By Thomas Frank Car
Who would have thought two years ago that Penn State football fans would be devastated by the loss of Bill O’Brien?
Let’s step back in time for a second. In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State fans watched in horror as their university was dragged through the mud. Their fallen hero, Joe Paterno, was put up for beheadings by an angry mob of media that stormed the sleepy little valley in Pennsylvania like the French storming the Bastille. Any semblance of leadership or courage from the program seemed to have vanished under the horrifying weight of what had gone on at the Lasch building.
It was common knowledge to fans that they (whoever they were) were going to screw up in finding the next coach for Penn State. Look at all that had gone wrong already. Let’s also not forget that it had been 40 years since they had to find a new coach. Then after one firing, two ‘administrative leaves’ and a two month search it was announced that Bill O’Brien was going to be the next head coach of Penn State Football.
Who? Was the common response to that announcement. Some dismissed the hiring as a sacrificial lamb to get the program through four years of abhorrent football. Others viewed it as an insult to Penn State culture that an ‘outsider’ would be given the top job at Penn State.
Yet here we are. Fast forward two years and we saw a coaching miracle bloom in front of our eyes. O’Brien turned what yours truly called the ‘run, run, pass, punt’ offense under Paterno, into a modern day attack that was actually exciting to watch again. He rallied his team, fought off poachers, stuck up for his kicker, and won coach of the year. That was all just in his first year. We could go on and on about O’Brien’s accomplishments but we’re all aware of them. If you aren’t there will be a dearth of stories written about it in the next few days.
So how should fans feel about O’Brien? Betrayed? Devastated? Thankful? For most this is the struggle of emotion they are dealing with right now. The fact of the matter is that most fans don’t know how to react. Just when Penn State fans were letting themselves seriously think about national titles, championship games… all of that is put on hold.
For most of the lives of Penn State fans, this wasn’t an issue. The sun would rise and set, seasons would change, and Joe Paterno would be the head coach of the Nittany Lions. Like the mountains around Happy Valley shield the town from the worst of Pennsylvania weather, Paterno created a bubble around Penn State football. Outside the world of high stakes college football evolved. Gone are the days of coaches staying for a decade or more. Jobs are stepping stones to other jobs now. Fans have enjoyed the thrill of modern age football for two years. Well it's a double edged sword. If you are successful there is a very high chace that other programs, college or pro, will try to lure your staff away. USC, Florida, and Texas all had success and still lost coaches like Pete Carrol, Urban Meyer and Mack Brown. Just add Penn State to the list.
What O’Brien did is not uncommon. It’s just uncommon for Penn State. Fans need to stop acting like this has been some violation of trust.
And who knows, two years ago the Penn State coaching search yielded something no one expected. It could very well happen again.