On Bill O'Brien as the new head coach at Penn St.

By John Harris
January 6, 2012

Last night when the news came down that Penn State was going to name New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien as its new head coach, I had mixed feelings about it…but not why some people (which I’ll get to) did.

You see, Bill is a friend and former teammate of mine.  He’s a year and a half ahead of me and we played two years together at Brown on the same defense.  Then, he stuck around for my senior year and was a graduate assistant in my final season Brown.  We battled through Economics 111 together, oh did we battle it…I’ll let him tell you the story.  So, this is a man I’ve shed blood, sweat and tears with.  This is a guy I’ve shared beers with…yes, there was a time I threw a cold one back every now and again.  And, here he was now about to venture into the belly of the beast and it was an unnerving thought.  I’ve watched him from afar and seen him rise into one of the hottest coaching prospects in the country, even without having ever been a head coach.  But, I didn’t want him at Penn State.  However, that was last night and that thought went out the window a few hours later.

After former Penn Staters Brandon Short and LaVar Arrington opened their mouths.

Now, I want Bill and Penn State to win one championship after another, graduate everyone and turn that program into something it wishes it had been over the last decade.

I’m not even sure where to begin, but I will with a word…loyalty.

I can understand loyalty.  Loyalty to family.  Loyalty to a friend.  Loyalty to an employer.  Loyalty to a former coach.  I get all of that, I truly do.  I’m the world’s worst when it comes to putting my trust in others and then having my loyalty stomped on like a morning doormat.  So, when I see people showing loyalty, I really do appreciate it.  But, the “act” that these two put forth, in the name of loyalty, makes me ill.

In Short’s case, he stated:

"There is a tangible standard at Penn State that this poor (O'Brien) guy knows nothing about.  I feel badly for him (because) he is clueless and will not have the support of the majority of the Lettermen. This is a hornet's nest (for him).''

Yeah, the job was going to be difficult enough for O’Brien, so here’s a novel concept.  How about you show how much Coach Paterno taught you and support the new guy?  How about stepping up to the plate and showing him what the traditions are?  How about you not knee cap the guy as he attempts to repair a program’s name that been besmirched across the country?  How would your Lettermen feel about that?  Quit being so blind.  What happened at your university required a complete and total cleansing and when I ranted about this early Friday morning, I made sure that I made it clear that I would be this irate if any other coach got hired.  And, I would.  But, this is a friend and I’m loyal too. 

This was the furthest thing from a straight up coaching hire.  Interview this guy.  Interview that guy.  Pick a coach.  Uh, no, not even close to being that simple.  The layers of this onion reek and pulling them back to find anyone to take this job is a minor miracle.  Do you have any idea what O’Brien is up against, just having to go into a recruit’s home and say “I’m Bill O’Brien, head coach at Penn State”?  As soon as Penn State comes out of his mouth, the uphill battle begins.  He’s going to have to assure 17-18 year olds and parents that all is well in Happy Valley and he has it under control.  All the while, a group of former players feel it necessary to blast the hire and not support the man?  Remember what happened at Michigan when Rich Rodriguez was hired?  You know how tough that was?  Sure, you don’t.  That man had an entire fan base, internal Michigan employees and a former Michigan coach, ALL working against him.  See how that turned out?

But, then Short continued:

"By not hiring (defensive coordinator Tom) Bradley or a Penn Stater what they have effectively done is turn their backs on 100 years of tradition.  Penn State never has been about winning football games. They didn't recruit the best players — they recruited the best people. If you go to Penn State, you have a better chance of graduating.''

Uh, Brandon, if took the time to pay attention, Penn State just hired an Ivy Leaguer, who spent his days as recruiting coordinator at Georgia Tech, one of the nation’s most valued academic institutions.  HE’S NOT BRINGING BUTTHEADS TO PENN STATE!!!  High and mighty, at all?  Ridiculous.

Short wasn’t done:

“many members are upset that they were not consulted during the hiring process, and are considering a lawsuit that would prevent the Big Ten school from using their likeness or image in any marketing campaign”

Honestly, go for it, take the program down, Mr. Entitled.  How and why do you feel the need to have been asked about the hiring process?  The University, and say what you will about that entity, decided on a group of people to handle the process and they did.  Why should you have gotten a say?  Did I get a say at my alma mater when it selected Phil Estes as head coach at Brown?  Uh, no.  Why you and why now? The sense of entitlement is mindboggling.  I tried to figure out which group of people was wronged more this week – Mike Davis who didn’t get the number he wanted at the US Army All-American game and whined all day long or you and the Lettermen whining about the process that didn’t include former players.  Just because you wore the jersey doesn’t give you the right to demand being a part of that process.

Then LaVar Arrington took it to a completely different level.

"I will put my Butkus (Award) in storage. I will put my Alamo Bowl MVP trophy in storage.  Jerseys, anything Penn State, in storage. Wherever Tom Bradley goes, that's the school I will start to put memorabilia up in my home. I'm done. I'm done with Penn State. If they're done with us, I'm done with them."

It’s interesting because I’m sure there were some Penn State alums that wanted to take their jerseys and t-shirts and put them in storage for what happened on that campus with your former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.  But, it took the school not hiring Tom Bradley for you to get to that point?  Look, I respect the loyalty… more than I can put into words, but your sheepskin says Penn State University – make sure you turn that in and get the one that says University of Tom Bradley.  And, here’s the thing, I absolutely love Tom Bradley and the university handled his interim-ness horribly.  So, if that’s what triggered Arrington’s ire, fine.  But, it’s not.  What struck him wrong was that the family dynamic was changing and oh my god, what am I going to do about it?  Well, for starters, how about you call up Bill O’Brien and say “Coach, I’m not happy about Tom not being head coach, but I’m going to do anything I can to help you and Penn State University”.  You having a voice on local radio in Washington DC is about to kill any chance of O’Brien or Penn State of having success in that city recruiting wise.  And, that’s probably the way you want it.  But, what I feel you learned at Penn State was quite the opposite and I’m sure the lessons at the University of Tom Bradley would be in lock step with my thoughts as well.

Then, I watched as former Penn State QB Todd Blackledge was asked about the situation on ESPN.  I thought, okay, level headed, professional, this will swing the momentum in a positive direction.  Uh, not really.  I appreciate the fact that you don’t know O’Brien.  I get that completely, but one singular sentence, similar to the one you said the night Joe Paterno was fired would have been perfect.

“Regardless, I still support and love my University and will do anything I can to support this man in his endeavors…lord knows he’s going to need it.” 

Okay, so I threw in the last part, but you get the jist. 

Throwing up your hands, saying you have no idea what’s going on and the look of disgust, mixed with panic?  Yeah, another dagger to the heart.  Did Joe Paterno’s lessons “take” for any of you former players?  We’ll support the family and no one else?

And, for the rest of the talking heads on ESPN, you have idea who O’Brien is?  Then find someone who does.

I know someone.  Me.  Here’s what I know.

Detailed.  Tough.  Irish Bostonian who takes no sh--.  Consummate leader.  I would trust my kids with him any day of the week, month or year.  Great teacher.  Has his ideas on how to do things but will listen to those around him.  Understands what it’s like to be a true student-athlete.  Loyal.  Trustworthy.  Hard-working.  One heck of a football coach.  Fearless.

Yes, fearless.  Any man who would entertain this job and the uphill battle that’s on the horizon demands your respect, not your ire.  Step out of your blue and white hazed life and see what he’s up against.  Support the man.  Support the players that walked in your shoes.  Drop the entitlement.

By the way, what do Bob Stoops, Joe Paterno and Barry Switzer all have in common?  All won national championships as head coaches without having ever been a head coach before.  Just more food for thought.

Remember the saying is “We are…Penn State”.  There is no “We are…Penn State…only when it’s convenient”.  Buck up, learn more about the newest Nittany Lion and you’ll realize as I did a long time ago that PSU just hired a special man on a voyage he never imagined, made more difficult by the people that should be embracing him.