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Penn State Coaching Mess Getting Worse Due to Out of Touch Former Players

The new face of Penn State football.
The new face of Penn State football.

Something became more and more clear over the months since Penn State fired Joe Paterno: the head coaching job there is radioactive. Not only is it not a good idea to be the guy who follows the legend, but the Jerry Sandusky scandal is among the worst there's ever been in college sports. The fact that a coach (Mike McQueary) and two school officials (Tim Curley and Gary Schultz) are going to be involved in high profile court cases over the coming months doesn't make it any better.

So the school ended up with Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien. He's not a big name and doesn't appear to have earned a job as prestigious as Penn State's, but the school can't hire a big name right now. He at least has been a college coach for much of his career (mostly in the ACC) and has worked under some pretty good coaches before. If the school was looking for an inoffensive placeholder who has never worked with Sandusky to mind the store until the scandal blows over, O'Brien appears to fit the bill.

The hire seems to have pushed a berserk button among a number of former players. LaVar Arrington says he's no longer a Penn State guy. Former All-American Brandon Short says the university is no longer Penn State. Their complaints? The school didn't hire a Penn State guy. D.J. Dozier and an number of other former All-Americans are upset that they weren't consulted:

"I would venture to say that a lot of guys thought, why not? Why wouldn't someone ask us? Aren't we a part of this university? Aren't we a part of the program? Don't we care? Don't we have a little bit of expertise or at least a thought that may spur another thought? I believe to get the right or best answer, you survey the land.

"So, do the guys feel left out and pushed to the side? Well, of course..." [All quotes by Dozier]

I understand that Penn State hasn't gone looking for a new head coach in a few decades, but how out of touch can these guys be? Hiring someone with ties to a school is no longer a requirement in major college coaching and hasn't been for some time. The era when lifers and insiders like Tom Osborne, Steve Spurrier, and Phil Fulmer won national titles passed a decade ago.

Nick Saban had no ties to LSU or Alabama before taking those jobs. Urban Meyer had no ties to Florida before taking the job there. Les Miles had no LSU ties before taking the job there. Mack Brown had no ties to Texas before taking the job there. Pete Carroll had no ties to USC before taking the job there. Bob Stoops had no ties to Oklahoma before taking the job there. The most you can say is that Gene Chizik, Jim Tressel, and Butch Davis had a couple of years as assistants at Auburn, Ohio State, and Miami (FL) before taking those jobs, but none of them were "guys" of those schools. Even some people who end up lifers don't start out that way; Bobby Bowden had never worked a day in the state of Florida before taking the job at FSU.

And for another thing: what school in its right mind would consult with former players before hiring a coach? Do you think Jeremy Foley called up Danny Wuerffel or Tim Tebow for advice before hiring Will Muschamp? Do you think Jay Barker had to sign off on Saban being hired in Tuscaloosa? I can't imagine Georgia asking Hershel Walker, Buck Belue, and Lindsay Scott for their opinions prior to hiring Mark Richt.

Penn State is in a special situation, as the acting AD making the hire only has ties to sports via being an orthopedic surgeon with a specialty in sports medicine. However, there are a number of coaching search firms that are far better equipped for helping out than former players are. Whether Penn State used a search firm I don't know, but the point is that including former All-Americans in a coaching search simply because they're former All-Americans is asinine.

It still is bad news for Penn State that these former players are revolting. Fans often follow famous players' lead in setting their sentiments, which means O'Brien might not get a fair shake because of them. A school can get by with one or two big names not in support; Florida was just fine while Emmitt Smith refused to return to Gainesville because he didn't get along with Spurrier. You can't lose a lot of them and expect to keep fan support high, though.

Penn State couldn't realistically hire as head coach or retain anyone who had ever played under or worked with Sandusky. The scandal surrounding the former defensive coordinator is that toxic. Among the top PSU current staff, that leaves 71-year-old Galen Hall and co-DC Ron Vanderlinden (who only became co-DC after Paterno's firing). Hall is too old and, while he's a "Penn State guy", I'm not sure Vanderlinden's resume is all that much better than O'Brien's is.

I don't think O'Brien is that great a hire even given the circumstances, but I am reluctant to bash it simply because I don't know exactly how bad it was behind the scenes. I agree with the number of people saying they should have gone after FIU's Mario Cristobal, but would a real up-and-comer risk derailing his career to take over the PSU mess? I have real doubts about it.

But even if O'Brien isn't going to do a good job, these unrealistic former players are making things worse. And when it comes to hire O'Brien's successor? They will make it even worse then. I can't help but think PSU is going to be down for quite some time.