White smoke has finally spewed from the chimney at Old Main, the alabaster effluvia signifying an end to the deliberations over who will be the next head football coach, the successor to the sainted Pope Joseph V. Habemus papam!
The new leader of Penn State’s vaunted football program is Bill O’Brien, age 42, presently offensive coordinator for the NFL New England Patriots.
This Turkey felt that O’Brien was the best guy for the job of all the names that had been bandied about during the lengthy search, with the possible exception of Nick Saban, who turned out to be a pipe dream by a deranged fan. Although I didn’t think much of the way the search for the new head coach was dragged out, I am completely happy with the result. The reasons for the search committee moving so slowly will be known sooner or later, but all that is moot now that we do indeed have a coach.
I have supported Bill O’Brien since his name first surfaced; as I stated in earlier columns, I liked his college coaching experience, his youth, and his passion for the job and the game. I hope that all the whining, moaning, bitching, and crying I have been seeing on Twitter will soon end and that we can all settle down to support Coach O’Brien as he moves the program forward.
“Without change, there cannot be progress — and change for this Penn State football program has been a long time in coming. Embrace it!”
Inasmuch as the New England Patriots are expected to play their way deeply into the NFL playoffs, which begin this weekend, I would bet that one of the stumbling blocks was O’Brien’s ability to make a graceful exit. Dave Joyner, acting PSU athletic director, has stated that he wants the new coach on board by January 13, when recruiting restarts. The Patriots might have wanted O’Brien to stay through the playoffs and, potentially, the Super Bowl. It will be interesting to determine what the negotiations involved.
Perhaps we’ll know on Saturday, when the official announcement is made. It was obviously impossible, though, to keep a lid on the news once the decision was made, noting that less than two hours before Chris Mortensen of ESPN told the world in no uncertain terms that O’Brien would be the new Papa Lion, Dave Joyner equivocated in a radio interview conducted at halftime of the Purdue vs Penn State basketball game. He stated the target date, but gave no indication that anyone was even close to being hired. Around 10 pm on Thursday night, the lid finally blew off the kettle.
I suspect that O’Brien isn’t presently getting much love from the Penn State Tweeps because he’s an outsider, a new face, a foreign entity. Many of them are unfairly denigrating his qualifications, if not his temperament. I think that underlying all that noise is a love for Joe Paterno and frustration over Tom Bradley not getting the job that these loyal fans feel he deserves. They’re not thinking with their brains; they’re thinking with their hearts. It is good that the search committee headed by “Bones” Joyner was reviewing the qualifications of the candidates and interviewing them instead of the aforementioned sentimentalist Tweeps. As I’ve mentioned many times over, ad nauseam, Penn State needed to clean house for several reasons, and some of them are related to the staid Paterno system that is all Tom Bradley has experienced in his time at Penn State. One doesn’t stay with a management job for that length of time while radically disagreeing with the operating philosophy. No, folks, we need someone who can lead this program far into the Twenty-first Century, not someone tied to the past.
With both college and professional experience under his belt, the youthful O’Brien is potentially that man. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to keep Ron Vanderlinden and Larry Johnson. Everybody else presently on the staff — except Spider Caldwell — should be given his walking papers. Dick Anderson and Galen Hall will surely retire, while Jay Paterno will be doing whatever he decides to do somewhere besides at Penn State. Tom Bradley has been mentioned in connection with the Akron football program, which would seem to make sense for him in that it is close to Western Pennsylvania.
O’Brien will grow into the job. Some impatient fans will expect things to happen overnight, but it doesn’t work that way. Oh, I expect that by Year Two, some “Fire O’Brien!” websites will pop up, just because fans are impatient. The University will give him a longer leash than that, fortunately for him and for the rest of us. The screwed-up 2012 recruiting class did not happen on his watch, and he’s sure as hell not responsible for the supposed Sandusky shady shower sex situation.
Thank heavens that those who O’Brien will actually report to will not be looking for instant results. Remember, everyone’s got to start somewhere. Joe Paterno did not know shit from Shinola when he decided to eschew law school in favor of becoming Rip Engle’s assistant at Penn State. Once he took over the top job, he made his share of mistakes, for which an earlier generation of impatient fans (myself included) held him responsible, some calling for his head on a platter. However, he did grow into the job as we all well know, and in his forced retirement he is generally revered as an elder statesman.
Without change, there cannot be progress — and change for this Penn State football program has been a long time in coming. Embrace it. You have no choice.
Some good fans have complained to me about O’Brien’s fiery behavior on the sidelines. Why? Don’t you think the Nittany Lions, as flat as they’ve looked for the past few years, could use a little passion? Old Joe had been incapable of generating much enthusiasm in the last decade or so, and Tom “Scrap” Bradley is a laid back nice guy. In the words of the late, intense Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher, “Nice guys don’t win ball games.” While O’Brien is a somewhat more risky hire than Bradley, his upside potential is significantly greater. Anyone who thought Bradley would change his demeanor and change the system on the field from what he has been comfortable with for so many years is kidding himself.
O’Brien does indeed yell at players. He even yells at the Great Bill Belichick. So, what? Paterno yelled when he felt like yelling, too. O’Brien doesn’t throw tantrums because he wants attention. He gets angry and motivates players. Most of you have witnessed this with the Patriots, as I have, and perhaps you, too, have seen the positive results.
You don’t have to “like” the guy. Most of you didn’t like Bob Knight, Bobby Bowden, Steve Spurrier, or their antics. But that didn’t mean they couldn’t coach.
Another of the naysayers’ outcries is that Tom Brady is so good that he doesn’t need to be coached; therefore, coordinating such a wonderful, prolific offense as that of the Patriots is a job any idiot could do. Besides, we all know that Belichick calls the shots there, right? Sorry, Mr. Rationalizer. Until you’ve attended Patriot team meetings and can report that crap factually instead of pulling it straight out of your ass, you will not convince many people. I’ve seen O’Brien yell at Brady one-on-one on the sideline and I’ve seen Brady respond positively on the field. I’ve also seen O’Brien go at it with Bellicheck. This is a man’s man who will look anyone in the eye and tell them what he thinks. Would you rather have a brooding, insecure pussy running the program?
How do I sum this up, other than to say that I think Joyner’s committee made the right choice? I suppose that I’ll once again cajole you to please give Bill O’Brien a chance. You can go on bitching if it makes you feel good, but eventually, no one will be paying any attention to you. No one knows how this hire will eventually turn out, and we won’t have a clue for at least a couple of years. So, save yourself the heartburn and if you can’t bring yourself to support the guy, at least stop putting him down just because you think you know better than those who hired him. I’m behind O’Brien and I’m looking forward with bated anticipation to the changes he’ll implement to finally get this program moving forward.