Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In most cases, you never want to be the
man to follow "The Man", but Bill O'Brien has grabbed the mantle and hit the
ground running as he attempts to bring the Penn State football program back
from the abyss, and restore the once-proud tradition established by his
predecessor, Joe Paterno.
This is not meant to re-hash what is arguably the worst scandal to ever rock
the sports world, or to shed further light on the legendary coach's perceived
role in the subsequent cover-up, but more about the people left to pick up the
pieces and start anew.
Like plenty of other football coaches, O'Brien idolized Paterno. He is
however, not a Penn Stater. He is not a member of major college football's
fraternity of coaching re-treads. And he isn't a guy that comes with a proven
track record of winning, at least not as a head coach.
He is however, a top-notch offensive mind with the desire and work ethic to
make a bad situation better. He is a master motivator, making those in his
charge feel as if they can conquer the world, albeit with humility and by
simply doing things the "right way". He doesn't pat himself on the back, but
rather gives credit, when it's due, to those around him. So far, he has said
all the right things. Now it's time to show both his supporters and skeptics
that his team is going to produce on the field of play.
At his introductory news conference earlier this year, O'Brien stated his
intentions to do whatever it takes to return the football team, and the
university as a whole, back to its rightful place among the nation's elite.
"As the head football coach of this special football program, it is my
responsibility to ensure that this football program represents the highest
level of character, respect and integrity in everything we do," O'Brien
stated. "That includes my coaching staff, our players, everyone involved in
the football program. We will take very seriously our duty to interact in an
exemplary fashion with our great alumni, our students, our faculty, our fans,
our media and members of the community. There is so much pride in Penn State,
and we will never, ever take that for granted."
Whether you were in favor of Paterno's removal or not, there is no discounting
his more than 60 years of service to the university, the community, and the
young men who looked to him for guidance. Paterno's death, just a few weeks
after his hiring, only strengthened O'Brien's conviction as he looks to the
challenges that lie ahead.
"The Penn State Football program is one of college football's iconic programs
because it was led by an icon in the coaching profession in Joe Paterno," the
new coach said. "There are no words to express my respect for him as a man and
as a coach. To be following in his footsteps at Penn State is an honor. Our
families, our football program, our university and all of college football
have suffered a great loss, and we will be eternally grateful for Coach
Paterno's immeasurable contributions."
With respect to the team PSU will field this season, with the notable
exception of Paterno's absence, things won't appear much different. The
players will still be clad in some of the drabbest, yet iconic uniforms of any
team in the country; there will be in excess of 100,000 rabid Nittany Lion
backers present at each and every home game; and despite a glaring lack of
identifiable star power, O'Brien's troops will fight tooth and nail to secure
as many victories as possible.
A non-conference slate that includes bouts with Ohio University, Virginia,
Navy and Temple should allow the Lions to build up a head of steam before
kicking off Big Ten Conference play at Illinois on the last Saturday in
September. Visits to Iowa, Purdue and Nebraska won't be easy, but arguably the
two toughest games, versus Ohio State and Wisconsin, both take place at Beaver
Stadium, so you never know.
As if breaking in a new coaching regime doesn't make the process of recruiting
difficult enough, overcoming the obstacles of public perception and convincing
prospective student-athletes that Penn State is as desirable a place to both
play and learn as has always been the case, seems almost insurmountable.
Despite those challenges, O'Brien and his staff have worked diligently to
replenish a cupboard that at the moment appears pretty thin in terms of big-
time playmakers. Still, the 2013 class is already shaping up to be a source of
real pride for Penn State as six four-star recruits have already committed,
and the class could be headed for top-10 status nationally.
It's going to take some time for O'Brien to put his own stamp on a program
that has been one of the most successful in the country over the last half
century. A program steeped in tradition, with a rabid fan base that abhors
change almost as much as it does losing.
With the coaching upheaval, there isn't much the Happy Valley faithful can do
about the first part. But rest assured, O'Brien knows that if his team
struggles to find its groove, he isn't going to get the benefit of the doubt
for very long.
The Sports Network