Recruiting picture cloudy as Penn State regroups

The man who built Penn State into a national power is gone,

replaced – for the moment – by chaos.

Joe Paterno’s sudden ouster following the arrest of longtime

assistant Jerry Sandusky on charges of child molestation has rocked

one of college football’s most enduring programs to the core.

While Paterno’s firing after 46 seasons was stunning to be sure,

the things Paterno put in place that made the Nittany Lions a

desired destination for some of the nation’s top talent for decades


Beaver Stadium still seats 107,000. The facilities are still

pristine. The Big Ten is still formidable and on television every


It’s why the expected flood of recruits out the door following

Paterno’s departure has been a trickle at best. Only Windsor

(Colo.) offensive lineman Joey O’Conner has backed out of his

verbal commitment.

The rest remain on board waiting to see who will fill Paterno’s

iconic black sneakers.

”It’s not catastrophic,” said Mike Farrell, national

recruiting analyst for ”Everybody in every industry is

saying `Oh my gosh, this is the end of Penn State and it’s going to

take years and years to recover.’ If they get the right person in

there, moving forward they’ll be Penn State again.”

Even if they won’t look quite the same without Paterno, and

that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Though the Nittany Lions have routinely landed Top 25 recruiting

classes, Farrell gives the program a ”B-minus” over the last

decade, due in part to the physical limitations Paterno faced in

his advanced age. His limited travel schedule prevented him from

hitting the recruiting trail during November and December, allowing

key recruits in Penn State’s backyard to slip through the school’s


The list of Pennsylvania natives who opted to play out of state

over the last decade include Terrelle Pryor (Jeannette, Pa.), who

went to Ohio State. And then, there were those key recruits from

Pennsylvania, who stayed in state, but ignored Penn State, like

Darrelle Revis (Aliquippa, Pa.), who chose Pitt.

”They’ve had limitations, one of those being Joe Paterno being

unable to do in home visits and really not being an active member

of the recruiting staff,” Farrell said. ”Plus they had an older

group of coaches that weren’t not as energetic on recruiting trail.

They’ve been underachieving a bit.”

Farrell understands it’s difficult to talk about the recruiting

impact when there’s so much more at stake. Yet the football program

will move on, and despite the upheaval high school coaches who have

urged their best players to head Happy Valley for years will

continue to do so if it remains a good fit.

”I’d send a kid to Penn State, I still have respect for Penn

State,” longtime George Washington (Philadelphia, Pa.) coach Ron

Cohen said. ”Penn State is still a great school. The program is

good. But I would think change is inevitable. It’s about money and

public image.”

And the school is eager to distance its image from the one of

Sandusky being led away in handcuffs, even though the retired

defensive coordinator continued to be a vigorous advocate for his

alma mater even as a grand jury investigated claims he molested

underage boys over a 15-year period.

Sandusky attended a football camp for Polynesian players in Utah

over the summer and urged all in attendance to play for Paterno.

His message resonated with Adam Ah Ching, a linebacker at Greer

(S.C.) High.

”Who wouldn’t want to go to Linebacker U?” said Otto Ah Ching,

Adam’s father.

Not Adam, who removed Penn State from his list of possible

destinations after charges were levied against Sandusky.

”It was really devastating,” Otto Ah Ching said. ”We were all


The widespread fallout, however, could help the school move on

quickly. Paterno, former university president Graham Spanier and

university vice president Gary Schultz are all gone. Athletic

director Tim Curley is on leave, as is assistant coach Mike

McQueary, who witnessed Sandusky and a young boy in the shower

together in 2002 and reported the incident to Paterno but did not

go to authorities.

More changes will be on the way. Tom Bradley will coach the team

on Saturday against No. 19 Nebraska, but he’s not expected to be a

viable candidate to replace his mentor. New school president Rod

Erickson stressed Bradley has the title only on an interim


The massive shift away from Paterno is jarring. It was also

expected on some level.

Despite his insistence to not put an expiration date on his

career, his days atop the program were dwindling to a precious few.

Paterno was in the final year of his contract, even if no one

anticipated the end coming on a quick phone call from the board of

trustees telling the man who spent the last 61 years on campus his

services would no longer be needed.

The next few months will be difficult to be sure. Yet there are

a number of high-profile candidates out there, though it might not

take one to jolt some life back into the program. The Nittany Lions

are ranked in the Top 15 in mid-November on the talent of players

who committed to the program even though they didn’t know or expect

the 84-year-old Paterno to be there when they graduated.

”The one slight advantage they have is that all the kids that

were looking at Penn State, chose Penn State for reasons other than

Joe Paterno,” Farrell said.

When national signing day arrives in February, Paterno won’t be

around to tout the next wave of Nittany Lions for the first time

since Harry Truman was president. There will be a coach there,

however. And there will still be scholarships to offer. And there

will be players looking to put on blue-and-white and run through

the tunnel and wait for the student section to bounce to the sounds

of the band playing ”Seven Nation Army.”

One of them could be St. Joseph’s Prep (Philadelphia, Pa.)

quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg, a highly touted recruit who chose

Penn State, and is the son of Philadelphia Eagles offensive

coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

Mornhinweg has had an interesting recruiting journey already. He

originally committed to Stanford, but backed out of it, when former

Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers.

Would he back out again?

”We have to wait to see how things play out,” St. Joseph’s

Prep coach Gabe Infante said. ”In fairness to the university, and

everyone around Penn State football, you have to see how things

play out, because one person made an alleged poor decision. It

would be prudent for a recruit to take their time.”

Those who do choose Penn State, will do so based largely on

faith in the new coach. Not disbelief in what happened in the final

days of the last one.

”Football is football,” Farrell said. ”These kids are going

to look at it differently when a new face is brought in there and a

new staff brought in there and they march them out with new

president and a new athletic director and say `This is the new Penn


Additional reporting by Pete Iacobelli in South Carolina.