This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

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Today, at a 4:15 p.m. press conference, James Franklin will be introduced as the sixteenth head coach in Penn State football history.  By any definition, this is a historic and significant day as one of the more storied programs of all time turns over the keys to one of the hottest names in the coaching profession.  It is also a homecoming of sorts being that Franklin hails from the Langhorne area of Pennsylvania and played quarterback for East Stroudsburg University.  All in all, many analysts are calling this a “home run” hire because of Franklin’s youth, recruiting ability, and winning attitude.  He turned long time doormat Vanderbilt into a winner in the nation’s toughest conference, going 15-4 over his last nineteen games there.  Only Alabama has a better SEC record over that same stretch.  So yes, Franklin has the skills, the resume, the attitude, and the Pennsylvania background to be an obvious and well deserving choice to take the program into the future.  Everyone associated with Penn State should be thrilled.  But, as is often the case, they aren’t.

It all started to go downhill on Thursday when the rumors of Franklins hiring became rampant.  All of the sudden, notorious Penn State haters like Christine Brennan of USA Today and Dennis Dodd of CBS began destroying Penn State and its choice of Franklin.  Keith Olbermann and the talking heads from PTI threw further fuel on the fire on ESPN throughout the day Thursday and Friday.  Why? Because some of Franklin’s players had allegedly committed a sexual assault while he was the coach at Vanderbilt.  Some websites like buzzfeed and Deadspin had run with the story and implied there was evidence that James Franklin had participated in a cover-up by telling his players to delete text messages.  It should be noted that the District Attorney involved with the case cleared Franklin and the coach removed the players involved from his team before letting the legal process play out.  One would imagine Penn State officials quizzed Franklin about this incident during the interview process and came away with a sense that he is telling the truth.  If they are satisfied, why shouldn’t the fan base be comfortable? 

The fan base is not entirely comfortable, however.  Ever since the Sandusky scandal, Penn State has become one of the most fractured and polarized fan bases in the country.  People read the smut articles written by Brennan and Dodd and actually believed them.  They proclaimed, “We’ve had enough scandals. We don’t need this coach”, and many fans have convicted Franklin or a rape cover-up before he has ever set foot on campus.  There is a petition started by a Penn State professor begging the school not to go through with the hiring.  Board of Trustees member Anthony Lubrano wrote an op-ed piece, in which, he openly wonders whether James Franklin has too much baggage to coach at Penn State.  People are literally looking for reasons to dislike and discount the new football coach.  I have news for James Franklin.  He shouldn’t worry about what any of these people think because he will never win them over.  Fact is, these people would never accept him unless his last name was Paterno or he played for/coached under Joe Paterno.

Last week, Penn State beat writer Dave Jones wrote an article citing “Joebots” and Paterno people as one of the reasons Bill O’Brien left Penn State.  I will not use the term Joebots because I feel it is offensive and people who hear it get insulted.  This limits the ability to have a constructive conversation.  However, there are most definitely Paterno people around the Penn State program.  They believe in the Paterno ideals of the “grand experiment” and “success with honor.”  To them, James Franklin signifies a change from the Paterno way of doing things to a win at all costs mentality.  In reality, James Franklin comes from a very tough academic school in Vanderbilt and his players there were help to a similar high academic standard that is seen at Penn State.  There is no reason to believe that “success with honor” can’t continue to succeed.  Actually, there will probably be a lot more success. 

Since the mid 90’s, Paterno’s program provided more mediocrity with honor than success.  Fans were willing to accept 8-4, 7-5 finishes because Joe was doing it the “right” way.  They mocked schools like Alabama for taking junior college players and over signing recruiting classes.  Penn State people arrogantly looked down their noses at schools like Colorado and Miami that were rocked by scandals.  “That wouldn’t happen here, not under Joe’s watch.”  Guess what, something happened under Joe’s watch.  One of the worst and most disgusting scandals of all time happened under Joe’s watch.  And where did doing it the right way and the squeaky clean program of Penn State end up?  Slapped with unprecedented sanctions for promoting a football first culture.  Now the very programs Penn State fans laughed at were looking down their noses at laughing at Penn State.  Under Joe’s watch, Penn State became the laughing stock and punching bag for the nation.  Yet Paterno people continued to fight for the legacy of the man they so adored. 

This is where the arguments against Franklin by Paterno people get completely discredited.  These people will scream from the mountaintops that the media shouldn’t rush to judgment and they should wait for the truth to come out.  They cite evidence that the district attorney cleared Paterno of wrongdoing.  They want people to simply accept that Joe did nothing wrong.  In the next breath, they convict Franklin of being a dirty coach with bad ethics who will further throw Penn State into scandal.  The hypocrisy of these statements is nearly unfathomable.  You want everyone to look the other way on Paterno while you refuse to give Franklin the same benefit of the doubt?  You cannot have it both ways. 

Accept it.  No one named Paterno will ever coach at Penn State again and that statue may never be put back up.  The program and the school have moved on into the future.  They are paying 4.5 million dollars to a coach they believe can take them back to the top of the college football landscape.  It was time.  8-4 and 7-5 isn’t good enough anymore.  Penn State is re-entering the realm of big time college football.  If fans aren’t comfortable with it, there are plenty of other options out there.  If they truly care about Penn State and the football program they should realize that their constant complaining and insistence on doing things the way Joe Paterno did is only hurting the program and preventing it from attaining the bright future it deserves. 

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Golden Age: Time for PSU to Bring Al Home

 

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Rumors have continued to swirl and spiral out of control about the coaching search being conducted by Penn State.  There is no doubt that this search is being conducted at warp speed and, in all honesty, it has to be.  With National Signing Day fast approaching and several recruits set to enroll early at PSU, there needs to be quick and definitive answers on who will be coaching them and what the playbook will look like.  Fans, who have been waiting on the edge or their seats, can probably begin to breathe a little easier because with today’s developments, it appears the Nittany Lions program is headed in a positive direction. 

Let me start by saying I believe interim coach Larry Johnson Sr. has done a masterful job holding together a tenuous situation so far and was said to be interested in the full time job.  I never really saw him having a real shot and quite frankly, I don’t think Penn State did either.  Johnson is a wonderful defensive line coach and he is as loyal a Penn Stater as there is but he has no head coaching experience and I just don’t see him as the man to lead Penn State into a new era of football.  I understand that many lettermen and alumni support Johnson but he doesn’t need to be a head coach to help the program.  Let him continue coaching up the defense and recruiting the East coast like he owns it.  That said, I believe it is imperative that any new coach agrees to keep LJ on staff.  Let him go at your own risk.  You could lose your team before you even start.

It appears, depending on who you listen to that Penn State has narrowed its candidates down to two very impressive coaches.   Golden of the University of Miami and James Franklin of Vanderbilt.  These two coaches have a tremendous amount in common as both are young, energetic, driven individuals with unbelievable recruiting skills.  Neither man is afraid of facing a challenging situation head on, as one coached at Temple and the other is currently at Vanderbilt.   My initial view was that Penn State would be extremely lucky to have either one.  Now that it looks like a real possibility, the fan base should be ecstatic.  Some are but it’s not unanimous. 

Penn State is a program with a fractured fan base.  This coaching search has become another polarizing issue.  There are those who, after being burned by the Notorious B.O.B., want to bring in a Penn State man who sees the job as his ultimate destination.  These fans are not used to coaching searches and don’t like the big business of college football.  Who can blame them?  This O’Brien mess has left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.  The people on this side tend to want Al Golden due to his Penn State pedigree.  He played for Penn State, coached under Joe Paterno, and is generally known to love the University.  I personally believe Golden simply wants this job more than anyone else Penn State has discussed.  I also have reason to believe he thinks if he turns down Penn State this time, he may never get another chance.  This seems to be a slam dunk.  Offer the job and he’s in.

On the other side, we have what I’ll call the “moveon.org” PSU fans.  They want to disassociate with all that has gone on in the past.  They buy into all the Dave Jones, “JoeBot” nonsense and want someone who has nothing to do with the tradition and practices of the past.  This group sees James Franklin as the hip, young offensive genius who can continue what Bill O’Brien started.  They will dance around the fact that Franklin may have been implicated in covering up a rape by one of his players at Vanderbilt.  They will tell you that Franklin can take Penn State to the Promised Land while Al Golden will simply keep Penn State trapped in mediocrity.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s time for Penn State to call home one of their own.  It is my belief that by Monday, Penn State will name Al Golden the sixteenth head coach in school history.  I don’t believe there is any other option at this time.  Not everyone will like it initially but over time people will realize, not only is he the right coach but this was the right moment.  In speaking to fans and alumni over the past week, I’ve heard many concerns, complaints, and questions.  The prevailing theme in all of these conversations is the need for stability.  Al Golden provides stability.  Al Golden coming to Penn State is a homecoming.  It’s his dream job and, perhaps most importantly, not one he’s going to be looking to leave anytime soon.  Furthermore, Golden has absolutely no desire to coach in the NFL.  Can we say the same of James Franklin?  The bottom line is Al Golden would be here as long as Penn State would have him.  At this time, that is very important.

Stability isn’t all there is to this equation.  I’m not saying Golden is simply the “safe” pick.  What’s also important is winning, not only for the sanity of the fan base, but to remain relevant in the eyes of recruits and high school coaches.  Because Penn State is still under some sanctions, the new coach will have to be able to win under difficult circumstances and, perhaps achieve more than was thought possible.  Well, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present to you Exhibit A.  Al Golden coached at Temple.  Al Golden won games at Temple, went to bowls at Temple and put players from Temple in the NFL.  Critics will say he did it against the MAC and say he never beat anybody.  Guess what? I went to Temple and before Al Golden, Temple would have lost to some of the Philadelphia area high schools.  I’m not going to sit here and analyze his  win/loss record versus top 25 teams or his record in bowl games because none of that matters unless you evaluate extenuating circumstances.  He’s been in some difficult to impossible situations and has always come out smelling like a rose.  You cannot argue with what he has done.  It’s clear the man is a winner and he embraces challenges.  After re-building the Temple program, Golden moved on to sanction riddled Miami.  His teams have improved every year and he continuously brings in top 10 recruiting classes.  He would do the same for Penn State. 

Al Golden is the answer to what this program has been looking for the last three years.  He brings stability, energy, wins, and inspiration.  He has no problem representing the University in the public eye and understands the importance of a football coach being visible in the community.  His entire life and career have been leading up to this moment.  LSU coach Les Miles, talking about the Michigan job, was once quoted, “When momma calls, you come running.”  It’s time for Penn State to call Al Golden because he’s been ready to come running for a long time.

 

O’Brien Wasn’t a Savior. He Never Wanted to Be.

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Bill O’Brien has left Penn State University and he leaves behind a short two year legacy that was anything but boring.  He was many things to many people while at the University but what Bill O’Brien was not was a savior.  He had absolutely no interest in saving Penn State football.  He used the University’s name as a device to advance his own career.  When O’Brien took the job, many wondered why anyone would want to coach at such a disgraced institution.  Many mainstream media figureheads opined that O’Brien would face the most difficult circumstances anyone had ever faced.  This was before the NCAA slapped Penn State with unprecedented and unnecessary penalties.  What Bill O’Brien saw in Penn State was an opportunity.  Not only the opportunity to coach a recognizable school but an opportunity to keep his name constantly revolving through the sports news cycle.  What school has been talked about more since the Sandusky scandal?  ESPN has a borderline obsession with Penn State and while most of what’s reported is negative, there is an old public relations slogan that states, “no press is bad press.”   This all spins in Bill O’Brien’s favor.  Lose and they will pity you and commend your bravery ,but to win at Penn State, even a little, meant so much more for O’Brien’s career ambitions.

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Nowhere in the nation would coaching mediocrity be more rewarded by the media that Penn State.  Bill O’Brien went 15-9 in his two seasons at Penn State.  Under normal circumstances, he would have been bowl eligible twice.  He did this after losing scholarships, losing players to transfers, and having to re-recruit his own team.  Many said he inspired the team to do more than they were capable of.  He did not.  Michael Mauti and Mike Zordich stood before the media and vowed not to let Penn State fall apart long before O’Brien had a chance to put his stamp on the 2012 team.  Yes, O’Brien had more success that people imagined in 2012 but the reality is that players win games.  What O’Brien had was perhaps the most remarkable and inspiring senior class that has ever played at Penn State.  Mike Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Mike Zordich, Jordan Hill, and Matt McGloin stepped up as true leaders and basically willed the team to 8 wins.  The media credited O’Brien for getting the most out of these players but these guys could really play.  Maybe O’Brien put them in a better position to succeed but he is not some kind of football whisperer who can coax All America numbers out of no talent walk ons.  With the benefit of hindsight we can clearly see the difference between O’Brien and these seniors.  Their word meant something, they had and still have integrity and they actually cared about saving the Penn State football program.

Once Penn State players began winning games for O’Brien, his star began to rise.  How was he doing this?   He must be an offensive and quarterback coaching genius.  After a successful first year, O’Brien had a brief flirtation with the NFL which left Nittany Lion fans holding their breath about the possibility of losing their genius head coach.  The reality was O’Brien was simply using his newfound leverage to get more money, a lower buyout, and more resources for success at Penn State.  He was given everything he asked for and agreed to stay on stating he wasn’t a “one and done guy.”  More positive publicity was generated by the fact that he stayed and his loyalty was unquestioned.  People loosely threw words like integrity and honesty around when reverentially speaking of O’Brien.  NFL general managers began to drool even more at the prospects of hiring the saint that would so admirably stay at Penn State when he could have left at any time.  A good recruiting class and another decent year would prove too much for those NFL GM’s to handle.  The Houston Texans threw a boatload of money at O’Brien and the coach was overwhelmed by the opportunity and the money, signing on to fulfill his dream in the NFL.  The entire time he was at Penn State, he was setting up this exact move.  He did not deliberate and struggle with the decision for days as it appeared.  Once Houston offered, O’Brien was gone, however, he needed to make it look like he was torn by his loyalty to the players at Penn State.  The very same players he lied to and asked to stay all the while knowing he wasn’t.  He needed talented players to come on board so he could win and achieve his ultimate goal.  He used them just like he used the University and ultimately, they are pawns in the sick business of major college sports.

Now that the deal with Houston is nearly complete, O’Brien and his agent have begun the process of burning the bridges at Penn State.  O’Brien is claiming, through his media mouthpiece Dave Jones, that he was essentially forced out of Penn State by “Paterno loyalists.”  He is pushing this narrative because he knows it will work.  Most of the country fairly or unfairly sees Penn State fans as a cult-like group with blind loyalty for their former leader, Joe Paterno.  O’Brien knows that it is extremely likely that the national media will push the narrative that his time at Penn State was even more difficult that anyone even knew about.  This lessens the blow to his image and character generated by the fact that he left players who had already been through hell.  Take the focus off those players and make people feel bad for O’Brien having to deal with crazies at Penn State.  Sure enough, ESPN’s College Gameday bit hook line and sinker as Desmond Howard, Todd McShay, and Kirk Herbstreit took turns systematically taking Penn State apart on live television this morning.  No one is going to criticize O’Brien for leaving now, nor will they question his integrity.

The plan has come to fruition as Bill O’Brien is now an NFL coach who has managed to garner sympathy for abandoning a program he was brought there to save.  Problem is, no one bothered to check with O’Brien whether or not he intended to save it.  Now, he leaves it in perhaps worse shape that it was when he arrived.

Open Letter To Penn State Fans

Dear Penn State fan,

It is ok to attend the game on Saturday. It is ok to cheer and root for the senior players who have worked for this moment. It is ok to put on blue and white and scream “We Are Penn State” at the top of your lungs. I will certainly be doing all of these things and I do not feel one sense of shame because of it.

Being a fan and trying to restore some sense of pride in the program you believe in does not make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about the victims of this horrific case. Jerry Sandusky, Penn State, and football need to be looked at as separate entities. Yes, there were officials from Penn State and the football program that contributed to the crimes, however, those people are gone and the current staff and players had nothing to do with it.

Contrary to the garbage that has been propagated by the national media, you are entitled to your opinion. The talking heads on ESPN and in papers like the Philadelphia Inquirer could never begin to understand how you feel about what has happened. If you believe Joe Paterno should still be coach or even if you don’t, I encourage you to let your feelings be known. Do not be silence of embarrassed by media members who tell you how you are “supposed to feel.” Be your own person.

In the last few days I have been called many things for having an opinion. I have been called small-minded, classless, heartless, and disgusting. All because I believe there is more to this story than Joe Paterno and that Mike McQueary has more to do with this than is being revealed. That is my opinion. I don’t ask you to share it. However the truth of the matter is, at noon on Saturday, that won’t matter to me. I am going to go to the game, cheer, and try not to think about the circumstances that have torn down the legacy I believed in. It’s called compartmentalization and it’s human nature. If I’m guilty of anything, it’s that. For those of you who believe I somehow condone the sexual abuse because I feel this way, it is your right to think that. Just know that I go to the game with a clear conscience because neither me nor the 100,000 other people there had anything to do with what went wrong in State College.

To the outside world I say, blame the person who committed the crime and leave us to rebuild the image we once had. We don’t need you to tell us who we are. Believe me, we will tell you loud and clear on Saturday when four words echo through Happy Valley. We Are…Penn State.

Regards,

Brian Burns

Season Ticket Holder Since 1990