Sudden Impact: What Now?

Sudden Impact: What Now?

by Ben Goldfarb on January 1, 2014

in Penn State Football

Time to revive Sudden Impact for some brief thoughts on the Bill O’Brien departure and its aftermath.  I’ve been kicking things around in my mind with the help of my readers. I’m going to pull stuff from their comments and my responses to collect those thoughts here.

Here’s a facetious suggestion from Big Al on December 30:

How about Ron VanDerLinden. He’s available, has previous head coaching experience and is a former Penn Stater (sort of). Plus, it would be a great way to give BOB the figurative finger on the way out.

Cracked me up. It would sure make the Paternoists happy, though.

However, Al went on to say:

Seriously, I almost wish they would hire an interim head coach, and let the new AD and President choose the next permanent coach. My biggest fear is that whoever they hire now won’t be able to get along with the new administration (with Peetz running the clown circus the next Prexy is almost certain to be an asshole) and we’ll be repeating this fiasco in December 2015.

And the more thought I gave that notion, the more I liked it. So I responded to Al:

On the whole, though, I like your idea about hiring an interim guy until the Old Main changes are made. It makes sense on a lot of levels, and it doesn’t put the cart before the horse. If Penn State isn’t a football dominated institution, then why would it hire a head football coach before the imminent hire of a new prexy and AD, and ass-ume that the new administrators would automatically be happy about a department head in control of so much money that they had no hand in hiring? There’s a chance, albeit remote, that the new administration would fire the coach before the season even started. At the very least, it’s a crap shoot for the coach.

Then, in a separate comment, I proposed this:

How about LJ, Sr. as interim head coach, as long as I’m making out-of-my-ass suggestions. He could retire as head coach when the new broom sweeps clean.

I believe that many people are thinking that Penn State will be able to hire a primo head coach in a day or two. It doesn’t happen that fast. But they cannot afford to wait very much longer, so an interim appointment makes eminent sense.

So, today, in response to a K. John comment, I wrote:

The forthcoming flux in Old Main is a big [factor in the coaching search]. Who will want to work in a situation where his boss(es) will change within six months or so? On the other hand, who would want to start coaching sometime around or after the Blue-White game? However, to wait that long to hire someone means a rudderless ship for half a year, right through National Signing Day and beyond — devastating to the recruiting effort, which is already in bad enough shape with prospects’ uncertainty over O’Brien leaving.

That combination of facts tells me that there’s almost certainly going to have to be an interim appointment, as Big Al proposed. Hell, Dr. Joyner is in a pickle here. O’Brien is likely to take most of his staff with him. If Schiano balks at Penn State’s overtures, which he should, if he is in his right mind, the guy who in my mind would be the logical choice for interim head coach would be Larry Johnson, who one would have to believe that O’Brien would have no interest in taking and who himself would have no interest in going. (Just thinking out my ass here.) He’d provide a transition and he would keep the waters smooth in a time of turmoil, kind of like an old, well broken-in pair of shoes. He would have to take the reins for an entire year, though.

Right around the same time as I wrote that, Bob Flounders of the Patriot News published this piece, which proposes the same thing. Great minds think alike? This might be the first and last time Flounders and I ever agree about anything.

The path forward is not as smooth as it seems to be. I’ve seen lots of speculation and found lots of underlying assumptions to be flawed, the worst of which is that the Penn State job is something any college coach in his right mind would want. Digging beneath the surface, I can find a lot of good reasons why a coach like Al Golden, who is secure in his present job, wouldn’t abandon it for Penn State. I suppose there are lots of nuances and my thinking is necessarily clouded by my lack of personal contact with these guys to determine their motivation.

What I find clouding lots of people’s thoughts is the notion that all other things being equal, a coach candidate would choose Penn State over all other offers regardless of how juicy those offers are. This Penn State pride thing gets in the way a lot. Express it this way, just as counterpoint: What coach would choose to move his family to remote Central Pennsylvania to run a program replete with problems and uncertainties when he could choose a prestigious program like UT-Austin? I mean, sometimes I hear this thinking that rationalizes Penn State as the best place in the world to coach. It just ain’t so. Call me a traitor for saying that. That’s why I think James Franklin will be the next head coach at Texas.

There are many fine institutions on par with Penn State or of greater stature. Get over the secular notion that Penn State is the be all and end all. (And Flounders, please don’t publish a story that paraphrases what I’m writing here, or I’ll think that you are getting the NSA feed from my cable modem.) Also, not only is Penn State inferior to a handful of other programs on the surface, but if you dig down you find the remnants of the Sandusky Scandal, the huge sanctions, the changing situation at Old Main, and so on and so on ad nauseam. If I were doing the hiring, I would want the prospect to strongly convince me how he (or she — oy, vey!) will cope with those issues and be able to surmount them.

A sign of the trouble facing the next Penn State coach is inherent in the crap David Jones published last night. The Paternoists are still hanging around wanting to have their way with the program. I’d sure as hell like to know the precise story about Ron Vanderlinden. At the time of his departure, I viewed it as an indication that O’Brien wanted complete control of the program and Vanderlinden, a vestigial Paternoist, was getting in the way. I believed that LJ and Vanderlinden were forced upon O’Brien, and this created friction between him and Joyner. Just who did what to whom with respect to Ron, we might never know. But it might have been the proverbial tipping point, to use a hack writing expression I abhor.

(Yeah, I’m a crusty old fuck.)

So, what do you think about this idea barfed up by Big Al, Bob Flounders, and me? Larry Johnson, Sr. as interim head coach — for a year. Your comments, please!



K. John January 1, 2014 at 12:34 pm

For starters, I think you are getting ahead of yourself regarding the ‘Paternoists’ and I wouldn’t trust Jones to accurately quote O’Brien if my life depended on it. It is more likely than not that he misquoted him that got it right. I also think you are underselling the quality of the Penn State coaching position. There are a few positions that are better and plenty of them have worse things to deal with and only one is currently hiring. Sadly, that one is the best coaching job in all of sports. Beyond Franklin, I think there are a lot of great coaches out there that would jump at the chance to coach Penn State.

Joe January 1, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Well for starters, someone has to be given the keys until they find his replacement. There’s a pretty good group of high school commits out there plus Hackenberg, Brennaman, and a bunch of other underclassman that need a hug right about now.

So to begin with LJ Sr seems to be the most stable and I’m betting is not going to pack up and move to Houston, so at least for the next two weeks to 30 days he would make sense and is the best bet to keep everyone from going over the ledge. Besides I think whomever takes the job will retain him as a coach.

As far as the rest of the staff:

-Hixon and London will most likely follow BOB.
-Butler will probably go because he hasn’t a prayer of being retained at PS.
-Mac I think will finally retire or maybe stay on for an extra year, but I think the latter may be a stretch and I can’t see him going to the NFL.
-Midget doesn’t have the experience to coach in the NFL.
-Strollo maybe goes, but I don’t think will be retained.
-Fitz I’m not sure. Even though he and BOB are best buds, I don’t see his style playing well with the pro’s.

I would not be surprised if they reinstated Vandy because of his ties to most of the recruits and current members of the team. I think any new coach might be willing to keep him around as well.

I’m not sure they can afford an interim coach for a season, simply because it provides for an unstable coaching staff and I can’t see Hack or O’Connor pissing away a season waiting to see who is going to run the team and be their coach.

I did get a sense that the sanctions were having an affect on BOB’s sanity at the end of the season, but didn’t know that the Paternoists were affecting him so much. Apparently something set him off, but who the hell knows what caused him to want to put his fist through the windshield of his car! (Yes I did read Jone’s article.)

I think it’s a better job than it was two years ago, but it isn’t Alabama or Texas and will never be, but it is a top 10-15 coaching job. The sanctions will be pretty much gone after next season (assuming Emmert lift’s the bowl ban next year). They’ve shown that they can recruit top quality kids even with the sanctions in place the last two years and as long as the team occasionally is competing for a B1G championship or maybe a once in a decade run for a new NCAA playoff spot the fan base will be satisfied.

I also don’t buy all the smack on Joyner. He appeared to give BOB everything he asked for up until this last “hold up”. He did keep Washington as the women’s BB coach and got Sanderson to extend his contract. He picked up Gadowsky for the hockey team and from what I understand got a pretty good baseball coach. He also seems to be holding the Athletic Department together financially. I also don’t buy the lame duck status of him and Erickson. Yeah it’s shit that the BOT is still dicking around, but if anyone thinks the new regime is going to de-emphasize football they’re nuts. This is THE cash cow for the athletic department and is not going away. The new coach will get whatever he wants to keep the money coming in and cheeks in the seats.

I agree that it was either now or never for BOB to jump to the NFL. He couldn’t lead people on two years in a row and expect to have any credibility down the road in being considered for HC positions in the NFL. I think this one came out of the blue and his hound dog agent only makes money when his clients get new contracts and when the administration wouldn’t budge, he took it. I also think the Lions would have come after him anyway with perhaps even a more lucrative offer.

I also think PS (Joyner/Erickson) couldn’t present the impression of keeping BOB at all costs as it would have reinforced the notion that we still have a “football above all else” mentality at dear old state. And where does it end-I think they knew that.

No I think LJ for the next few weeks is a good idea, but interim for a season is a bad idea.

I personally hope we stay away from Munchak, Bradley and Schiano. I think we can do better. I don’t think Golden will leave Miami, but who knows. Franklin is a possibility if he’s willing to leave Vandy. Roman might also still be interested. Jim Caldwell is also an intriguing possibility especially with our QB situation.

What I read today is they want to have someone by the 10th of this month, but considering it took 40 days last time, that seems pretty aggressive unless they’ve already been talking to someone.

I’m okay with BOB leaving. I don’t buy his reasons:

-Tired of being a spokesman for the university! Sorry every major D1A program HC fills that role.
-Instability at the AD & Pres positions. It was like that when you took the job.
-Tired of the Paternoists. Gotta believe it was worse last year, and besides who gives a shit what they think.
-Sanctions getting to ya. Dumb shit, you were almost out of the tunnel.

We’ll never know the why’s, so time to move on. Thanks for the job you did the last two seasons, but you could have toned down all the “commitment” bullshit you slathered us with during the last two years.

And here we thought it was going to be a boring off season. Anyone want to buy a Bill O’Brien autographed “Restore the Roar” tee shirt?

K. John January 1, 2014 at 2:13 pm

I am not buying his reasoning. I think he is simply another apple from Belichick’s tree. Just like Saban. Saban used and abused Michigan State to get what he wanted then moved on. I think O’Brien did the same thing. He never meant to stay long. I can see him becoming tired of being the spokesperson but don’t think it was a big factor.

The Paternoist story is right out of the David Jones playbook. What are the odds he misquoted O’Brien? I say pretty damn good. Probably far more likely than him getting it right. He has been pushing that agenda for two years and has been wrong at every turn. I don’t think the sanctions were big either. They are essentially done at this point.

The Nittany Turkey January 1, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Who knows whether Jones misquoted O’Brien? I sure as hell don’t, and neither do you.

The notion of the Paterno hangers-on is certainly quite plausible, so I’m believing it.


The Nittany Turkey January 1, 2014 at 2:19 pm

I’ll take the shirt off your hands, but please be advised that it will hang next to my currently swinging effigy of O’Brien.


K. John January 1, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Already Turkey, how about this little fantasy regarding what’s next. James Franklin seems to be the odds on favorite. I have hunch Franklin, Golden and Munchak have already been approached days if not weeks ago. What if the choice were Franklin or Munchak? They are both offensive guys. Imagine bringing Vanderlinden back into the fold on defense as either linebackers coach or coordinator with Larry Johnson and a new secondary coach and even bringing back Scrap as coordinator which is not as far fetched as you might thing. You would be hard pressed to put together a better defensive coaching staff than that.

Joe January 1, 2014 at 2:02 pm

I like Franklin & Golden. Munchak still has a job (at least today) but has no college experience, primarily recruiting. Schiano’s name keeps getting thrown around too-Ugh!!!

I think LJ will stay and Vandy may be brought back. Please no Bradley, but all of those decisions will be made by the new HC.

I think the push will be for Franklin.

The Nittany Turkey January 1, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Yesssssssssss, please, no Bradley!

I don’t want Schiano, but he seems to be the likely candidate. He’s out of a job and he has “Penn State ties”. Furthermore, there are rumors afoot that the administration has been chasing after him.

Golden and Franklin have jobs, so if they’re going somewhere, they’re going to want to be pretty sure of the situation. IMHO, Golden will stay in Miami, and if Franklin leaves Vandy, it will be for the big plum in Austin. I don’t know what PSU can offer Franklin that will be superior to the situation he will have in Texas.

I don’t buy that Penn State is the dream destination for any college coach. Not by a longshot. Not at this point. Not yet. Maybe not ever.


The Nittany Turkey January 1, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Why the hell do you want to take a step backward to that tired old defense of 2011? Bringing back Bradley as DC would subject us to the perpetuation of the archaic Sandusky Soft Zone that just doesn’t work anymore in the modern game, among other things.

Once again, whether the trio of Bradley, Johnson, and Vanderlinden represents the best defensive coaching staff PSU could put together is extremely subjective and replete with secular assumptions. Besides, it ain’t going to happen.

My opinions are as good as your opinions, if not worse — or not.


K. John January 1, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Bradley’s defense, dislike it as you do, is a better fit in the current Big Ten than what they are currently running. It matches up very well against the offenses run by Maryland, Rutgers, Ohio State, Indiana, Illinois, Northwestern, Nebraska and Minnesota. It matches up well with the Gardner led Wolverines. It doesn’t match up as well with Iowa and Michigan State however and wouldn’t match up with Wisconsin if they ever found a legit QB but they really have never had one with the exception of Russell Wilson’s lone year under center.

Joe January 1, 2014 at 1:59 pm
The Nittany Turkey January 1, 2014 at 2:31 pm

It is the only thing they’ve done that makes complete sense.

Big Al, Bobby Flounders, and I are to be congratulated for making the suggestion to Old Main, who listened for a change.


CM January 1, 2014 at 3:24 pm

The idea that “Paternoists” were twisting OBriens arm is total BS. We completely supported him from the beginning, even firing Vanderlinden… all we wanted was an explanation, which you also want.

The Nittany Turkey January 2, 2014 at 1:57 am

If you’re going to represent the Paternoists as “we”, then please identify yourself. With no disrespect intended, I wish to know who is speaking for whom. Otherwise, I cannot take this response seriously.

Frankly, in my opinion only, clinging to the past is a mistake. The past is immutable. The present is where we are, and the future is where we’re going.

Adoration for St. Joe aside, which is where it should be placed — as a non-issue with respect to the current coaching situation — I couldn’t care less why O’Brien and Vanderlinden didn’t click. I feel that such decisions are best left to those who are empowered to make them, and they owe me no explanations. What the hell can I do to change the situation, and accordingly, what good would an explanation be?

The whole notion that the current head football coach should be responsible for giving warm fuzzy feelings to the supporters of a previous coach is perverse.

Again, I recognize the manifold accomplishments of St. Joe, but that has nothing to do with whomever is coaching the team now and henceforth. That O’Brien owes you an explanation is hogwash. The head football coach is accountable to the athletic director, not to Joe Paterno’s ghost.

Frankly, I wish for St. Joe’s accomplishments to be restored to their rightful place in the annals of Penn State football history. However, I do not support any special efforts to load up the PSU BoT with the specific intent of making that happen. Accountability is one thing. A myopic agenda to deal with restoration of a departed football coach’s image must take a back burner to running the university. This whole notion of vindication is a pernicious thing that I, for one, cannot countenance.

Whether or not O’Brien felt slighted or pressured by the Paternoists (dare I say “you Paternoists”?), he is gone now and there is no crying over spilt milk. Let’s all look forward and hope for a well run program whenever the new coach is hired. If you want to restore St. Joe’s image, fine, but don’t bother me with that out-of-band, passé stuff.


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