Jeff Byers: Foolish to Judge Bill O'Brien and Penn State Football After One Game
Patience is a virtue. It is a virtue that seems to be disappearing in our society as a whole but is sorely lacking in all things associated with Penn State football.
After one game, some fans have already declared the football program is dead, the dark years as having arrived, and the hiring of Bill O’Brien and his staff a complete and utter failure.
Apparently, the NCAA not only wiped out Penn State’s wins from the past 14 seasons, it erased the memories of the fans who witnessed the decades of Paterno-coached football. The comparisons, though inevitable, are inherently unfair to both men. And my point here is not to compare O’Brien and Joe Paterno but rather to mitigate the knee-jerk response many are having. Surely, some Penn State fans are aware of the problems overreactions can cause.
Rather than make a quick decision that can ruin reputations, lives and psyches, what do you think about sitting back and letting things play out and then assessing the whole situation based on a large body of evidence? We have seen the devastating consequences of people rushing to judgment here at Penn State and yet some now want to proclaim the program dead ... after one game. O’Brien, clearly not the right man for the job, an embarrassment of a hire this is clear to these fans after ... one game. One game and they see that O’Brien is doomed to failure. John Surma is being summoned.
Sure, it’s entirely possible that O’Brien and his staff were out-coached by Frank Solich and his staff. Solich had been a head coach in 167 games before Saturday’s matchup at Beaver Stadium. O’Brien was coaching his first game with an entire staff that was working its first game together. Ohio also came in with a very veteran team while Penn State was starting a sophomore running back who played wide receiver last season after a successful career as a high school quarterback.
None of this is to say that O’Brien will definitely be successful at Penn State. This is a school that is facing very significant NCAA sanctions and a program that saw several key departures this past offseason. This will not be an easy task. But O’Brien is willing to take that challenge and is doing so enthusiastically.
Already on the message boards, this offensive scheme of O’Brien’s is a failure. Belton is not a big-time running back. Matt McGloin sucks (and we thought O’Brien could coach quarterbacks). And the defense - well, Tom Bradley is sorely missed. Penn State’s defense hadn’t allowed an opponent to control the tempo of a game since, well, really you’d have to go all the way back to the last game of the 2011 season.
But Paterno teams never gave up the lead in the second half, never got pushed around by a MAC team, never lost the game because of drives that were stopped by fumbles or mistakes made on special teams. Except that the doggone record book (even the revamped NCAA version) shows that those things did happen. Even after years of success under Paterno, the Nittany Lions made critical mistakes in big games sometimes, couldn’t make the necessary adjustments on defense sometimes, lost games they were expected to win sometimes. These things happened with experienced Penn State coaches, experienced players and in years coming off relatively quiet offseasons.
Do you think it might be possible to allow O’Brien at least a few games before declaring his tenure a complete and utter failure? Is it possible that he will learn from Saturday’s game just as his players will and that they will improve on various areas of game-planning? Paterno did manage to go just 5-5 his first season at the helm and that was without NCAA sanctions and player departures for reasons other than graduation. Paterno did have losing seasons in four of five years with no NCAA sanctions looming over the program.
Bill O’Brien has made it very clear that he intends to be here for the long haul. Perhaps we, as fans, could allow him a little latitude to grow into a job that he has willingly taken on. It is a job that any objective observer will tell you is among the toughest - if not the toughest - ever accepted in college football. I don’t have that crystal ball and can’t sit here and guarantee that O’Brien will be a brilliant success. But I do have a feeling that if Penn State is patient enough, O’Brien will make the wait worth it. It’s time for all Penn Staters to show that virtue.