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The Penn State Potluck...It's Time

That. That isn't supposed to happen. Anywhere. Ever. But it did happen. Terrible things, things that shake your belief in mankind. Things...well, things that make strong men cry.

When the awful truth about what Jerry Sandusky allegedly did became public knowledge, college football was shaken to the core, and everything everyone ever knew about Penn State--success with honor--was knocked on its ear almost overnight. The PSU President and Athletic Director allegedly tried to cover it up and have been charged with perjury, Joe Paterno was (rightfully) fired in disgrace, Penn State students rioted in protest of Paterno's ouster, and Penn State now faces an uncertain future.

With the exception of two great pieces by Jon and Paterno Ave, we took a hands off approach to this here at OTE. The sexual assault allegations aren't about football, and quite frankly, there's not much to say in terms of what should happen if/when Jerry Sandusky is found guilty. I mean, everyone agrees he should spend the rest of his life in prison at a minimum, and at the time, football was so inconsequential in the grand scheme of things that it didn't matter what happened on the field in the immediate aftermath.

But now that we've moved past the initial shock and the alleged victims will have their day in court, the Sandusky scandal WILL have an affect on Penn State football, but to what degree? Should Penn State even be allowed to play football? The Nittany Lion fanbase and most reasonable people say yes, of course, and don't want the NCAA to pile on. The other extreme says no and screams for the death penalty, naturally. Most people think something in between, which is usually where a vast portion of the truth is.

So we came up with a Penn State potluck. We'll try and answer what JoePa's legacy will ultimately be, we'll talk Bill O'Brien, and we'll try and figure out what the long term impact to Penn State will be. We've also asked Black Shoe Diaries, the outstanding SB Nation Penn State blog, to participate, and BSD Grand Poobah Chris Grovich has given us some fantastic insight.

I gotta warn you, though--this is long. But it's worth it.

Appetizer— When the Sandusky news broke, Joe Paterno had a quote that is now famous--or infamous--depending on your perspective. He said ‘with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I’d done more.’ It later became known that Paterno sat on the information for 24 hours before he told Tim Curley, the PSU AD at the time. Compare that to the decades of philanthropy, of doing things the right way, and his record as college football’s all time winningest coach…what will JoePa’s legacy eventually be?

Bama Hawkeye: Legacy. You know when you realize what someone's legacy was? When you read the first sentence of their New York Times obituary. Now, I'm not hoping that this day comes soon, but when that day comes for JoePa, here's my crack at what the first sentence will be. "Joe Paterno, who during his 46 seasons as the head coach at Penn State University saw his teams win 409 games, more than any other coach in the history of the major college football, died yesterday at his home in State College, Pennsylvania at the age of XX." You notice what's missing. You won't see the name Jerry Sandusky. You won't see the word fired. Don't get me wrong. Those words will find their way into the obit - I fully expect JoePa's statement, "I wish I would have done more" to be included. However, it's not the lead any more than his generosity and philanthropy is the lead. Joe Paterno won more games as a college football coach than anyone else. That is the story. The rest will be secondary.

As for where he ranks among the greatest coaches, he'll always be discussed, but he'll never top the list. If you want a comparison, think of Don Shula in the NFL. Yes, he won more games than any other coach, but does anyone (aside from his sons) really think of him as the greatest coach in the league's history? I think JoePa compares favorably to Schembechler, Hayes, Osborne, Wilkinson, McKay, Bowden, Royal, and Switzer. I don't know that he'll be thought of as the equal of Bryant or Rockne. It almost turns into the Baseball Hall of Famer arguments: who is better, an outstanding compiler (Pete Rose/Joe Paterno), an elite player cut short too soon (Lou Gehrig/Knute Rockne), or someone who has seen his numbers surpassed, but was transcendent at the time (Babe Ruth/Bear Bryant). You're not taking anything away from their greatness to decide that someone is in third place on that list. And I guess that's where I'd put JoePa.

Chris Grovich, Black Shoe Diaries: It'll always depend on the respondent's affiliation with Penn State. It's safe to say that Paterno's reputation will always be secure and honorable with the vast majority of Nittany Lion fans. Even for someone like myself, who agreed with Paterno's dismissal, will look back at Paterno's career as one of immense success, charity, and dedication to the University. Some PSU fans continue to hold onto the notion that Paterno could not have possibly done wrong in handling the Sandusky situation, but most seem to be coming around to the reasonable compromise that while he shares some of the blame, he's really the least culpable when compared to Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, and of course, Sandusky himself.

For non-Penn State fans, it will naturally be a different scenario. They'll be more likely to remember the scandal just as many remember Woody Hayes for The Punch, or Tom Osborne coddling criminals to capture his elusive national championship in the mid-1990's. It's unfortunate when we remember any important figures for their biggest and most recent flaws, but it's an unavoidable consequence in our culture. Many have been hoping for holier-than-thou Penn State to self-destruct in some fashion, and no athletic program (or university) has self-destructed quite like this.

Salad—NCAA president Mark Emmert sent a terse, fairly ominous letter to Penn State back in November that said, among other things, "the NCAA will examine Penn State’s exercise of institutional control over its intercollegiate athletics program, as well as the actions, or inactions, of relevant responsible personnel." The letter also states that the NCAA will pretty much wait for the criminal proceedings to finish before they swoop in. Is the criminal trial enough, or does an NCAA investigation serve a purpose here? If so, do you think the NCAA will levy any penalties on the University and/or the football program?

Paterno Ave: In my mind, criminal proceedings are the proper type of enforcement here. While I understand why the NCAA would want to issue the statement and perhaps even have some degree of an investigation, I think an NCAA penalty would be misplaced. In my mind the NCAA's goal is to regulate two things: 1) fair competition in intercollegiate athletics and 2) the safety and wellbeing of the student-athletes engaging in those. The failure at Penn State was an institutional one, and one that took place within the athletic department, but it didn't fundamentally have to do with any of the issues the NCAA is designed to police. The wellbeing of a non-student child, which had nothing to do with intercollegiate athletics, is absolutely an important goal in our society, but not one that I believe the NCAA is here to protect.

Ted Glover: If ever there was a definition of 'lack of institutional control', one would think this would be it. Child rape and the ensuing cover up screams for action...but that's what the criminal courts and impending civil lawsuits are for. This is something that is outside the NCAA's firing lane and they should steer clear. It's an emotionally charged issue, I get that. But this was allegedly committed and covered up by just a select few people, and those people are now facing long prison sentences. The current coaching staff and players didn't do these things and aren't accused of any wrongdoing, and I don't think they should suffer. That said, I do expect the NCAA to investigate and impose some sort of punishment. What that might be, I don't know. I would refer you to OSU AD Gene Smith, who has a keen eye for predicting what NCAA punishments will be.

Chris Grovich, Black Shoe Diaries: Spencer Hall had a great line on this topic, when asked about it on NBC SportsTalk. Paraphrased, it was "calling the NCAA into this situation is like calling on your local homeowners' association to investigate a triple murder". The NCAA's purpose of looking into the Penn State scandal is essentially to be seen as looking into the Penn State scandal. The situation was just too hot for them to ignore. They had to give the appearance of concern, and they did exactly that. I'd be shocked if anything substantive came of their inquiry.


Thankless task, or quick turn around?

Potato/Rice Dish—A couple of weeks ago, after a long, drawn out search, PSU announced it had hired Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien to be the permanent head coach. O’Brien has no head coaching experience, and the announcement was met with downright outrage among many PSU backers and prominent alumni, namely LaVarr Arrington and Franco Harris. The basis of the outrage was that PSU didn't hire either a) a big time name, b) a PSU guy, or c) both. Under the circumstances, could Penn State have done any better?

Ted Glover: Yeah, I think they could have done much better. No way they could hire Tom Bradley, or anyone on the current or recent past staff. I get that fans want continuity, but keeping anyone on that only had one or two degrees of separation from Paterno would never allow the foootball program, in it’s current state, to separate itself from Paterno and The Scandal. And you HAVE to separate, because Paterno and The Scandal are inextricably linked right now, and will be for a long time, probably for all time. Is it fair? No, not to a guy like Bradley. By all accounts he knew nothing of what was going on, but this is Public Image Rehabilitation 101, and keeping any legacy from Paterno at the head of the program would scream to everyone outside of State College that "we don't get it". From any angle you want to approach, that's the last thing Penn State can afford, thanks to the looming NCAA investigation, the criminal trial, and possible civil lawsuits.

That said, PSU wasn’t getting Miles, Saban, Richt, Kelly, or any other big name coach. But they could’ve made a Tim Beckman/Jerry Kill-type hire—solid X and O guy that could navigate this program through what are going to be troubling times, while still looking at PSU as a coaching opportunity of a lifetime. Yet Dave Joyner went and got a guy with a sketchy track record, who has a stated desire (at least from his agent) to be a head coach in the NFL, who is only going to be recruiting part time while he focuses on the playoffs.

The whole hiring process was a PR disaster for PSU, from the secretive search, to promises of a ‘home run hire’ by Joyner, to hiring a guy that seemingly has his eye and his priorities elsewhere. I think the fans were a bit naive to think that PSU is a desirable gig right now and could attract just about anyone, but in some respects, I can understand their initial reaction. But I would also say that now O'Brien is the guy, it's time to rally around him and support him. He's going to have one of the toughest jobs in America over the next year or so, and the last thing he needs is juvenile bitching from his alumni flank.

Chris Grovich, Black Shoe Diaries: LaVar's outrage was quite unhelpful, if not downright embarrassing. He's a western Pennsylvania guy, he wanted Tom Bradley (a fellow western Pennsylvanian) to get the job. He wasn't alone in that sentiment, as many of our readers were Bradley Or Bust. Franco Harris is now being used as a campaign celebrity for people trying to work their way onto the PSU Board of Trustees. These are all fine people, but they're not representative of the entire fanbase, especially when it comes to Bill O'Brien's hire.

Could Penn State have landed a "big name" guy? If you believe the reports about the courting of Chris Petersen, they certainly tried. Could they have gone after a Penn State guy? They asked Titans head coach Mike Munchak, and the timing didn't quite work out as Tennessee was working a long-shot chance at the NFL playoffs. Besides, think about it -- the PSU coaching tree isn't exactly a wide-ranging plant. Munchak, Al Golden...who's left that would've been a legitimate candidate to take over a major program?

That brings us to the money question, could Penn State have done any better? Considering the scandal, an acting athletic director, and an unstable university administration, we're probably lucky to have Bill O'Brien.

Paterno Ave: Penn State was in trouble hiring their next coach BEFORE the Scandal, never mind after. No big name hire was going to be the guy to follow Joe Paterno. We were looking at a Dan Mullen or maybe Al Golden type of hire. Post-scandal they had to eliminate every candidate that coached at Penn State in the last twenty years or so…and they had to find a guy willing to become forever associated with Penn State and the scandal, as well as deal with constant fallout from the ongoing Sandusky trial. Bill O’Brien was just about as good as they could do, all things considered. He’s kept Larry Johnson, which is huge; let’s see if he wins over the current roster, puts out a decent offense in 2012, and see what his 2013 recruiting class looks like. If those things come together then guess what? Penn State did just about as good as possible.

KennardHusker: Let's go with no, but hear me out on this one. Look, I think that PSU as a University in the larger scheme of things is getting bludgeoned to death unfairly. They have an outstanding philanthropic core and while some very high ranking people allegedly made some very irrational and unforgivable decisions, those atrocities cannot overshadow the fact that PSU is more than that and will go on. So why do I still think that this was the best they could do in light of agreeing that the ‘toxicity’ will go away? Well, I think we don’t talk nearly enough about how hard it is for someone to follow a legend. Paterno was synonymous with Penn State football. For what it’s worth, he probably should’ve had the good sendoff with the symbolic passing of the torch. When everything got ugly, that went out the door (rightfully so), and the search committee was stuck with a difficult task - replace THE coach of PSU with someone he didn’t pick or was associated with… you know, for obvious reasons.

O’Brien seems genuinely congenial and deserves the newfound support from all over Happy Valley and beyond, but I think he knows he was given a chance for him to get out behind his obvious shadows (BB, Brady, etc.) and show he can be a leader. At the same time, it gives PSU a no-lose if he fails by buying them time to lure the ‘right’ guy to PSU next time around. Oh, and if he wins? Good on them.

Meat/Hot Dish—The air of uncertainty surrounding the program has had ripple effects into recruiting—several top PSU recruits decommitted, and more might be coming. It was kind of expected for this year’s class, especially when the delay in hiring a new head coach is factored in. Will this continue to affect recruiting a year from now? Two years from now?

Ted Glover: I think that's a really tough question to answer, because Bill O'Brien has been out of the recruiting game for a few years. He retained Larry Johnson, Sr., who will provide a lot of continuity and is a dogged recruiter, but the B1G now has two sharks swimming the conference waters in Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer, and it will be tough to keep up with them in good times, much less with what's going on right now. It's had a disastrous fallout with this year's class, but if O'Brien can get a 7 or 8 win season next year and get the criminal trial in the rear view mirror, they can get back to where they were prior to all of this.

KennardHusker: I think this won’t last too long. Nebraska had its best recruiting classes when the Callahan was telling people he knew how to get them to the NFL. He may have sucked as a HC, but he knew how to bring kids in. I know that a lot of us think no one will want to be associated with what went down, or the media hell the next year or so might be, but that assumes kids think beyond the opportunity to play on or be the center of attention. The attrition right now is due to more than just Sandusky. These kids were recruited by Paterno and his staff, and now they have to wonder if they fit in with the new guy. I think all will be well as things move forward, at least on the recruiting front. Continuity and effort should stem the tide of recruiting migrations to other schools. If all else fails, PSU can at least just take the kids Urbz doesn’t take. It's not like he can sign everyone... (tOSU has notified Urbz that he can't oversign in this conference, right? I mean, just in case he forgot this wasn't the SEC. Someone should get him on the phone. Let's get to the bottom of this.)

JDMill: There are a couple of factors at play here that lead me to believe this could affect recruiting even beyond the next two years.

First, of course, is the scandal. There is going to be a stigma on PSU, and my guess is it will be there for awhile. Recruits sometimes become friends, these friends are kids, and kids are cruel. Kids are influenced by popular opinion... and popular opinion of PSU is not good right now. Nobody wants to be associated with a child molester, and anybody who is being recruited by PSU is probably going to get some snickers from the peanut gallery.

Second, Penn State is/was Joe Paterno. There is no "Penn State way" without Joe Paterno. No matter when Paterno was going to leave the program, there was going to be a hide and watch mentality about how the things were going to go after Paterno. The problem here is that Paterno went out ugly, the people above him went out ugly, the process of replacing him was ugly, and even the process of the new guy actually starting is a bit ugly.

Penn State has been one of the "holy grail" places for B1G recruits to land since their first day in the conference, but I'd bet it takes them the better part of a decade before they can, if they can, return to that kind of status.

Chris Grovich, Black Shoe Diaries: Perhaps it's a Stockholm Syndrome of some sort, but it appears that recruiting is going to eventually be okay. Yes, some of Penn State's very best recruits have been poached (or are in the process of being poached) by Urban Meyer, but in order to get the full picture, you have to appreciate how lackluster Penn State's recruting effort had been under Paterno in recent years. Paterno never left Happy Valley to recruit. Neither did offensive coordinator Galen Hall. Jay Paterno was essentially useless at PSU's recruiter of Ohio. Offensive line coach Dick Anderson's territory was New Jersey, and we routinely whiffed in that area. Even Tom Bradley's stronghold in western PA had weakened.

In reality, the entire weight of the coaching staff was being carried by a few guys -- Larry Johnson Sr., Ron Vanderlinden, Tom Bradley, and our other offensive line coach, Bill Kenney. O'Brien was smart enough to retain L.J. and Vanderlinden, who also happened to be Penn State's very best position coaches. The remainder of O'Brien's new staff is working tirelessly on both committed and uncommitted players at this point, showing more collective energy than Penn State fans have seen since the entire previous staff's job security was under fire after the abysmal 2000-2004 stretch. It's refreshing.

So, while this particular class isn't likely to be ranked in anyone's top 30, it's become rather reasonable to expect big things for next year. The nation's #1 tight end for the 2013 class, PA native Adam Brenneman, has already been gushing praise for O'Brien's TE-heavy offense in New England. I'd be shocked if he wasn't an early commit in a few months. O'Brien's staff has some southern connections as well (Ted Roof and Mac McWhorter, specifically), and has made offers to players that the previous staff wouldn't have even considered.

Dessert—Where do you see the Penn State football program in five years? Will Bill O’Brien still be around, and will he be winning a lot of games? Or is he a caretaker coach that is more or less a three year interim guy, with Penn State looking for a big name guy that will be willing to come in once there is more space between him and Paterno, and him and the scandal?

Graham Filler: The first thing Mitt Romney’s debate prep people told him in the lead up to the 2011-2012 election was this: Hear the question, know the focus of your answer, tune out everything else, follow through with your point.

So I’m channeling Mitt and ignoring the loudness and focusing on the realities surrounding PSU.

1) Bill O’Brien will not be around unless he produces multiple ten win seasons. Why else would you keep building a program around someone with so much vitriol directed at them so quickly?

2) Penn State needs to face the cold harsh reality that anyone involved with the Michigan program in 2008 had to face: You aren’t building a winner right now. You’re pushing away from the old boy network that, although successful and stable, allegedly led to some terrible things happening. That’s your key. Whatever gets you away from that scandal, be it time or wins, is positive. That’s just the way it is, even though some Penn State fans will not accept this.

Paterno Ave: There was a LOT of room for improvement on the offensive side of the ball at Penn State for the past ten or fifteen years. There was also a considerable lack of hustle on the recruiting trail, namely the Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator, that you’d have to think leaves a lot of room for improvement. So I wouldn’t be surprised if Bill O’Brien has a pretty good operation going on a few years down the road. That being said, I think in five years Penn State is a very attractive job – the scandal is old news, you don’t have to succeed Joe Paterno, and the facilities, fans, and tradition are all still there. I’m not usually the eternal optimist, but I actually do see silver lining down the road for Penn State whether O’Brien is at the helm or not.

Chris Grovich, Black Shoe Diaries: O'Brien was openly pining for an NFL head coaching job prior to taking the Penn State job. If he's wildly successful at PSU, nobody would be shocked to see him jump back into the pro game. If he is a massive failure, he'll be looking for new work. So yeah, the chances of him still being at Penn State in five years are less than 50/50, but he may find that being a head coach at the college level suits him well. State College remains a great place to raise a family, despite all that has transpired there recently. O'Brien also has a child with specialized medical needs, and Penn State Hershey is one of the finest medical facilities in the region. Could he turn out to be a "bridge" hire? Totally. Through this scandal, Penn State has become essentially become every other program in the nation, subject to the whims and leverage of coaches and their agents. Just another wooden horse on the annual carousel.