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Once again, Penn St. shows it's clueless
What we know now — as emotions run hot in Happy Valley and among those still stuck in its sphere of influence and absurd thinking — is sad, stupid and all too familiar.
New Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, right, along with his wife, Colleen, lands in State College, Pa., on Friday. It's the first change in leadership for the storied football program in nearly a half-century. The 42-year-old is set to be formally announced at a news conference Saturday morning.The Patriot-News, Joe Hermitt
The same forces are at it again: Nittany Lions apologists, sports fanatics and otherwise right-thinking fans who have lost track of themselves and those things that matter in the clutter and cloud of misplaced loyalty when the Jerry Sandusky scandal first broke.
This time, amazingly, it’s because non-Penn State man Bill O’Brien is Penn State’s next head football coach. Former players and current fans and supporters have loudly denounced the decision, crying foul, complaining, making threats — an all-too-familiar response, again triggered by focusing on the wrong things.
“I will put my Butkus (Award) in storage,” former Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington told Rivals.com. “I will put my Alamo Bowl MVP trophy in storage. Jerseys, anything Penn State, in storage. Wherever Tom Bradley goes, that’s the school I will start to put memorabilia up in my home. I’m done. I’m done with Penn State. If they’re done with us, I’m done with them.”
That would be Tom Bradley, longtime Joe Paterno assistant, Sandusky pal, until Friday interim head coach and, no, not the permanent replacement for JoePa.
Note that Arrington and those like him didn’t decide to be done with Penn State when the Sandusky child sexual-abuse scandal first broke. Notice he and those like him — as detailed allegations of evil and horror spread, made possible in part because of football and Penn State — did not suddenly decide it was time to take their loyalties elsewhere.
But now — now that a longtime Paterno assistant, Penn State insider and one-time Sandusky friend gets passed over — now’s the time for moral self-righteousness, threats of separation and “change-or-I’m-going” hand wringing?
Are these guys serious?
Paging Ashton Kutcher. Perhaps he can explain to so many people — fans, former athletes, Happy Valley residents living in that mind-boggling and faux reality — what happens when you offer up knee-jerk support for a football coach when there’s a scandal alleging the brutal abuse of young children, accusations of cover-ups and an ensuing level of crass obtuseness that in a normal world should inform one’s thinking.
Yet here we are again. First we had Paterno — after his failure to do enough to stop the grotesque abuse that is alleged to have occurred — leading a pep rally in his front yard because he and his sycophantic followers were still focused on things other than the children. Even the journalists without the guts to speak truth to JoePa power were smart enough to disappear quickly as could be.
Even cowards, when assessing things properly, can see the moral handwriting on the wall.
So why can’t so much of Penn State?
Now O’Brien, the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator and a man with, mercifully, no ties to Penn State, is taking over as the school’s head coach, and everyone is up in arms.
And instead of some soul searching, some celebration of moving forward, or just an acknowledgment that at Penn State football no longer is important enough to get all high and mighty over — instead, we have more ugly, misplaced self-righteousness.
“Penn State is a family and it is real, and if they choose to get rid of Bradley and not hire a Penn State coach, then they’ve turned their backs on our entire family,” said Brandon Short, another former linebacker for the school.
Here we go again, more proof that in America we don’t handle hard truths well. The hard truth here is Penn State’s decision to reach for an outsider makes it official that all the things Penn State believed it stood for, it did not. It’s hard to learn you lived a lie, but in this case what forced the truth upon everyone is too big to ignore.
So I mean this with no malice or meaning beyond the statement itself: Get a clue.
Starting, perhaps, with the fact that if the allegations are true, the Penn State family was betrayed by Sandusky, and any enablers of the man. Which means any reaction to that betrayal — like going outside for a fresh start — is done in the family’s interest.
Can the folks in Happy Valley really not see this?
Can they not see that this is more than a football-coaching job? That it’s a chance to move past the Joe Paterno era, and thus Sandusky?
I mean this entirely in more than football terms.
The players and fans complaining that O’Brien is not a “Penn State man” — like the students who stood on Paterno’s lawn and chanted, “We are Penn State!” instead of dwelling on the darkness infecting their school — seem not understand that football is not some religion that trumps all truths.
Will O’Brien bring winning ways back to Penn State — bowl wins and national promise and recruiting prowess and all the things that satiate the pride of a once-great and now wounded football program?
I have no idea. Certainly those who leave the Bill Belichick coaching tree rarely sprout their own serious success stories, and certainly there are worries that O’Brien’s thin resume, lack of recruiting experience and other concerns will end badly.
But more to the point: I couldn’t care less if he doesn’t work out on the field. The fact that he might succeed, and that he’s a fresh start, matters. It really, truly does.
I care about the idea that Penn State is willing to move beyond the JoePa era, to not play to the crowd chanting on JoePa’s lawn and instead to do whatever is possible for the already abused — prayers or silence or letters to administrators and lawmakers or, even, a player like LaVar Arrington saying his allegiances have shifted over such evil.
It’s time to move on, Penn State. It doesn’t matter if Bradley wasn’t the guy responsible for overlooking the allegations against Sandusky; it doesn’t matter if Bradley had nothing to do with Sandusky, or whether they were close friends who spent time together and had an association that in retrospect seems untenable.
It matters that an institution seems to have protected someone accused of being a predator, through incompetence or strategy or arrogance or some combination. It matters, and there must be change.
To be fair, some in the Penn State family seem to get this.
“Much is being said about the hiring of Bill O'Brien as the next football coach at Penn State,” said former Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins. “I do not know him. I have never met him nor been coached by him. One thing I do know is that I will support him, and I call on all Penn State football lettermen to do the same.
"Whether you agree or disagree with his hiring, we should support him. Instead of chastising him for not being a Penn Stater, let's show him what it means to be a Penn Stater. Coach O'Brien is faced with the daunting task of resurrecting our beloved, yet bruised program. Let's support him in any way we can.”
How wonderful it would be if this were the prevailing view — if, in fact, Collins didn’t have to release a statement at all.
It shouldn’t matter that Bradley was 1-3 as an interim coach, or that he lost his bowl game, or that in football terms — something, again, no longer as relevant as responding to the non-football horrors that now define this program — he’s not exactly a slam dunk.
The fact is that on Friday it became official that O’Brien is coming to Happy Valley to stay.
So forget football for just a moment, Happy Valley. Maybe this guy, this stranger — this non-Penn State man — can finally chart a course away from JoePa, Sandusky and those who still don’t get it.
Win or lose on the field, that’s the victory you should be rooting dearly for.
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at email@example.com.