought down programs before. But the Penn State alumni aren't accused of buying inappropriate gifts or arranging grades or breaking any other rules or laws. No - what has O'Brien fighting an uphill battle, according to these pundits, is that the alumni are seeking truth and justice for his predecessor and his teams.

Sure, O'Brien has withstood unexpected and unprecedented sanctions, recruiting restrictions, high academic standards, aggressive coaching opponents and the usual routine struggles of being a high-profile coach at a major college program.

But now, these pundits will tell you, he must endure the very real possibility that some alumni are going to continue to demand that the truth about his predecessor and those that brought him down come out. And THIS is what is going to make O'Brien's job too challenging.

From afar this might sound ludicrous. Actually, I'm trying to find the vantage point where it doesn't sound ludicrous. But this is what David Jones, Cory Giger, Nate Bauer and many others would have you believe: that if the alumni continue to pursue truth and justice for a former coach, then O'Brien's challenges might become too much to bear. Really?!?

These pundits will tell you the Penn State community needs to unite as one to move forward and allow for success. On this, I actually agree. But rather than expend the truth and forego the fight for justice, why not simply provide a change in the University's leadership?

These media folk will tell you that the Joebots allowed Joe Paterno for years to get his way and run the University with iron fist. This, they will tell you, was the fault of Paterno, not the administrators and Board members who allowed it to occur.

I covered Joe Paterno for about two decades and I had my issues with him during his coaching tenure. I do believe he was given too much control (although it is amazing to me that many seem to believe this power simply couldn't be questioned by the Board of Trustees or the administration. I would argue that if an employee has more power than his superiors then that is a problem just might be with those that are supposed to be in charge).

The same media that condemned the "Joebots" for putting football and their iconic head coach ahead of everything else are now asking if these same fans really want to pursue truth and justice when it might cost their football team some wins? If you new Trustees sign on to a lawsuit defending the University, then YOU are the problem.

These pundits are telling these alumni to listen to their football coach and subvert your principles for the good of the football program. From my skewed perspective, I see some irony.

Now mind you, I don't buy for a second that pursuing truth and justice for Paterno will any way impact Bill O'Brien's ability to recruit and win, even if he and the pundits truly feel otherwise. I guess they would have you believe the conversation would go something like this:

O'Brien: So, what do you think, do you want to be a Nittany Lion?

Star Recruit: Well, the school sure is impressive. My parents and I love the academic programs and the support you provide. The student body is great and it's a nice, relatively safe town. I do love your coaching style and NFL connections and I'm impressed with your staff. The facilities are tremendous - as good or better than anything I've seen. The fans come out in droves to support the team and because of all of this, I'm willing to overlook the competitive disadvantage we'd have in pure numbers and going to Ireland sounds cool even if we don't get to go to a bowl game for a few more years. So, it all is great, except for one thing. I couldn't help but notice that a number of your alumni still think there should be some compelling evidence - or really any evidence - before permanently destroying the reputation of your former coach. Sorry, coach, I would have signed with you but those alumni are just spending too much of their time defending a man who spent his life trying to improve the lives of hundreds of young men and thus the community and world. If those alumni would have shut up about the inconsistencies and lies of the Freeh report and the problems with the Board members who fired Paterno that November night, I would have signed up. But now, I have to look somewhere else to continue my education and play some football. Good luck, though, coach."

I'm sorry, but I just don't buy it.

If the desire is truly for the University community to come together, then the members of the Board who were there the night Joe Paterno was "retired early" need to remove themselves and advocate that the alumni come together in support of the new future. If the goal is truly to unite the community and move forward, then have the decency to allow a new future to be branded. This is a Board that is in desperate need of real reform, of an infusion of new blood with fresh ideas and a separation from the old way of doing business.

Surely, if those in charge could agree that reducing the members on the football team was a reasonable solution to the "problems" facing the program then we can reduce the members of the of the leadership organization that allowed those "problems" to fester.

There is a tremendous opportunity for this University and its athletic programs to truly begin a new era. Will the Board members have the decency to allow this to happen?

With new Board members like those elected in the last two alumni votes, with new blood and new ideas, with new, experienced administrators who have a working understanding of how to balance academic and athletic success while managing the financial system, then the alumni, the students, the coaches and the student-athletes will all come together and we can truly put our differences in the past.

We Are ...



Jeff Byers has been the wrestling team’s traveling announcer since 1990.
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