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Tom Osborne Exits but Remains and Why 73-7 Will Help Fans in the Long Run

I had the TV on last night when the 10 o’clock news came on and was surprised when they jumped head-first into the interviews with Tom Osborne’s former players about how they would run through a wall for him. I wasn’t quite sure a recap of Osborne’s fifty-some years serving the University of Nebraska was needed in the opening news segment after he ended his five-year run as athletic director. This is only the official end of his tenure at Nebraska, and his accomplishments as athletic director are outstanding on their own merits.

In a world where former coaches aren’t equipped to lead entire athletic departments (ask Mike Bellotti), Osborne took over an athletic department that was fraying and a football program that was loosing its way. He mended fences and found the right football coach, but those were the easy parts. In addition to restoring people’s confidence in the Husker athletics, Osborne took up a list of building projects that had started to grow under Bill Byrne and Steve Pederson couldn’t raise money for due to the animosity he’d incurred over Frank Solich’s firing and the lavish football facility he’d built. In a frugal state and during a economic downturn, Osborne got first-rate basketball and volleyball practice facilities, and soon will have basketball arena, a newly remodeled palace for one of the nation’s best volleyball programs, and an expanded Memorial Stadium.

But his greatest accomplishment was securing Nebraska’s future in the Big 10, a feat that rivals his National Titles for his greatest career feat. As John Elway recruited Peyton Manning to Denver with his start quarterback gravitas, Osborne’s status as an old-school icon trumped other school’s glitz-and-glamor presentations. Being able to overcome Nebraska’s lack of a major market for TV and recruiting shows just how valuable Dr. Tom’s quite leadership is.

One does wonder how Joe Paterno’s scandal breaking, followed by his untimely death, affected Osborne’s thinking. Relationships with coaches may be overstated, but Osborne was himself the anti-Paterno, leaving while he still had coaching years left and finding a second act as mentor, congressman, and athletic director. It’s not fair to speculate, but someone as thoughtful as Osborne likely has considered Paterno’s inability to walk away.

Past and Future

Much like when he was when he was a coach, Osborne seems to be leaving at the right time. His building projects are all close to fruition. He’s got his guys leading the basketball and baseball programs, and if Tim Miles and Darin Erstad work out, it will only add to Osborne’s AD legacy. In the next five years, the odds are a new football coach will need to be hired (whether Bo Pelini leaves under his only volition or not remains to be seen), and who could really blame Osborne for not wanting to do the whole coaching search thing all over again.

This isn’t as a huge an event as everyone’s making it out to be. Osborne may be cleaning out his office, but he’s going to keep his influence at Nebraska.

Second note: Believe it not, you won last Saturday, Husker fan. Yes, Idaho State and Nebraska played like it was the Pro Bowl, players quitting as soon as a runner got to the second level. But against Arkansas State the week prior, Nebraska (and the rest of college football) made no progress in getting body bag games off their schedule. They struggled for a stretch of third against the Red Wolves, but beat them soundly, justifying giving such a team a check

There’s a reason last week Jeff Jamrog and crew told the Lincoln Journal-Star that Idaho State was scheduled because another team reneged on a verbal agreement that had been in place for months. Coaches knew this would be 70-0 affair and wanted to say “Hey, we tried to get a better team in here.” Let’s be honest: while good FCS teams can compete against average FBS teams (witness the Dakota schools and UNI at times), the bottom of the FCS is embarrassing

If an opponent is so bad that players wouldn’t even try, then there’s a real reason to look for change. Arkansas State and Southern Miss got Nebraska ready to play Big 10 teams, Idaho State did nothing. With what happened Saturday, Jamrong and company will have to look for way to change their scheduling, and I’ll go back to the idea I floated a the end of last week: 16 team super-conference, four games, play everyone but one team. You get your seven home games, and don’t have to bother with non-conference scheduling.

Final point: I thought that Nebraska would be fighting a team at the end of the season who was looking for that sixth win to get bowl eligible. I just didn’t think that team would be Iowa. Don’t laugh, Husker fans, the Hawkeyes have two month to get better. Do you remember Colorado in 2008? The last thing you want is to go play a 5-6 Iowa team, who’s going to get a bounce when they get to play Penn State, at Northwestern, Purdue, and at Indiana all in a row.

Penn State Sanction: Cruel and Hypocritical

Finally, some thoughts on the Penn State NCAA sanctions.

To surmise, I don’t have a problem with the NCAA giving Penn State a penalty. What I do have a problem with is the NCAA fining Penn State $600 and then telling their fans they have to fill Beaver Stadium seven Saturdays a year for the next ten years, at the same ticket prices they’ve been paying (and even higher as the years go on).

The NCAA knew the death penalty could obliterate PSU football (and decimate their non-revenue sports). So they decided, let’s keep the program going and force them to play with a lesser team. But even though fans just root for the clothes, they won’t root for these clothes if the product in them is struggling to be on par with Purdue.

Penn State has to do something financially for the victims of sexual abuse and Jerry Sandusky, no question. But you cannot send the program to the doldrums. PSU drew just under 98,000 fans for their game against Illinois, 10,000 under capacity, when the team was 7-1. How many people are going to show up when Bill O’Brien is going 3-9?

The NCAA set a heavy precedent with the USC sanction for the Reggie Bush’s trangression, and by the looks of things, they were trying to double up here. But just giving Penn State the same penalty as USC (2 year bowl ban, 10 scholarships a year over 3 years, for a total of 30 lost) would have been greater, given how much deeper USC’s talent base is and how much more “well adjusted” USC. But we shouldn’t expect the NCAA to understand situational punishment or spirit of the law over letter of the law.

I have asked several people who aren’t college football fans if they think Penn State football should be given the death penalty, and all of them have said no (many of these people work in education). Really, NCAA, if you wanted to give PSU the death penalty, you should just do it. Don’t try to save the money.

Joe Pa and The Governor: A Surprising Analogy

Coy is the word I would use to describe the trailer for the new season of The Walking Dead, and Robert Kirkman can afford to be coy with his pet project. Having set cable records and zombified the geek audience hungry for a cult show after the end of Lost, TWD doesn’t have to set up a huge event in its third season premiere, just be building to one.

But there is one curious thing I noticed in the trailer, and that is the possible next direction the show may go: tackling the key issue facing small town America. Will Kirkman be setting up The Governor to be Joe Paterno in the apocalypse?

I haven’t read TWD comics, but The Governor/Paterno analogy could be one that gains steam. Like Paterno, The Governor is a lone dominating figure in landscape where leadership is lacking. People turn to him no matter whether he is good or bad: like Randall, they just think they’ll have a better chance with him. In any case, David Morissey looks like the perfect pick, and it should make for great drama.

Vidcasts: Thank you and Penn State

Yesterday, I was in the middle of a long day that started out in Hasting and ended with a meeting at church at night. In between, I ran into Lincoln with my Dad to pick up my truck from my mom and bring it home. Of course, I ended up getting caught in a log-jam on the interstate, so I decided to do a couple of vidcasts, one as a thank you and another on the issues at Penn State post-Freeh report: Penn State getting NCAA sanctions (possibly the death penalty) and Joe Paterno’s statue.

Something I didn’t mention in the Penn State vidcast: while I understand a lot of the people coming into this debate who aren’t following college football regularly saying that Penn State should be given the penalty, I would say this: yes, Penn State’s lack of action is horrid, and the program needs to be punished. But a lot of other parties will get hurt in this: namely, Penn State’s non-revenue sports depend on football for funding and the Big 10 depends on Penn State. This is a “too big to fail” situation. This is not just taking away a recreational activity; this is dropping an atomic bomb, and even if it were necessary, it needs to be debated seriously.

When it comes to sanctions, remember this: USC got hit harder for Reggie Bush’s extra benefits (which mostly went to his parents) than Ohio State did for Terrelle Pryor and many other players. Ohio State was worse on so many greater levels: Jim Tressell knew about the scandal, Pete Caroll was merely ignorant. Point being, trying to predict what the NCAA will do (in a situation without precedence, no less) is next to impossible.

Again, thanks for reading and subscribe to my YouTube Channel.

Paterno Was Who He Appeared to Be

One of the things that didn’t bode well for Joe Paterno when the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke last November was that Paterno’s management style was very hands-on, to point Penn State president Graham Spanier felt he had to run academic matters by him. While it wasn’t conclusive, Paterno claiming he just passed up Mike McQueary’s reports didn’t fit the profile the legendary coach created for himself. Reading Sally Jenkins interview of Paterno and Lavar Arrington’s response to it, I kept wondering for myself about the McQueary incident and the 1999 Sandusky-shower incident that was reported to university police which Paterno said he didn’t know about. Not knowing a coach had a run in with campus police? Paterno advising someone else to take early retirement and just passing an incident up the chain of command? This was the coach who, three years later, would kick Spanier and athletic director Tim Curley out of his house when they came to suggest to him that he should retire.

So when CNN reported that Curley consulted with Paterno about the 2001 incident, I wasn’t really all that surprised. Granted, I had theorized that Spanier and the other officials at Penn State may have worked to prevent Paterno from finding out every single detail about Sandusky, wanting to protect Paterno’s legacy by giving him “plausible deniability”. But what really looks bad is that Curley and Spanier first thought about going to the authorities and then changed their minds after Curley talked to Paterno.

My most significant conclusion from reading the Jenkins interview was that Paterno should have retired ten years before the 2001 incident even happened; now it seems that Paterno may have indeed been more active in keeping Sandusky at large. I wanted to believe what Paterno was saying at the time; he was, after all, a eighty-five year-old man with lung cancer. He had no reason not to tell the truth, but even then, I was skeptical that he hadn’t been more involved in 2001 or known about the 1999 incident (Paterno telling someone else to take early retirement?). Sadly, we may never know the full truth of how involved he was.

I don’t know that I would go as far as Gregg Doyle has suggested, writing that Paterno’s statue should absolutely be taken away, although I could understand if Penn State did so. Ultimately, they know what is best for their community.But Louis Freeh has not filed his full report, and until then, we don’t know exactly what Paterno’s role was in deciding how to deal with Sandusky. It is still possible some people in the Penn State community will feel compelled to protect Paterno’s legacy, even though there is a sense in the community that Sandusky’s shame has stained everyone and the truth needs to come out.

Did Curley take the fall for his former coach?

Thoughts as Paterno Has Passed from this Life, and a Few More on those Errenous Tweets

It used to be, before the Penn State scandal broke last falll, I would always get sick of those BTN tributes to Joe Paterno, but now that he has died, I really do feel like all those things have some extra meanings. Jonathan Franzen wrote that when his father died, his memories of him froze in his head. Now that Paterno is gone, I watched all those tributes on ESPN and heard everyone talking about what a positive influence Paterno had on them, I kept thinking to myself, wow, his life really meant something.

(This image comes via the twitter feed of Tim Gilbert [@TimGilb] and was taken Sunday night as fans gathered at the Paterno statue to pay their respects. Gilbert writes for The Daily Collegian, an Independent Student Newspaper at Penn State, and his feed provided some great moments from Paterno’s statue on Saturday night. Thanks, Tim.)
I’m a Lutheran Christian person, and I believe that God works in spite of our failures. As I’ve said yesterday, I have been critical of Paterno’s inaction in the Sandusky case, but that doesn’t have to blur out the positive contributions he made to the people around him, especially his own family. Jay Paterno said to Tom Rinaldi (in the ESPN inteview two posts down from this one), that in his final days as he suffered from cancer, Joe Paterno urged his children not to feel sorry for him and to care for their matters. It must not have been easy for him to give Sally Jenkins an interview, but he did that too, and those two things are the marks of a selfless person.
As a fan of college football, while I am sad today, I am grateful that today, we are remembering Joe Paterno’s best memories, and hearing from many coaches who he made better coaches. Yes, there will be days when we have to judge Paterno’s record, and I will undoubtedly be back here in this space to share my thoughts. But until then, I will be remembering the positives about Paterno.

It was very disappointing yesterday when errenorous reports of Paterno’s death leaked. After my post yesterday, I continued to monitor twitter. Up until 8:45 P.M. Eastern , there continued to be random tweets that referenced that Paterno had died, until finally at 8:45, many news outlets began to go with stories of Paterno’s death (and of course his Wikipedia page was update), until other tweets began coming out at 9 from official sources that Paterno was indeed still alive and fighting.

Here’s a good story that has a timeline of the most important tweets in the false reporting, to its correcting: Link

Ironically, this shows both the power of twitter to get things incredibly wrong and to correct them quickly. As I noted yesterday, there was some simmering on twitter that Paterno had died, which undoubtedly stepped up the pressure on the news organizations to find out if he had indeed passed or not. But twitter also allowed Paterno’s family to get out in front of the story easily, and stop it before it got too far, and saved the family and other news organizations from embarrassment. I’m guess Joe Schad and other ESPN reporters are very grateful now that they can’t break stories on twitter before they are broken on ESPN the network.

Either way, Yahoo! Sports columnist Pat Forde tweeted it best when he said that Paterno’s death was just something any news organization could get wrong, at all.

Lavar Arrington and Penn State’s Moral Highground: Overlooking the Weak

After Joe Paterno’s interview in the Washington Post, noted Penn State alum LaVar Arrington offered his perspective in a separate Post column. He basically confirmed everything that was Paterno said, including about Sandusky’s early retirement in 1999 (Arringtons’s senior year), denying that it had anything to do with a campus police investigation into Sandusky the previous year. About half of Arrington’s interview dealt with Parerno’s comments in a thoughtful perspective, but the second half of the piece turned into a biased, propaganda based platform, where Arrington pities his former coach for being the “sacrificial lamb” and blasts Penn State’s board of trustees, referring to their actions as “evil”. This is the best evidence I can find of Joe Paterno being worshiped. Arrington concludes that he hopes time will bring out the truth about Paterno.  (Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/hard-hits/post/joe-paterno-interview-a-former-players-reaction/2012/01/16/gIQATXfZ3P_blog.html

Only once in his opening does Arrington mention “sexual abuse”, and never says anything about the victims in the case.

Underlying Arrington’s attitude is an air of moral superiority, that the true Penn Staters would have waited for Jerry Sandusky’s trial to determine whether Joe Paterno did or didn’t do the right thing. Jay Paterno also exhibited such an air in his interview with Tom Rinaldi of ESPN a few days after Bill O’Brien was hired to replace Jay’s father. repeatedly, when he was asked about how he would respond to the questions, Jay Paterno repeated there needed to be time for facts to come out, even mentioning the Duke lacrosse case. He was not asked what he would say to Sandusky’s accusers.

Granted, Jay Paterno will take up for his father, as any son would. But I don’t know what it’s fair to expect of Arrington and other former Penn State players who are now in the media, but I do know this: when they speak on this moral platitude, saying “we are better than you, because we wouldn’t have fired Coach Paterno until it was declared in court that Jerry Sandusky is guilty), likely, they are ignoring the fact that many victims of sexual abuse (especially Sandusky’s) are looking at Penn State and seeing place where maintaining a faith in fallen figure is more important than protecting young children from harm.

I’ve already written about how the grand jury report is enough (Link: http://wp.me/p1ZYxe-3c ). But let me state some facts that have come out: Joe Paterno, as admitted in the interview with Sally Jenkins, listened to Mike McQueary’s reports of Jerry Sandusky’s behavior, and did nothing but report it to his superiors. He did not report it to police or confront Sandusky himself (a fact Sandusky confirmed in his interview with Bob Costas). That is enough for him to be fired; even if Sandusky did not abuse the boy, Paterno had to make sure he hadn’t. Companies and universities reserve the right to do this in many instances, fire employees for conduct embarrassing to the company or university. Paterno’s moral responsibility meant that he had to make sure a child was not being harmed

Even if Paterno had been told that Jerry Sandusky was showering with a boy, that in and of itself is a position of compromise. As I have learned from my home congregation, in whose school a sex abuse scandal broke out ten years ago, people who deal with children have to be above reproach and cannot be in situations where accusations can arise. An adult showering alone with a child is certainly a situation of comprise, whether or not anything happens.

The comparisons to the Duke lacrosse case, while similar in nature, bear almost no weight. Duke lacrosse was about a single night and involved questionable witnesses. Jerry Sandusky has eight victims and over fifty individual accounts, plus multiple independent witnesses. That’s a lot of people who have to be wrong, and Jerry Sandusky clearly has terrible judgment.

But all this belabors the point. Somewhere, there are many children who are hurting because of what Sandusky did do them, and until Sandusky has his day in court, the public needs to support them and stop getting up in arms because Joe Paterno was fired over the phone. Their lives are damaged, and they are the ones who need to be in our thoughts and prayers. Joe Paterno has a devoted wife and children, and many other people who support him. It isn’t wrong for the Penn State fan to say that he or she supports Paterno, but to yell for his honor while young men are struggling with the issues from being abused by Sandusky? That is tragic.

Ultimately, what I hope happens is that one of the victims comes out and tells his side of the story. If they wish to remain silent, that is their prerogative; there will undoubtedly get eaten alive by the sick Paterno worshipers.. But, if some of these victims come out and shared their story, maybe people would realize how pointless it is to be taking up for a coach who should have been retired anyway. Will it change the minds of every rioting, screaming Penn State fan? Probably not, but at least it would Arrington’s comments seem more petty and trivial than they already are.

As anecdote, here are a couple of the more thought-provoking articles I’ve read in the last few days on Penn State. First one, that is more ridiculous pro-Paterno than Arrington’s piece:

http://www.mcall.com/opinion/yourview/mc-joe-paterno-penn-state-cole-yv-0120-20120119,0,2045128.story

And a more well, a thoughtful, balanced piece by Penn State alum Janine White (@phillyjanine on twitter) on the meetings where Rodney Erickson faced the brunt of Penn State criticism.

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2012/01/16/honoring-joe-paterno-answer-penn-state/

Enjoy, and thanks for the great response to all my Penn State posts. Please share them.

Reaction Sally Jenkins’ Interview with Joe Paterno: He was the Last One to See It Coming

Given how much I’ve written on the Penn State scandal, I was quite interested to hear Joe Paterno’s interview with Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post. (Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/colleges/joe-paternos-first-interview-since-the-penn-state-sandusky-scandal/2012/01/13/gIQA08e4yP_story.html ). Upon reading the interviewthere is one specific point that I am even more confident in:  Paterno should have been coaching Penn State at the age of 84, as evidenced how he responded to Mike McQueary’s report of Jerry Sandusky’s actions.


I do not doubt what Paterno said about how he handled McQueary’s report. But what is telling is when Paterno said he didn’t know what to do with that report, so he waited a day to call his superiors. As I theorized in my earlier posts, I believe that this was an issue that Paterno didn’t have a full understanding of given his generation. That isn’t his fault. But there in lies the problem: Paterno was in a place where he was the one who had to know what to do.

Paterno’s explanation mirrors that of Jim Tressel’s, who said he was scared when he first got an e-mail that his players were connected to a shady tattoo artists. Major college coaches do not have the luxury of passing the buck, and if Paterno did not know how to deal with this situation, he needed to step aside. In the situation he was in, Paterno at least needed to his personal attorney or one of his sons, to make sure what was needed to be done was done. And certainly, the most gaping hole in the story is why Paterno never asked Sandusky himself about the incident. Even if the two had drifted apart, Paterno should have known Sandusky well enough to confront him.

This failing on the part of Paterno is really a failing of leadership. Leadership is not the blind wielding of power out of one’s right to do so; it is doing what is best for a group or an institution, even when it means asking for help in a tough situation. That real leadership comes out of humility.

When I read this story in the Washington Post, I wondered to myself if Paterno asked himself with any kind of honesty, if I don’t understand what it means for a man to rape another man, should I really be in a position where I need to deal with it? Sadly, the world had passed him by, and Paterno was the last to know.

To Penn State Fans: Know yourself

The other day, a Penn State fan, in response to my previous posts on the Bill O’Brien hire, informed me that I didn’t know anything about Penn State, and marveled at “how many omniscient people have been delivered to earth in the last few months.” When I  asked him to specify what he disagreed with in my post, he didn’t respond. Unfortunately, I must remain oblivious to my terrible mistake.

But it did get me thinking a little about what a lot of Penn State fans, even noted alum Todd Blackledge, have been talking about since Paterno has been fired: that whoever is hired to lead has to have an “understanding” of Penn State. At the risk of sounding preachy, let me say this to Penn State fans: you may have understanding Penn State confused with understanding winning.

I know you’re probably want to strangle me, and to your point: yes, if there were a qualified you assistant on your staff to take over, it would be great. But, not every program has a ripe young assistants or a former assistant who is blossoming at another progra ready to step in. I know you’re telling that you have Tom Bradley, but he’s a 54-year-old yes-man to Paterno, a year older than Frank Solich when he got the Nebraska job (Trust me, you don’t want to go there.) Answer me honestly: if your search committee had narrowed the list to either Bradley or Nick Saban or Bobby Petrino, would Bradley really be the guy you would want them to hire?

Just because you hire an outsider doesn’t mean you’ll forget your great coach. Even though Saban’s rolling people at Alabama, Bear Bryant will always be the man there. Oklahoma still remembers Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer, even though they have a great coach now in Bob Stoops. And as a Oklahoma fan noted on Colin Cowherd’s show, Wilkinson, Switzer, and Stoops were different guys, with different coaching styles. And the style of successful coaches can change from generation to generation: Bryant and Wilkinson were screamers, Stoops and Urban Meyer are tough but look much better on television.

Now, I don’t mean by this that Bill O’Brien is automatically the right guy; I’m just saying Penn State fans, you shouldn’t hold it against him that he isn’t one of yours.

A story from the program of my following, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, illustrates this point. In December of 2007, Tom Osborne interviewed both Bo Pelini, Nebraska’s defensive coordinator for a year in 2003, and Turner Gill, a Husker icon with eighteen years in the program, for Nebraska’s head coaching vacancy. While Gill had a close relationship with his former coach and boss (Osborne was the best man at Gill’s wedding), Osborne picked Pelini, and I think this played a part: as soon as he arrived on campus in the winter of 2003, Pelini blew everyone away with his demeanor and attitude, and his ability to inspire others. (Similarly, in 1994, Pelini joined the San Francisco 49ers organization as a scout, and after he spent a few weeks around the organization, they immediately made him their secondary coach. He had only been a college graduate assistant for a year.) Bottom line: Gill had the experience, but Pelini wowed people.

To surmise, my point is this: promoting an assistant who’s one of yours can be great. It worked for Penn State with Paterno forty-six years ago, it worked for Nebraska with Tom Osborne, and its even worked in the last ten years with Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State, Kyle Whittingham at Utah, or Brady Hoke at Michigan. But if you think Tom Bradley would have been a good hire because he “knows Penn State”, you are kidding yourself

Penn State vs. Nebraska: the Game After

Before I get to today’s post, I want to say thank you again to everyone who has been reading and supporting my blog. A couple of days ago, I had one of my most views on my piece on the Penn State coaching search. Thank you.

For today’s post, I want to again return to Penn State, and reflect on the Penn State-Nebraska game that followed the week of the grand jury report and Paterno’s firing. As Nebraska fan, I took a special interest in the game, and could not have been more proud  of the sportsmanship that my team showed before and after the game. I was also pleased that Nebraska won the game although part of me wanted Nebraska to win because a week of hearing about how Penn State rose up in the face of all odds to win a game, it would have been unbearable for me to say the very least.

But as I watched the game, there was something that struck me as odd. The mood at Penn State was somber, for obvious reason: the program had exposed a have for an abuser of children, forcing the sacking the program’s icon, Joe Paterno. But I wonder as I watched the game, what does the average Joe at home think? When he watches Jay Paterno crying during a post-game interview, did they think that his whole scene at Penn State was because Paterno had lost his job, or because of the crimes that had been committed there?

Let me be clear about this: both the situations are sad and are intertwined. But the one thing I didn’t see enough of during this telecast was the ESPN-ABC announcers making that distinction and saying, the Penn State and Nebraska players came together in prayer for the victims of sexual abuse. Penn State going with a blue-out for the victims of sexual abuse. Given the regard that Joe Paterno had, I really thought that broadcast media dropped the ball in this regard; they needed to make it crystal clear that these were about the victims, not just Paterno.

Frankly, if I were a broadcast executive, I would not have shown any of the signs that said This One’s for Joe or anything that expressed support for Joe Paterno but not because I feel no sympathy for Joe Paterno. The reason I wouldn’t show the sign is, Joe Paterno, no matter how accomplished or how much he’d done for college football, had been caught in a sexual abuse scandal. If one of those victims, or really any victim of sexual abuse had been watching that game, what would they think if they saw those signs? I don’t blame the fans themselves for bringing the sign because they are fans; but if I’m the media boss, I’m not showing them on national TV.

But I understand why Jay Paterno is crying, and why Penn State fans in general are sad over his firing. Paterno’s moral image was forever ruined, and it left Nittany Lion nation and college football fans questioning his leadership. Beyond Sandusky’s crimes and his victims, it was a terrible day for college football. But at least for a few moments on the field, we could all see a new start coming.

Penn State and the NCAA: Hunting for the Truth

As I alluded to before, the question of sanctions now loom over Penn State. Both the NCAA and the Big 10 have said that they will investigate the Penn State administration for their “lack of institutional control” in the Sandusky matter. While no specific by-laws appear to have been violated, the both governing bodies likely feel the need to look into the matter, given how heinous a crime sexual abuse is.

This isn’t a time to mock the NCAA for being a toothless organization, even if they look the part. Beyond Sandusky’s crimes, there was a culture of looking the other way, and iconic Joe Paterno was at its center. What the NCAA needs to do is come into Penn State, and ask the question, why didn’t people look further into the incidents that were reported?  Why didn’t the administration report incidents to the police and follow to make sure the investigation was complete? And why wasn’t Sandusky kicked out after multiple incidents were reported? To surmise, what the NCAA needs to find out is why Penn State consistently was looking the other way.

The purpose of this report may not be to sanction Penn State, although they may deserve it. What is the concern here is an organization was used to mask criminal activity. The NCAA is in the territory where the FBI was with Al Capone; they have to get all the information on the case (or as much of it as they are able), and decide if and how Penn State should be punished, although unlike Capone, the NCAA shouldn’t go in with the direct objective to punish Penn State, but only do it if it is deemed that the school didn’t do enough to stop Sandusky or investigate him more throughly.

Here’s my take: Penn State probably does deserve some punishment, but not the harshest. Joe Paterno and most the administration has been fired, and one thing we know about how the NCAA punishes people: if you fire the culprits (Ohio State), your punishment is lessened. If you don’t (USC), you’re going to get slapped pretty good. Going back to my post yesterday, this is why Penn State shouldn’t promote Tom Bradley and should clean house on all of its assistants. Not saying they knew or were at fault for what happened, but with the NCAA, it’s best not to take chances.

One wild card in this is that, even though Paterno has been fired, there really isn’t any way to punish him. Unlike Jim Tressell, no one will hire him at his age, so there’s no point in attaching sanctions to another program. Although to be fair, he is 84, and Richard Nixon-pardon situation could be in order.

Many liberal educators will likely come out and say that Penn State deserves the death penalty, and this was an opinion I considered briefly when the scandal broke. While this incident may show the worst consequences of lack of institutional control, the death penalty is the NCAA’s harshest penalty and should only be reserved for the harshest, multiple offenders, as was witnessed in the SMU scandal. Maybe it needs to be put on the table in this instances, but it is unlikely that it would need using.

The real concern here is how a major university, and specifically, an athletic department, was used to mask criminal activity.  Before Penn State, many probably didn’t think that an athletic department could hide a pedophile, but that certainly is the case here. Could they use to be launder drug money or smuggle terrorists into the country? Those things are likely the stuff of John Grisham novels, but athletic success can blind people, and major college football has a culture of looking the other way as players and booster share $100 handshakes. If the NCAA wants to be prepared, they should make a through investigation, find out how Sandusky’s behavior was kept secret, and create a policy, perhaps similar to the personal conduct policy for NFL players, stating that universities will be subject to discipline if they engage in behavior that is criminal or damaging to the reputation of the NCAA.

Penn State: a Coaching Search that Drags on as if it were 1955

It has been nearly a month since the college football season ended, and all the open jobs have been filled except one: Penn State. This is simultaneous surprising and not surprising. On the one hand, Penn State fired Joe Paterno with three weeks left in the season, giving them plenty of time to contact a search firm. Pitt, in the same state with the same recruiting base, lost their head coach unexpectedly in mid-December, and a new coach in nine days, and a very good hire at that. With its tradition and revenue, the appeal seems natural, but of course the circumstances are quite complicated, which is why the job remains glaringly open.

Most fans thought no one would want to be the guy who followed Joe Paterno, and now with the scandal, it certainly doesn’t help matters. Sports by Brooks reported a few weeks ago that there was in fighting in the Penn State administration over whether to hire an external candidate or keep Tom Bradley, “because he know where the bodies are buried” according to a source. Colin Cowherd said on ESPN Radio shortly after Paterno was fired that Penn State job only looked better than it was because of Paterno, and that a Randy Edsall-type was the best Nittany Lion Nation could hope for. Given that Penn Live reported in mid-December that Penn State had talked recently to Duke’s David Cutcliffe and Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo after originally targeting Urban Meyer-trained Dan Mullens and Kyle Whittingham, it would seem Cowherd was accurate. And the instability in Penn State’s administration, with an acting athletic director and no permanent president, probably isn’t helping matters.

I would like to offer an apology to Penn State on behalf of my program-the turbulent stint at Nebraska by Bill Callahan probably is hurting Penn State’s ability to hire a top coach. And Michigan’s ugly three years with Rich Rodriguez probably didn’t help either.

Michigan and Nebraska are both examples of why potential coaches would think twice about taking the Penn State job. Callahan and Rodriguez were outside hires to tradition-rich, successful programs who made dramatic changes to the offense. When they met resistance, the crusty, northern fan bases where quick to turn on their coaches, and the fact that Callahan and Rodriguez were seen as outsiders only hastened their departures. Penn State, similarly, is a tradition-rich school whose expectations have been inflated by past results. Also similar to Nebraska and Michigan, Penn State has tradition been financially conservative when spending for football; the coming civil lawsuits for the university’s failure to report Sandusky to the police won’t help.

Not that there still aren’t a lot of positives about Penn State: the 100,000 seat stadium yields roughly $50 million in ticket revenue (assuming seven home games), plus the money from the Big 10 network and the newly created Big 10 championship game probably puts Penn State’s total football revenue around $75-$80 million, as high as any top football program in the nation (although a lot of that goes into non-revenue sports). There are traditions and expectation, which over the long run are good. Penn State can also sell itself as the football school, in a football conference, to the recruits in the northeast, from Boston down through D.C.

I would postulate there is another parallel with Nebraska, and Penn State’s other rivalry via similar culture, Iowa, share that will ultimately help Penn State get at least a good coach: willingness to keep a coach that maybe doesn’t win huge but wins consistently. Iowa often gripes about what they have to pay Kirk Ferentz because of his NFL overtures, but they don’t mind keeping around, even with more losses to Northwestern than ten-plus win seasons. Similarly, Nebraska has kept its criticism of Bo Pelini on the lighter side, after the Steve Pedersen made the Cornhuskers look like a win at all costs program. My prediction is, while Penn State maybe a rough-and-tumble job if you go about it the wrong way (Rodriguez didn’t anticipate how much bigger the spotlight got, West Virginia to a more visible program), but it is a job where you can survive a couple of six or seven win seasons in a row, as Ferentz does at Iowa. Of course, if you are a bad coach, or a career assistant in the head coach’s chair (ala Callahan), you’ll get found out quickly, and the road out of town will be unpleasant to say the least.

That leads to the question of Tom Bradley, and specifically whether or not Penn State should give him the job. It is been my mind all along, with allegations against Sandusky being what they are, and given that it seemed to be an open secret among the Penn State administration, that there’s no way anyone with a Penn State connection should get the head coaching job (including Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano). While there is no precedent for the NCAA acting in this incident, the governing body will investigate, and Penn State should learn from USC: make sure you fire everyone who was involved in the cover-up, or the institution will be screwed. Ohio State followed that model, fired Jim Tressell, and got a penalty that was less severe than USC. Yes, Penn State did fire Paterno and the university president, but I wouldn’t take any chances, especially given how close Bradley and Sandusky were.

Given the lack of precedent in the case, it is hard to say how the NCAA would punish Penn State, if they indeed deem it necessary to do so (another subject for another post). What I am saying is that, given Penn State’s keep-in-the-family approach, the best thing to do would be to start over, even they have to a has-been like Tommy Bowden. Get someone respectable, and show everyone you’re moving on. Again, civil suits are likely around the corner

And if Bradley unearths more dirt on the university? Penn State already looks like a mess, they should just let Bradley go and say whatever he has to say, and issue public apologies when he does. Giving Bradley, a yes-man career assistant, the head coaching job could sink the program even worse in the long run. Don’t think that Paterno made Bradley his defensive coordinator for a reason: Paterno was turning seventy-four when he promoted Bradley, and he must have known, that, to continue to hold on to his position for many more years, he would have to surround himself with people who would do his bidding without question. Don’t let him blackmail you into the head coaching job, Penn State.

Although, there would be some merit in keeping Bradley. If the best Penn State can do is David Cutcliffe, fired from one job and now not winning at Duke, Bradley at best could be Bill Guthridge at North Carolina, who gave the Tar Heels three pretty good years before heading off into the sunset. With the uncertainty in the administration, Bradley might be the best man, at least until the Big 10 and the NCAA have finished their investigation, and a new president and athletic director are firmly in place. At least he wouldn’t embarrass the program…unless he knew about Sandusky.

But ultimately, what Penn State needs to do is get ride of all of the current staff, and move on to a new coach, showing that the keep-it-in-the-family culture is gone. They already look pretty backward, in the most drawn-out coaching search since Steve Pedersen’s Nebraska debacle in 2003.

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