Penn State Football: Joe Paterno, Bill O’Brien and the Lasch Building
It is 10 p.m. Monday night on the Penn State campus. All is calm outside Lasch Building, all its stairwell lights bright.
#ONETEAM in two-foot high letters can be clearly seen through the second floor windows of Lasch, headquarters of the Penn State football team.
No one is home.
The main parking lot is empty, the second-floor head coach’s office dark. Off to the side near the practice fields are some university-issued vans.
Four minutes to the northwest, about a mile-and-a-half away and four blocks from campus, at the end of McKee Street is the home where Sue and the late Joe Paterno lived for decades. It’s dark, save for a single front room light.
Eleven minutes and just over seven miles to the southeast, via College Avenue, Route 322 and a well-maintained country road, on the outskirts of Boalsburg, lies the home of the man who succeeded Paterno. Bill O’Brien has been gone for over a week.
Like almost all of the 44,000 Penn State students and most of the townspeople, O’Brien and his family have been away on break. He may be gone for good, as soon as Tuesday.
Tom Bradley, the man who served from Nov. 9, 2011 to Jan. 6, 2012 as the bridge between the two former national coaches of the year, no longer lives in town.
Never did it seem more clear than on this cloudy, 21-degree night that Lasch, the home of Penn State football, was alone, quiet, small, soulless. Beaver Stadium, lit under the south end zone stands, was visible but hardly majestic.
To drive from Joe’s house to Lasch, you head down Park Avenue, then turn right onto University Drive. Beaver Stadium is to the left and soon so is the Bryce Jordan Center. Its administrative lot is empty, save for a Penn State van. It’s long past quitting time, and the lights to the bank of offices that include the athletic director and his staff are off.
Two hundred yards later, a right onto Hastings Road will deposit you onto the Lasch Building’s front parking lot. In his younger years, Paterno would make the walk from home to his office, cutting across campus so the trek was close to a mile or so. In later years, he’d drive to work, but had to fend for himself when it came to finding a spot; none were reserved for the head coach. When the lot was full, he’d complain about people parking where they weren’t supposed to and railed against retired professors with parking passes that allowed them to park wherever they wanted.
“You know, Joe,” I told him once while there for a magazine interview, in the early 2000s, “if you retired you might get to park where you wanted to, too.”
He didn’t find that amusing.
The 89,000-foot Louis and Mildred Lasch Football Building is command central of the Nittany Lion football program. It houses, says the Penn State website, “the newly renovated 13,000-square-foot weight room, massive locker room, athletic training facilities, whirlpool therapy, meeting rooms, video production suite, coaches and staff offices, well-appointed players' lounge, and the academic support center and computer room.”
During football season, especially, it is alive with activity, with players and coaches and staff and interns and trainers and graduate assistants – over 150 people at its busiest.
The Lasch Building is also where Mike McQueary says he spotted Jerry Sandusky in a shower with a young boy, alone, late one evening over a decade ago.
Monday night, it was quiet.
Two Penn State legends of sorts worked in the same building, out of the same office, coached at the same school, at one time brought pride and prominence to Penn State, in different ways in different eras. Paterno often wore a white or blue oxford shirt to the office, with a tie. In the summer, a button-down, short-sleeved plaid shirt sans tie was his customary attire. O’Brien wore sweats. Paterno’s office was homier, more comfortable, as you would expect from someone who’s been in the same job with the same employer for 46 years. O’Brien kept his office starker, less finished, with more and thicker piles of paperwork than Paterno had. O’Brien’s concerns were more of making sure his roster was furnished with enough players rather than fancy decorations.
In his brief tenure as interim head, Bradley never worked out of the head coach’s office, staying put in his much smaller space a short walk down the hall from Paterno’s, facing east and the practice fields. “That’s Coach’s office,” he explained.
For Paterno, the end was harsh, quick and devastating – not only for him, but for players, fans, the university. For O’Brien, the end may soon be harsh and quick, and devastating in other ways, for others.
But if O’Brien does leave on Tuesday, come the next morning – the first of the new year -- the sun will still rise to the east over Mount Nittany. And, yet again, there will be another new era of Penn State football.
Lasch will endure, in more ways than one.