Wow! Can you believe the rollercoaster ride we just experienced in the last two years in Happy Valley? First it was the valley of shame in the Sandusky scandal and the subsequent firing of Coach Paterno. Then the inspiring leadership of Coach O'Brien, and the mountaintop of pride with the 2012 team that beat all odds and made the wall of honor at Beaver Stadium. And 2013, with the new face of our program's future, Christian Hackenberg, who had believed in everything good that Billy O pitched to his fine class of recruits. Now that Bill O'Brien's departure to the Houston Texans is official, we should pause for a few minutes to weigh the significance of it for Nittany Lion fans and college football as a whole.
THE GOOD: PSU players and fans everywhere united around Coach O'Brien, a charismatic leader who helped us to be Penn State proud amidst an NCAA judgment that brought shame and severe sanctions to the program. He was a fighter who, along with captains Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich in 2012, became the face of a fighting spirit that refused to lay down in the wake of the Sandusky scandal. When our president and board of trustees passively took all that the NCAA and ESPN gave to us, Billy O was a fighter where we needed it most, on the field (not in the media). We believed that he would continue to lead us.
THE BAD: All of his recruits believed as well. Hackenberg, Adam Breneman and the other freshmen who joined Billy O in his assault on those who wouldn't give us a chance bought in to his battle cry. After negotiating his NFL buyout down to $6 million in June, we should have known the end was very near. Coach O'Brien left us with many good things in his short tenure, but it is hard to imagine the players and their families feeling this way. They must certainly feel betrayed. He had the NFL deep in his heart and we were duped to believe otherwise.
THE UGLY: Coach O'Brien's bitter comments just released convey his anger toward the Paterno faction that he struggled against throughout his two seasons. These words seem like the insecure ramblings of a man who never realized just what he had at Penn State. While we know personally some who never embraced Coach O'Brien, there was overwhelming support demonstrated for him by former players, students and PSU fans around the world. As a former player and captain (1981) for Joe who loved him, along with a majority of lettermen, we supported Coach O'Brien and the new direction he took the program. We may have had our disagreements (names on the jerseys), but overall there was tremendous support. This support was shown long before his Coach of the Year awards came rolling in during 2012.
An evidence of this was the strong season ticket sales by Nittany Lion Club members, many who bought additional seats, and the turnout of over 200 football Lettermen for a team meeting after the NCAA sanctions were announced. Add to this salary increases for O'Brien and his staff last year, and just about anything athletic director Dave Joyner could give him. Please don't add insult to injury Coach by playing the, I never really was supported card. It is a lie.
There are many sad realities for college football that emerge from Coach O'Brien's departure. I will mention only a few. The first is that fans and alumni are numb to the lack of integrity our coaches demonstrate toward their schools. Consider ESPN's Joe Schad's comments that among the attractive qualities that led the Texans to sign O'Brien was that he oozed integrity and sincerity. Really? That statement was in no way questioned by Schad in light of his departure from PSU. In today's landscape of college football you can tell recruits, students, alumni, administration and fans everywhere you are committed one minute and make your exit the next for even bigger money, never diminishing your character. Here is the caveat, you get away with it as long as you are a winner. The second sad reality is that the student-athletes become the equipment of college football. Who can blame them for becoming jaded or disillusioned by the manipulation of charismatic coaches who are not men of their word. The athletes don't rate any fair treatment or protection from the NCAA in this winner takes all culture. The Hackenberg class of freshmen won't even be permitted to transfer without penalty in the wake of O'Brien's departure. No buyouts have been negotiated for them by the NCAA.
So there it is, Bill O'Brien represents The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of college football. Will there arise another like Coach Paterno whose selfless commitment put the student-athletes and the university ahead of his own ambition?
Leo Wisniewski (PSU 1978-81) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Leo Wisniewski was a defensive lineman at Penn State who lettered from 1979-81 and served as a co-captain his senior year. His brother (Steve) and son (Stefen) were both All-American offensive linemen for the Nittany Lions.