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Penn State Football Continues to Change…And You Can Quote Them On It

by on January 13, 2013 11:30 PM

“There is nothing permanent except change.”

It is a lesson taught by the great Greek thinker Heraclitus in 500 B.C., and reinforced by no less than modern-day philosophers Bob Dylan in 1964, David Bowie in 1972 and Bill O’Brien in 2013.

It’s been 50 days since Penn State defeated Wisconsin 24-21 in overtime on Nov. 24 and, given how these things work in college football, the Badgers have changed head coaches since then.

Penn State did not.

Not that O’Brien didn’t consider the idea. He did, but a year to the day after he first met the Penn State press for the first time, he reiterated his desire to stay. At least through the 2013 season.

“Money and success don’t change people. They merely amplify what is already there.” – Will Smith

Still, as it is, the Nittany Lions have had three head coaches in 15 months. And as it is, during that time the Nittany Lions have had five defensive coordinators – Tom Bradley, the duo of Larry Johnson Sr. and Ron Vanderlinden, Ted Roof and John Butler.

This revolving door certainly had not been the rule for Penn State. And that’s not even the rule for college football. But it seems to be status quo for Ted Roof, who over the past 15 months has worked for Auburn, Central Florida, Penn State and now – as of last week – for Georgia Tech.

Imagine how often he’s changed his resume. (Speaking of which, we will leave it to good taste to not mention who was the head coach when Roof was an assistant at Tech the first time around.)

The lesson of change is being learned, constantly and often painfully, by followers of Penn State over the past year -- and change. There have been SOB NCAA and Freeh changes, abnormal as change gets. And there have been college athletics’ SOP JIT JUCO changes. The first has forced the opening of the door to the second with an urgency that strains the mission of the academy. One QB doesn’t want the job, head 1,600 miles to the west a few hours later and there’s another quick fix.

“To change what you get you must change who you are.” – Vernon Howard

With a new head coach who followed a guy who was on the job for six decades, there were bound to be ch-ch-ch-ch-changes (Bowie, 1972). Staff, facilities, procedures, the playbook, uniforms, stuff like that. Add in a national scandal, a dethroning, a death, a wholesale change in leadership, and change is not only all-encompassing, it’s inevitable and yes, even necessary.

“There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to institute a new order of things." – Machiavelli

Many changes were not easy for folks to stomach. But after an 8-4 record, a never-say-die group of truckers and a national affirmation of rebirth, even the staunchest old-schoolers took heed.

"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another." – Anatole France

Still a new lesson, this change thing, for thousands of fans and tenfold alumni. Until 15 months ago, the notion as it pertained to Penn State football was Greek – as in the aforementioned Heraclitus -- to just about everyone.

No football program was as stable as Penn State’s for decades. None has been ever-changing as Penn State’s has been in recent months.

“The times, they are a-changin’.” Bob Dylan

Of course, the changes have not been all of the coach’s or team’s doings. Nowhere, with SMU in the 1980s running a very distant death-sentence second, have so many changes have been imparted on a big-time football program. It is the bowl ban, the sanctions, the $60 million fine, the free agency of players, the vacating of wins – those are the biggest changes that are hardest to swallow.

I get daily email strings from dozens of people livid with the NCAA. My Google Alert dings day and night with haranguing missives about Emmert and (probably Bob) and Ray. The Governor is in on the act, as is a state senator. A documentarian vigorously emailed me and messaged me about appearing in his film, then called me a coward and other such things when I declined.

“If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.” -- Maya Angelou

And that’s really where we are right now. On its surface, the changes in Penn State football may look monumental. But in the past head coaches have flirted with the pros, upcoming opponents have changed head coaches (Syracuse, Kent State, Purdue, Wisconsin), players have transferred, promotions have been kept in-house, high schoolers have started college early and, yes, there will be another change in leadership on the Penn State Board of Trustees (with a vote late this week). That people actually notice and care – that’s good change.

More is on its way. There will be a new president of Penn State by mid-year 2014. Rod Erickson’s tenure will have been all of 32 months. His predecessor lasted 16 years, and the five Penn State presidents before Erickson averaged 11 years on the job.

“Change brings opportunity.”Nido Qubein

It is very likely that the new president will hire a new athletic director not long after she or he is aboard, which would cut the tenure of acting athletic director Dave Joyner to three-and-a-half years. His two predecessors ran Penn State athletics for 29 years, growing the budget from $8 million in 1982 to $116 million in 2011.

For all the numbers, it really is all context. Some of the change is new to Penn State. Some has its roots in two Novembers ago. Some is very, very late.

Still, and so, Penn State’s new normal is not normal. Not for Penn State, not for anywhere.

And it will continue to be so.

“Change is such hard work.” – Billy Crystal



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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