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