• November 28, 2022

Penn State Coaching Search – A Fiasco Of The Highest Order

I am a proud alumnus of Penn State. What I am not proud of is this coaching search.

Most college coaching searches these days take under two weeks. Penn State players, alumni, former players and fans waited over two months to hear who their new coach would be. And in an instant, everyone was blindsided.

Penn State’s new president Rod Erickson preached complete transparency with all things Penn State when he took over the job after what happened to Penn State in November. He then shifted his focus to hiring a football coach – something most Penn Staters have never experienced before.

So Erickson gave David Joyner the interim athletic director title and had him go forth with the search. Penn State fans were excited with this process – it was new to us and it gave us a break from the negative news surrounding Penn State. We expected it to be a tight-lipped search because we had heard of other coaching searches ruined by people talking too much. We figured we would have a coach in place soon and get ready for a new era at Penn State.

Unfortunately, the best-laid plans never seem to pan out the way we hope.

Transparency was the furthest thing from this coaching search. Reporters scrambled for information, but there was none to be had. Random names surfaced daily and many media personnel were hoodwinked at one point or another. Penn State would have about 25 head coaches right now if all of the reports were true.

Luckily, the fans were reveling in this. Many people believed the coaching search was going exactly as planned and Penn State, while moving at a slower pace than other searches, was doing its due diligence to make the perfect hire.

Slowly but surely, everything was coming together. There was no tangible evidence of this, but there was precedent feeding everyone’s expectations from the hiring of Cael Sanderson, Penn State’s wrestling coach, a few years earlier. This same group of people, headlined by Joyner and Ira Lubert, a wildly successful businessman, stole Sanderson, one of the greatest college wrestlers of all-time, away from his coaching job at his alma mater in an eerily similar search.

Nobody knew whom the wrestling program was going to hire, but at the last minute, the committee pulled a rabbit out of the hat and got the best in the business to leave the place he loved. Two seasons later, Sanderson and the Nittany Lion wrestling team hoisted a national championship in Philadelphia, their first national championship in 58 years. These guys on the committee were winners and we all knew they would win one more time with this coaching search.

As the days turned into weeks, some murmurs arose about wrestling and football being different and that nobody was biting at Penn State’s job because of all of the troubles. But fans scoffed it off. We were going to get our man, and he was going to be great

But the search turned from very meticulous and methodical in mid-December, into nerve-wracking and hit-or-miss come January. There was no reason at all to wait until January unless the coach hired was a big name college coach finishing his season or maybe an NFL coach like Mike Munchak, a Penn State alum finishing his first year as Titans head coach.

This week, one name surfaced a little more often than the rest had – Bill O’Brien. O’Brien’s agent went on the record saying his client was more interested in an NFL head coaching gig and he was going to interview in Jacksonville (there’s an entirely different article in there). Many Penn State people thought this was intentionally leaked to draw attention away from whomever the committee had actually targeted.

So we waited. Now Thursday night is where things get very interesting. At halftime of the Purdue/Penn State basketball game, Joyner stated the search was not over and they hoped to finish by next week. Seemed reasonable. Then a few hours later Chris Mortensen told everyone O’Brien had agreed to become Penn State’s new head coach.

The rest of this is not meant to bash O’Brien, who may end up being a fantastic coach at Penn State, but the problems here are many.

First, the current players had no idea this hire had been made. Most of them found out via ESPN, social media or reporters calling them and asking them for their opinions. Having the lifeblood of your football program, the actual players, left in the dark is not being transparent.

Second, the former lettermen who should have been consulted at some point in this process are now infuriated. They were not consulted, they were not told any information upon request and they had no say in who would guide the program they shed their blood, sweat and tears for. They have had incredibly choice words since the hiring and may make things even more difficult for O’Brien on top of many other difficulties he will be facing. The reason for this, again, is a lack of transparency.

Third, the fans and alumni were blatantly lied to. While I do not think these groups should know the inner-workings of a coaching search, as it would probably hinder the process more than anything else, they should also not be toyed with like a yo-yo. We were told, mere hours before this news broke, that the process was ongoing and would hopefully be completed by next week. Once more, there was no transparency.

Fourth, the current coaches, who have decades upon decades of combined service to Penn State, were kept in the dark. As the loyal soldiers they have always been, they coached the bowl game and still recruited, but they had no idea where they were going to be. A few interviewed for the job and a few others have been waiting to know if the new coach would hire them or if they should pursue other options that may now be unavailable. Can you guess why? Yep, a lack of transparency.

Even the media was consistently fooled. The committee may even have fed some of them misinformation. Some journalists made some claims during the entire process that ended up being flat-out wrong and hurting their credibility.

This is not an indictment of O’Brien. This is an indictment of the process. In fact, Penn State officials have not even confirmed or denied Mortensen’s report, so they have left open a little more speculation that things are not as finished as they sound. This is a fiasco of the highest order.

If being transparent to Erickson and the other new Penn State leaders means putting on a blindfold and following, then what have they learned from the previous regime? Many Penn Staters blindly followed what the school sold before November, and it seems that the new leaders want us to do it once more. I say no thanks. I will support O’Brien as the new head coach, but I am infuriated by the process. I am infuriated by the deception. And I am infuriated by the new regime following old habits that died incredibly hard last time.

Jared Ian

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January 6, 2012 8:59 am

Infuriated? A fiasco? They hired a FOOTBALL coach. Who cares if the players did not have input on the hire? Do you really want 18-22 year-olds making this decision? If you want to be mad, be mad at the way the scandal was covered up.

January 6, 2012 9:50 am

I am with Walken on this,
Colleges and Pro Sport Teams are not going to consult with players, current coaching staffs or the media on details of how the hiring process for a new HC is going and it’s foolish to think that they would.. I think the bottom line here is that not many bigger names or expereinced coaches wanted this job at this time following all the crap that’s gone on and were relegated to a your up and comer who is looking for a great opportunity..
I would be more concerned,being a Penn State Fan, about the Following..
#1) O’Brien has no Head Coaching Experience at all, at any level
#2) O’Brien has little exposure to Recruiting which is the backbone to any College Program

January 6, 2012 10:02 am

There are only 2 alumni that I can think of that gets a seat at the table to hire a new football coach in big time college football.

1. Phil Knight at Oegon aka Nike University. He practically put the University on the map with Nike and over 100M in donations.

2. T Boone Pickens at Oklahoma State. He may have given the University over a billion in donations by now. Yes, that’s a B, not a M.

Big college sports is ruled by the dollar, plain and simple.

Nothing is better than great college memories and going up for football games. The degree was well earned, but you are owed nothing going forward. Although, you are still expected to make donations. Todd Blackledge wasn’t consulted, it’s a business desicion made by a select 4 or 5. All we can do is hope the program gets turned around.

January 6, 2012 10:14 am

It was time for a change, the current situation is not how anybody wanted to see it happen. Look at last years NFL draft. Temple, Villanova, and Lehigh all had guys being talked about in the same breath as the Penn State guys.

January 6, 2012 10:44 am

Acutually kids from Temple (Wilkinson & Jarrett),Villanova (Illjalana, Scuzer)and Lehigh (Guard William Brackley) were all talked more about than any of the Players at Penn State..
Probably a good thing is the fact that Penn State has probably hit rock bottom and only can go up from here..I expect O’Brien to put in an dyanmic offense lead to much more Offense so the team will be fun and exciting to watch, but will Top Level Athletes and especially at the skills positions want to go to State College,Pa when they so many other alternatives..
Remember that State College is a pretty rural area not a very diverse area.. the weather can be harsh in the winter time.. Many City Kids may prefer a more Cosmopolitan area to go to College and or better weather and where they feel more comfortable.. A younger kid of today is not going to be enamored or attracted by the Paterno or Penn State mystique that used to be, in fact, many kids or their parents won’t even give the school a look for all the BS that has gone on there for apparently a long time.. ( I wouldn’t for my kids)
I expect a couple of real lean Seasons for the Football Program which is complete afterthought as far as I am concerned , I just hope the school can recapture it’s integrity and credibilty that’s it lost and this will take a while.

January 6, 2012 10:51 am

agreed to all posters. Jared – It’s clear that you have emotions tied to your alma mater, football and this whole situation. That’s quite understandalbe. But your points are pretty wishy washy. You repeatedly pointed out that you understand how transpearancey would hurt the team, but then you expected them to tell you everything. You followed every media rumor and word out of the administration’s mouth – a word to the wise – never ever ever do that again – in any context. Games and practices are months away. They chose a coach. They told you. They chose a qualified coach. What else matters?

January 6, 2012 12:17 pm

Jared – thanks for explaining further. Look, I’m not a PSU fan and really haven’t been since I was a little kid and it was just the thing to do as a PA football fan….

But in light of everything that happened, I find it hard to feel sorry for anyone who wanted the PSU football program to succeed in the short term future in spite of the whole ordeal. If the lesson that “success on the football field for the Nittany Lions is pretty damn unimportant in relation to what goes on in Happy Valley, let alone the world” (just paraphrasing) hasn’t been learned…. well that’s just disgraceful.

I’m sorry, but anyone still emotionally invested in the short term success of PSU football – I don’t have a shred of sympathy for. It’s one or a few college football seasons for crying out loud. Have a sense of perspective.

January 6, 2012 12:33 pm

I agree with Schiller big time.. I think many of us believe the the focus of the University should be clean out all those involved in the cover-up of this horriffic scandal and to start afresh with their Football program and hire a Football Coach and new Leader with a man of Integrity, Credibilty who over time will build a a 1st class Football Program like they use to have many years ago..The Success or Failure of the Football Program should be way down the list of priorites at Penn State University for the Scandall has left a mess and probably has many long tentacles that reach throughout the Universisty as well as the greater State College Community at large including Law Enforcement, the District Attornery’s and even some of the Politics that goes on in Centre County… I’ll be honest, I don’t know much at all about new Coach O’Brien and what his personality is or how he goes about his business.. and I do wish him the best for he seems like a good man and wil lahve his hands full rebuilding the Football Program as well as having to deal with a lot of distractions that he will have no control over, but the Penn State Officials have a ton of work to do in gaining back supporters of th University regardless if they win or lose Football Games which is what the SChools focus should be on..

January 6, 2012 12:48 pm

Jared – Again, I respect that you’re engaging in discussion about this. And I sincerely hope that I didn’t imply that you’re not sensitive to the victims or the meaning of what went on.

And I respect your passionate alumni/fandom. But dude, PSU football is gonna take a hit from this. DUH. They were going to take a hit whenever Paterno left (which would’ve had to happen at some point anyway).

So it might be a little rough for PSU fans who want football success soon. TOUGH LUCK. If you’re so emotionally and passionately invested in a SPORT that a short potential setback maeks you very upset.. .well toughen up son!

That’s life.

January 6, 2012 12:51 pm

I mean Jared, their job was to hire the best coach for rebuilding the integrity and success of the football team – not to rush to hire a big name to secure the short term success of the recruitment class. The short term success isn’t important – if it is to you – get a friggin clue.

January 6, 2012 1:06 pm

Jared, I hear you about the timing, but um, I believe their job was to do a good hire, not to get a ‘big name’ fast. Their job was to make a quality hire, not a speedy one. Rushing the process would’ve been stupid. And they were busy dealing with the fallout from the story weren’t they!?!?

January 6, 2012 2:42 pm

Jared, I went to Lehigh, but have been a PSU fan since I was little.
You sounded like the school mistreated you and the other alumni. The rest of the world sees the numerous boys that were abused and the cover up as the primary issues. I’m sure you understand this, but the football program could be terminated for 5 years as far as most are concerned. PSU students and alumni seem to think they are entitled to football on Saturdays in Happy Valley. Most everyone outside of PSU was disgusted to see students protesting Joe Pa being fired, despite the fact it was the obvious move that had to be done. Supposedly smart kids thinking their football program was untouchable. The programs huge financial success allowed things to be overlooked and it had to finally be stopped.
This is how all us outsiders see the PSU situation, so when you cry about the school or program it falls on deaf ears.

I suggest you wear your PSU gear with pride and look at the big picture.

January 6, 2012 3:03 pm

I think your forgetting an importatnt part here Jarrod,
The Universitry wants a clean break from ther Paterno CLub which knockks out Coachesd like Bradley, Johnson,etc,etc and there are just not a lot of big name coaches kncoking on Penn States door to rebuild this Program with this heavy black cloud over it .. at least no now, maybe in 3-4 years time, other bigger name coaches or alumni players/coaches would be interested, but not now..

January 6, 2012 8:02 pm

Excellent posts Paul and Jp

January 6, 2012 11:48 pm

Jared, first of all, it took so long to hire a coach because no one wanted to touch that cluster f^#@ of a University. Second, the Alumni ought to be happy, that higher ups are trying to clean things up by starting fresh with a face with no ties to any of the past regime. Third, who in business, athletics, or any other successful decision making areas of the world, has to let it’s fans, workers, or alumni in on it’s decisions. You should be happy that they are trying to sort of rectify the black eye that is your school. Also, it is an absolute disgrace, that the Alumni is publicly NOT backing this, while still supporting Joe Pa & his entire regime. All of you should be ashamed to be human beings. You all should be supporting O’Brien & all future changes, in hopes of rebuilding your schools reputation, & public perception, of it’s current disgrace. You must be one of those clowns, that were publicly disgracing themselves on TV, the night of Joe Pa’s firing. Get your self-entitled attitude & priorities right.

January 7, 2012 12:06 am

Another thing, it is irrelevant how any of you feel about this. You all should be focusing on restoring your schools name, & giving all effort to support all of the victims, past & future. Because your school probably won’t recover from this for a decade+.. Especially with future investigations, victims, & lawsuits to come. If you think your emotional now, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. I hate to bring reality into the equation, but all of this isn’t about football, or making you, or any of the Alumni happy. If any of you can’t get that, you need to take a long, deep look into your souls, as human beings. I’ll say a prayer for the victims tonight, then you also.

January 7, 2012 12:20 am

BTW, if the so called Alumni does love PSU, hiring a coach shouldn’t affect donations. That’s a cover-up & excuse. Donation’s will & should suffer, not for the hire, but because of the Black cloud, that is hovering over PSU, because of the quandary that it is currently in.

January 7, 2012 9:40 am

Get over it PSU fans and alumni….you are lucky to have a coach like O’Brien want the job…. no one wanted to coach at PSU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You whine and complain about the way the search was handled, get over it! former players like Arrington and Short are crying because they wanted Tom Bradley to get the job and that was NOT happening….O’Brien will turn the program around and make PSU proud!

January 7, 2012 9:58 am

jarred, you delivered the indictment against the academic integrity of your school, stating that the strength of the university is dependent on the football team, what does that tell us about Penn state