Read an Excerpt
We are Penn State
The Remarkable Journey of the 2012 Nittany Lions
By Lou Prato
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2013 Lou Prato
All rights reserved.
Monday, November 28, 2011
Acting athletics director Dave Joyner, a onetime All-American tackle and Academic All-American for Paterno, announced a five-person search committee "charged with identifying candidates and appointing" the next head football coach. Joyner was appointed committee chairman by new Penn State president Rodney Erickson, the former provost. The committee consisted of Linda Caldwell, Penn State faculty athletics representative; Charmelle Green, Penn State associate athletics director and senior woman administrator; Ira Lubert, a member of the board of trustees and chairman and cofounder of Independence Capital Partners and Lubert Adler Partners; Dr. John Nichols, emeritus professor, Penn State College of Communications, and chair of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics; and Russ Rose, head coach of the Penn State women's volleyball team.
It was telling that Lubert was on the committee. Just three years before, Lubert was the principal benefactor when Penn State hired a new wrestling coach. Offering a salary that was far beyond what any college wrestling coach was then (or is now) receiving, Penn State hired the best, Cael Sanderson, away from his Iowa State alma mater. By the time the 2012–13 wrestling season was over, Sanderson's Nittany Lions team had shocked the wrestling world by winning three straight national championships — a feat no other East Coast team had ever done. In fact, the only one other team east of the Mississippi to win just one NCAA title is Minnesota. Penn State's football nation wondered if the university would be as fortunate in the selection of the next head football coach — a man who would affect the future not only of the football team but the university itself.
After considering some college coaches, it did not take long for the committee to throw in the names of some NFL coaches, including quarterbacks coach Tom Clements of Green Bay, who had played for Notre Dame, and Mike Munchak, the rookie head coach of the Tennessee Titans who had been a star guard for Paterno in the early 1980s and then had a Hall of Fame career with the Titans franchise in Houston.
Rumors continued to swirl for 34 day from the time the search committee was announced before the name of Bill O'Brien, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach of the New England Patriots, first surfaced. Many of Penn State's prominent former players were adamant and vocal in their support of a Penn State man and they favored Bradley or Munchak.
It was odd even to have a search committee for the position. "There were dozens of schools looking for head football coaches at the time," Nichols told me afterward, "and only two or three had search committees, and zero had faculty members on the committee. Usually the coach for revenue sports is hired by the athletics director and the president, with maybe a consultant involved, and for the other sports it's the athletics director and maybe the faculty rep with the president approving. To realize we had two faculty members is amazing, and we were not isolated. The committee worked well together."
This is the first time ever that a search committee has been formed to hire the head football coach at Penn State. He will be the 15th one since the first in 1892 and only the fifth since 1918. I find the committee an intuitive choice of people. The faculty representative is a natural choice, and Green, hired just five months ago from Notre Dame, gives the group an experienced administrator from the outside. Lubert is an influential member of the Penn State Board of Trustees, a wealthy donor, and a longtime friend of Joyner's, since they were teammates on the Penn State wrestling team in the early 1970s. Nichols has been one of the university's most respected faculty members, even in his supposed retirement — a leader in the faculty senate who has been an advocate of the coexistence of athletics within the strong academic environment, and he is also a longtime football season-ticket holder. Rose, already a Penn State and collegiate volleyball coaching legend with four national championship teams to his credit, is highly regarded for his keen mind, blunt honesty, intellect, and sense of humor. He also was friendlier with Paterno than most of the other head coaches in the athletics department.
What is highly unusual is having a search committee at all. This is standard for high positions in academia but rare for hiring head coaches in any sport — especially in sports that bring in revenue, such as football and men's and women's basketball.
Of course, the committee will only make the recommendation. Joyner will do the actual hiring, with the president's approval, and will handle the contract.
Rumors started even before the committee was formed. Will it be someone already on the staff? If so, the likely candidates are Bradley; linebacker coach Ron Vanderlinden, once the head coach at Maryland; or highly respected defensive line coach Larry Johnson. If not any of them, then perhaps an ultra-successful collegiate head coach elsewhere? Urban Meyer was mentioned as a Paterno successor starting months before the arrest of Sandusky and the firing of Paterno, and there were unconfirmed reports that Meyer met with President Spanier at one point. Other names being bandied about are Boise State's Chris Petersen, Mississippi State's Dan Mullen, and Utah's Kyle Whittingham.
The first two mandatory objectives of Penn State's new head coach will be to win over the players for 2012 and salvage what is becoming a shaky and unsuccessful recruiting outcome. Then he will need to win over the lettermen and the fans. Meanwhile, the 2011 team has one game remaining under interim coach Tom Bradley.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Penn State was the seventh and next-to-last Big Ten team selected for a bowl game, in spite of its 9–3 record. Three of the teams they beat finished with worse records but were chosen ahead of them for better bowls. However, the good news was that the game, the two-year-old Ticket City Bowl, would be played in Dallas' historic Cotton Bowl stadium on January 2, the same day as five other bowls, including the Rose and Fiesta.
It was obvious that Penn State was passed over because of the Sandusky scandal, and the other bowls wanted to avoid the negative publicity. Except for the Penn State administration, neither the players nor the fans were happy about going to such a minor and obscure bowl game as the Ticket City Bowl. They should have felt fortunate to have been invited anywhere because of the media and public pressure to ignore the Lions completely. If the Ticket City Bowl had not selected Penn State, that would have left the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl in Detroit against the champion of the MAC (Mid American Conference). Dallas at noon on January 2 was a lot better than Detroit at 4:30 pm on Tuesday, December 27.
The players were especially bitter and complained publicly. Many did not want to play, and they argued with Joyner in an angry private team meeting when the acting athletics director tried to reason with them. After a few players-only meetings and discussions with the coaches, the team mood changed for the better as they practiced for the game.
However, the disappointment and tension remained, and it boiled over on Saturday, December 17, in an argument on the practice field between starting quarterback Matt McGloin and wide receiver Curtis Drake that led to a locker-room fight. McGloin suffered a concussion and faced disciplinary action. It was not what the team needed at this critical juncture.
With all the other games starting later than noon Eastern time, the start time set for the Ticket City Bowl, there should be a decent cable television audience on ESPNU. The matchup is a good one, with a high-scoring 12 — 1 Houston team that could have been in the BCS Sugar or Orange Bowls had they not been upset in the Conference USA Football Championship Game. Houston has been ranked No. 19 in the final BCS standings while Penn State is No. 22. And so the fledging bowl that was created to replace the famed Cotton Bowl game that moved to the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium is happy to host the teams, despite the controversy surrounding Penn State.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
In a televised game between the New England Patriots and the Washington Redskins, viewers were startled midway through the fourth quarter when they saw the Patriots offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, Bill O'Brien, get into a fiery and intense face-to-face argument with All-Pro quarterback Tom Brady on the Patriots bench. Little did we Penn Staters who watched the video back then realize we were seeing our next head football coach.
Today's confrontation started when O'Brien stormed toward Brady, who was sitting on the bench after throwing an interception in the back of the Redskins end zone with the Patriots narrowly leading by seven points. The quarrel started slowly but exploded when Brady said something that angered O'Brien and they had to be bodily separated.
Later, after the Patriots won 34–27, they both apologized for the public tantrum. Brady admitted he was wrong, and O'Brien said, "It's just two competitive guys that want the best for the team." But within hours the video of their encounter had been seen by millions of people via television and the Internet, and the heretofore virtually unknown O'Brien has become famous as the man who challenged legendary quarterback Tom Brady. O'Brien told reporters he heard from his mother after the sideline incident, and she told him to watch his language.
Sunday, January 1, 2012
New Year's Day is the traditional day for the Rose Bowl Parade and the major postseason bowl games, but they were delayed by one day because of the final day of the NFL's regular season. It was a routine day for the Penn State football team, with a walk-through at the Cotton Bowl and team meals and meetings while also relaxing around the hotel and watching NFL games.
They heard and saw the same media reports as the public about their next head coach. Earlier in the week, a few Penn State beat writers had cited sources saying Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak had the job locked up. He had formally denied it Wednesday morning, December 29, but reports continued that the position was his if he wanted it. Bradley was out, the reports claimed, and Green Bay's Clements was second in line. Then on New Year's Eve, ESPN's college football reporter Joe Schad brought O'Brien and Greg Schiano of Rutgers into the conversation.
Early this morning, USA Today's Jon Saraceno, a Penn State graduate, filed a brief item on the newspaper's website and via a tweet asserting, "only contract details need to be finalized before O'Brien is the man." A few hours later, ESPN's NFL insider Chris Mortensen and reporter Adam Schefter claimed O'Brien will sign a contract in the next week.
Naturally, the coaching rumors and the continuing scandal are the prime topics of conversation wherever Penn State fans gather here in Dallas. This is the smallest turnout by Penn Staters for a postseason game that I can remember, but there are plenty of loyal ones who I have been seeing at away games for the last few years. The main bar at the team hotel where many of them stayed, including my wife and me, was active but not as boisterous as it usually is when Penn Staters overwhelm the place during pre-bowl week.
Despite the circumstances, the fans and the players seem to be enjoying Dallas and the Hyatt Regency Hotel, which is just a short walking distance from the Kennedy assassination site and the historical district's restaurants and bars.
Carole and I, being longtime Pittsburgh Steelers fans, wanted to watch the Steelers-Browns game, but the hotel televisions were not carrying it. We had to find a sports bar a few blocks away where we could watch that game. We saw just three or four other fans wearing Penn State clothing inside. If this were a normal postseason bowl game for Penn State, the place would have been filled with Nittany Lions fans. Except for the waitress, hardly anyone else paid attention to us. So not everyone hates Penn State.
Monday, January 2, 2012
Game Day: Penn State vs. Houston in the Ticket City Bowl. The renovated Cotton Bowl stadium was half-empty when Penn State kicked off in sunny, 47-degree temperatures and the crowd, later announced at 46,817, was more subdued than those at most January 1 or 2 bowl games.
This was expected to be a tight battle between the Houston offense, averaging nearly 600 yards per game, and Penn State's strong defense, and that's the main reason Houston was a touchdown favorite. However, Penn State was playing without starting quarterback Matt McGloin, who was still recovering from his concussion resulting from his locker-room fight with Drake.
McGloin's absence was obvious from the start, with erratic sophomore Rob Bolden at quarterback, but it was also apparent that the Penn State players weren't into this game. The Lions' stilted defense couldn't handle Houston's up-tempo attack as the Cougars blitzed to a 17–0 first-quarter lead, made it 27–7 late in the third quarter, and went on to win 30–14. The final score was not surprising, and it could have been worse.
The outcome of the game was disappointing, but otherwise the players and fans enjoyed themselves. With such a sparse turnout of Penn State fans, my wife and I found ourselves sitting right on the 50-yard line for the first time ever at a Nittany Lions game — except for the times decades ago when I covered games from the press box.
The Houston crowd sitting to our left was gracious, and there weren't any problems with them related to Penn State's sex- abuse scandal. Apparently there were a couple of isolated incidents outside and inside the stadium, including the appearance of an individual dressed as Pedobear, which for many people is a symbol of pedophilia. Some in the media overreacted to the costumed bear and gave it more publicity than it deserved.
I continue to wonder about the responsibility — or lack thereof — of a large segment of the media since the initial arrest of Sandusky. This is not going to go away anytime soon. Certainly the man who becomes the next head coach must know what he is getting into and the national scrutiny he will be under. It is probably going to get worse than better for Penn State before it begins to turn around, and the football team is going to be ground zero for the rants made by the media and public.
Today I thought about the football team and how it will be different too, with perhaps an entirely new coaching staff with new ideas and new concepts that might be radically different from what the Penn State football nation has known for the last 46 years. Tom Bradley had similar thoughts, and after today's game promised reporters the Penn State offense will change in 2012 whether he or someone else is the head coach: "Next year we'll have a totally different look on offense one way or another."
What exactly that means is still a mystery. When questioned about the O'Brien rumors by beat writers at a pep rally at the Cotton Bowl before the game, Joyner said, "There is no deal in place with anybody."CHAPTER 2
The Torch Is Passed
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
On Tuesday, January 3, Mike Munchak officially removed his name as a possible candidate for Penn State's head coaching position at a season-ending Tennessee Titans news conference. Some media reported that Munchak was never formally interviewed.
Related, multiple media reports said the hiring of Bill O'Brien as Penn State's next head football coach was imminent. Sources told ESPN, USA Today, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and others that the Patriots' offensive coordinator would meet with Penn State officials the next day, Thursday, to finalize and sign the contract.
Saturday, January 7, 2012
With the Patriots getting a bye in the first week of NFL playoff games, Bill O'Brien was formally introduced as the 15 head football coach in Penn State history at a late-morning nationally televised news conference in the ballroom of the Nittany Lion Inn on campus. The crowd of about 300 included not only the media but also many people from the athletics department and some members of the board of trustees and search committee. O'Brien was introduced by acting athletics director Dave Joyner and president Rodney Ericson, who told the gathering, "We found the right man to lead our football program. He's a person of great integrity, leadership, and skill."
O'Brien's wife, Colleen; six-year-old son, Michael; and one of his two brothers, Tom, were sitting in the front row. Michael was wearing a blue Penn State jersey with the No. 25, the numeral of the Lions' outstanding sophomore running back Silas Redd. O'Brien referred briefly to his nine-year-old son, Jack, who was not there, but it was not until the formal news conference was long over that the media and public who were watching learned that Jack has a rare developmental disability in the brain called lissencephaly. They also learned O'Brien and his wife are dedicated to Jack.
Excerpted from We are Penn State by Lou Prato. Copyright © 2013 Lou Prato. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.