Poor Bill OBrien. He wants so desperately to be accepted by the Penn State community.
On Saturday, OBrien was introduced as the Nittany Lions new head coach (see story). He thanked just about everyone, lauded Penn State, Penn State football, its grand tradition, coach Joe Paterno and all of its football staffs, and present and former players, and issued a message to the Penn State football family in which he requested the opportunity to earn your trust.
In time, OBrien said, we will find that we have more common interests and goals than not. We are here now, with you. You should be proud of Penn States numerous accomplishments. You should be proud of Penn States football program. You should love this school. You are why we want to be here. We want you to know that you will always be welcome and a part of our program, because we are Penn State.
I kept waiting for him to pass around a slip of loose leaf paper with do you like me? at the top and check one box yes, no, maybe underneath.
I understand that theres some controversy out there right now, said OBrien, whos never been a head coach until now. I can see it. I understand that.
Im not sure he does. Not fully. But he will soon enough.
Spend time in Happy Valley, or talk to Penn Staters, and you soon realize that there are two main factions in the post-Jerry Sanduskysex-scandal era. There are those who think what Sandusky did was heinous, and that football isnt all that important by comparison. In my experience, they are the minority. And then there are those who think what Sandusky did was heinous and continue to believe that Penn State football is extremely important and that the program remains top-tier and beyond reproach. In my experience, that group is the majority. Its also openly delusional.
OBrien had no ties to Penn State until he was hired as head coach. That irritated part of the provincial State College community, which would have preferred that the school hire one of its own. This also marks the first head coaching job for OBrien, who served in various assistant coaching capacities with Georgia Tech, Maryland, Duke and, most recently, the New England Patriots. That really bothered some Penn Staters, who convinced themselves that the university would hire a big-time name.
Its been more than 25 years since Penn States last national championship. The Nittany Lions finished 9-4 this season and got smacked by Houston in something called the TicketCity Bowl. Then theres the not-so-small matter of the still-ongoing and ugly child sex abuse scandal, which has irrevocably damaged Penn State and its image. And yet some Penn Staters were somehow under the impression that the university would land Urban Meyer or, failing that, exhume Vince Lombardi.
Succeeding Paterno under the best conditions would be extremely difficult. These are obviously not the best conditions. Considering the climate in Happy Valley, its amazing that Penn State convinced anyone to take the gig. Forget Bill OBrien, the school would have been lucky to get Pat or Soledad.
Thats not how some Penn Staters see it. The myopic ones the same ones who still think of Paterno as a benevolent football deity rather than a flawed man with a tarnished legacy evidently believed that the university could have done so much better. When news broke about OBrien becoming the new head coach, a slew of Penn Staters denounced the move andor ranted about how the school handled the situation.
Former linebacker LaVar Arrington who only months ago delivered a moving, measured speech at a candlelight vigil held on campus had a serious, extended meltdown on Twitter. Here are his missives, in order:
PSU is hiding something theres way more going on there!
By the board doing what theyve done they have in their minds effectively made Joe pattern and the football team a scapegoat
"When in fact they are the very people that shouldve been fired due to the lack of action! Alums I will always love you and the Penn State I knew
But until theres a new board and new leadership they can have their corruptdisgusting school that theyve created
Im done all my PSU stuff will be down before obriens introduction! We are! No more for me!
Arrington apologized thereafter, but he wasnt the only one who threw a temper tantrum. Former Penn State running back DJ Dozier told ESPN that he was upset with the hiring, while former All-American linebacker Brandon Short told USA Today that he and other players were contemplating a lawsuit to prohibit the university from using their likenesses in marketing campaigns. Short also said that he might lobby current players to transfer and or ask recruits to de-commit.
"It's unfortunate that Coach O'Brien ... has not been made aware of the implications of him being in this position," Short told ESPN. "I don't envy him at all. He doesn't have support of the vast majority of former Penn State players and the vast majority of the student body and the faculty won't support him. I feel sorry for him."
So do I, but not for the same reasons.
E-mail John Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org