Poll ~ The State of Penn State

As you know, Bill O'Brien has left the B1G to be the head coach at Houston. If you follow sports regularly, a few times a year you'll get to watch some news stories that, while rooted in a team or a game, resonate on a whole other level. The Paterno scandal was one of those. Watching thousands of students march in support of their venerable figurehead, I think, made people analyze human behavior. It made people ask deeper questions than who should be hired or fired, and draw their own lines in the sand and see what other people's opinions or feelings happened to be, and argue and reflect on them.

What was interesting about the news with O'Brien is that an interview he did with David Jones came out, in which he was quoted as saying, "I don't really give a shit what the 'Paterno people' think about what I do with this program… I've done everything I can to show respect to Coach Paterno. Everything in my power. … I'm trying to field the most competitive football team I can with near-death penalty (expletive) sanctions. Every time I say something like that and somebody prints it, it's skewed as an excuse. And I'm not an excuse-maker. I'm trying to do the best I can for the kids in that program. That's all I care about is the kids in that program. As long as I'm the head football coach here."

No offense to Greg Schiano, who seems like O'Brien's probable replacement. But Bill O'Brien is a heck of a coach. He may not be better than Al Golden, who's revived Miami in the last few years and now has the attention of even better recruits (and Penn State). But O'Brien is really good, and he had his players buying in. It was the best of a bad situation. If O'Brien goes 3-13 next year, with a Houston team that went 2-14 this year, he'll already be on the hot seat (he probably won't go 3-13, but there is a chance). At Penn State, he had a good salary, a lot of administrative authority, much better job security - and he turned it down. Do you know how rare it is for a coach to have job security? Even the ones who do had to work a long time to get there, or else be related to someone who has. For almost every Jon Gruden or Andy Reid, there's a coach whose eventual success was laid on the foundation of sleepless nights and anonymity. O'Brien had made a great situation out of something bad, and he walked away after two years.

I won't even get into the question of whether O'Brien should have done what he did; this is his career, and he has every right to pick a workplace he enjoys being in. But to me, this raises questions about the long-term revival of the Penn State brand. The next coach will have an even more challenging time than O'Brien did; allegedly, Christian Hackenberg is considering a transfer, and this is a rather large worry because he's currently the only scholarship quarterback on the roster. (Another three - Austin Whipple, D.J. Crook and Jack Seymour - are walk-on freshmen, and a four-star QB is committed for 2014.) Regardless of whether Hackenberg stays, how can you convince future recruits that they'll play their whole college career with the staff that recruited them? Even if no one in the '14 class decommits, the talent on a team that's already fighting scholarship reductions will take a big hit through the rest of the '10s… and possibly into the '20s. At that point, what will Penn State be able to hang their hat on?

So my question is, will Penn State still be able to rely on name to get recruits? What will happen to the next coach in Happy Valley that has to face the 'Paterno people'? (What's going on with the 'Paterno people,' anyway?) Is this a case when holding onto your history is holding you back (said by someone who's fallen in love with Michigan's history)? Their stadium still fits 106,572 people, and they've been playing football since 1888. But, then again, so has Princeton or Yale. Did Penn State avert a death sentence in lieu of a 'slow death sentence'?

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