Anger over PSU's O'Brien hire begs question: What did fans expect?
LaVar Arrington's anger is understandable, but misguided. The former Penn State linebacker can't believe Penn State's search committee would go outside the Penn State family to choose a football coach. The hiring of Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien -- which Penn State hopefully will announce before the season opener on Sept. 1 -- indicates those in charge in State College desire a clean break from the Joe Paterno era, which has been irrevocably tainted by the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.
"By these people making the decisions the way that they are making them, basically coinciding with everything that's being written about our university, if they get rid of [longtime defensive coordinator and interim coach] Tom Bradley, that means they in essence have accepted the fact that we are all guilty,"
"What we stood for and what we represented for so long, what we have been taught, what we have been trained to know and the values that I raise my own children with, you're basically telling me it's good, only as long as times are good."
Meanwhile, Penn State fans are left wondering why the best coach the Nittany Lions could hire is a man who directed three mediocre-to-bad ACC offenses before he had the good fortune of calling plays for Tom Brady. This, they ask, was the best Penn State could do? That question can only be answered with another question.
What did you expect?
While Arrington's support of Bradley is commendable, and while the school that does land Bradley -- who dutifully continued recruiting for Penn State knowing the school probably wouldn't give him the head coaching job on a permanent basis -- is getting an absolute gem, Penn State leaders had no choice but to go outside the family. They aren't convicting everyone associated with the Paterno era, as Arrington claims. They are protecting the program by hiring a coach who can tell recruits and their parents this: "I don't know what happened. I wasn't here. I'm only interested in the future." If former Penn State players are angry about the way the search was handled and the way Bradley and other current staffers were treated, they have every right to be. Since November, Penn State's leaders have staged a clinic on how not to handle a crisis. Why should their search have been any less ham-fisted? But Penn Staters should understand why the committee had to make an outside hire.
Those close to Penn State may not understand how the average outsider views the program now. Though it is patently unfair to the people in the program -- the vast majority of whom had nothing to do with the alleged Sandusky cover-up -- the scandal has made Penn State football radioactive. Established college head coaches who would have crawled across broken glass to succeed Paterno a year ago wanted nothing to do with the job. Meanwhile, recruits and their parents have been bombarded with negative coverage of the program. For a recruit, a coach and staff who can only build toward the future offer reassurance that the school is committed to ensuring there isn't another scandal that could torpedo the program. Remember, the majority of players Penn State recruits didn't grow up Penn State fans. They will need convincing that the school is serious about changing the culture.
Also, Arrington and company ignore the fact that Penn State is not the only school committed to making sure players graduate. It is not the only school that emphasizes character. While those traits seem rare in the multibillion-dollar business that is major college football, there are still programs -- Stanford and Notre Dame come to mind -- that put just as much emphasis on those factors. Having priorities in order on that front is not unique to Penn State. The commitment to education and character is pretty high at Brown, where O'Brien played. Guess who else graduated from Brown? Joe Paterno.
Will O'Brien win at Penn State? Maybe. Maybe not. In 2000, some USC boosters threatened to yank their donations when the Trojans hired Pete Carroll, a fourth choice whom they considered an NFL retread. Carroll won the Pac-10 seven times in 10 seasons. In December 2007, Michigan's hiring of Rich Rodriguez seemed plenty solid, especially considering Rodriguez had nearly taken West Virginia to the BCS title game. Rodriguez went 15-22 in three seasons before he was fired.
We rarely know with coaching hires. There are only so many Urban Meyers, Nick Sabans and Bob Stoopses out there, and none of them were walking through Penn State's door in the wake of the scandal. Penn State had to roll the dice and hope it wound up with the next Meyer, Saban or Stoops. If it didn't, then O'Brien will go down on a long list of guy-after-the-guy coaches who couldn't emerge from the shadows of the legends they replaced. Frank Solich (Tom Osborne), Ray Goff (Vince Dooley), Gary Gibbs (Barry Switzer) and Ron Zook (Steve Spurrier) would be more than happy to attest to that.
The Penn State search committee faced an unpleasant task. Given the circumstances and the lack of interest from qualified candidates, it seemed inevitable that any hire would enrage the fanbase and former players. The hiring of O'Brien has done just that.
For the sake of Penn State's football program, there is only one acceptable next step. Everyone needs to calm down, accept the situation and try like hell to move forward.