Penn State Football: Search Committee Protected Confidentiality, Was Not Secret, Members Say
Russ Rose just got off the phone with an angry caller. Another one.
His inbox has been filled with emails since Thursday, more than a fair share with the same scathing remarks.
They weren’t calling or writing because the normally avuncular Rose fell short of his fifth-straight women’s volleyball national title. No complaints there; he is, after all, the winningest coach in Penn State athletics history.
To find out why he’s now so unpopular, your eyes need only search across the desk in Rose’s Rec Hall office. You need to look past the clutter and stop at the stack of blue binders filled with pages of resumes of applicants for the Penn State head football coaching position — officially filled Friday night when Bill O’Brien put pen to paper to permanently replace Hall of Famer Joe Paterno.
This stack of binders is both a blessing and a curse.
All the resumes and letters of recommendations and other assorted pieces of paper led the six-person search committee to O’Brien — a decision they unequivocally believe can help lead the university out of its darkest moment. He was, everyone on the committee asserts, the only candidate to whom they offered the job.
That six-inch pile is also why the phone calls and emails have been pouring in.
How the hell could you hire him?
He’s an outsider. He doesn’t understand Penn State.
And that’s putting it nicely.
The committee had six members: acting athletic director and chair Dr. Dave Joyner, Board of Trustee member Ira Lubert, senior women’s athletic administrator Charmelle Green, NCAA faculty rep Dr. Linda Caldwell, retired journalism faculty member Dr. John Nichols and Rose. They were tasked to identify a candidate who can lead the football program with integrity and who can uphold the academic record and winning record Paterno built over nearly 46 years before being fired Nov. 9 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.
It was the biggest hire in the history of Penn State football, Penn State athletics — perhaps even Penn State itself. And it officially ended after 40 days. The process was deliberately thorough, secretive and included a staggered line of communication with potential candidates, agents and other third parties via Skype, email and phone, committee members said.
The committee didn’t decide on O’Brien — the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach of the New England Patriots — until last Wednesday at its final meeting.
The committee members pledged to each other to not leak names of finalists so they could guarantee confidentiality for all candidates, be they serious or just tire-kickers, out of privacy for the coaches. A source close to the committee said a significant number of African-American candidates were considered throughout all stages of the search. But the members kept coming back to O’Brien.
At the end of the process, the committee members were asked to list their top-three candidates, Rose said.
“There was a consensus except for me,” he said. “I was the outlier.”
That’s as far as Rose went on the record. A source close to the committee said if O’Brien declined to accept Penn State’s offer, the six members would’ve regrouped to determine the next best candidate. There was no clear-cut No. 2 choice.
“Every person I talked to — some of them had good jobs and our communications were very clandestine — would all have been interested but the process was what was tenuous,” Rose said.
Which brings us to Penn State’s current buzzword: transparency.
In the search committee’s lexicon, there’s a difference between transparency, secrecy and confidentiality. Transparency does not mean you tell secrets and break confidentiality, Caldwell said.
“I’ve been on a gazillion faculty searches, a gazillion promotion and tenure committees,” Caldwell said, “and nobody would want divulged the conversations divulged in these things. It’s just not right. It’s not ethical.”
So imagine a search for Penn State’s football coach, who is in charge of a cash cow that produced a $53 million net profit last time Penn State had to file its Title IX report to the U.S. Department of Education.
“This is a very highly confidential operation,” said Caldwell, who was on the search committee that brought Pat Chambers to State College to coach men’s basketball. She was also on the search committees for the men’s and women’s gymnastics coaches, among others.
Rose has received numerous questions from the media and fans as to why O’Brien was the choice.
“[I’m asked] why didn’t you hire this or this or this?” Rose said. “And I was like, ‘Why is your first boyfriend no longer your first boyfriend?’
“It’s easy for people to say, ‘Why didn’t you hire (Nick) Saban and Les Miles.’ If both of those guys were out of jobs, they’d apply. And people that have great jobs or in a very critical era or timeframe where their contracts are being renegotiated are very, very apprehensive to get themselves into the media mainstream of being an applicant.”
It’s not unusual, Rose said, for coaches to have a caveat in their contract prohibiting them from talking to others about another job. The pool of candidates might be limited to those at the end of their contract or with a clause in their contract indicating they can leave for their dream job.
O'Brien was in the final year of his contract with the Patriots before signing a five-year deal with Penn State worth about $2.3 million a year.
So, was all this secrecy necessary?
“It’s necessary given the fact that who might be on your short list cannot afford to have their name linked to any sort of open position because they have a really nice position,” Rose said.
The fact that one-third of the committee was comprised of academicians speaks volumes about how important the scope of the university was in this decision — it wasn’t just football. That’s despite public perception otherwise. Members say Lubert, the financial behemoth who helped bring wrestling coach Cael Sanderson to Penn State, and Joyner did not wield all the power.
Make no mistake, Joyner and Lubert — former teammates as wrestlers at Penn State — had key roles. Rose said Joyner reached out to Chris Petersen through a Boise State administrator, but there was no level of interest. The net was cast so wide that each member of the committee was in communication with candidates, and no decision would have been made unless everybody was on board.
Which brings us back to the stack of blue binders sitting on Rose’s desk, and all the names hidden inside. And the emails and phone calls chastising the committee members for hiring O’Brien.
Since last Thursday, when the coaching decision first broke, Caldwell said the lines of communication from outsiders have been supportive of the committee’s choice.
It doesn’t surprise her. She knew the committee found the right guy.
“It makes me laugh and sad that people can say such foolish things,” Caldwell said. “If they want to voice their opinions, fine. I can hit the delete button.”