Who exactly is O’Brien? And why was he chosen to succeed the iconic Paterno? Let’s examine that. First, the logical line of thinking is that no current “big name” college coach wanted any part of this public relations nightmare. The collateral damage caused by the allegations surrounding Jerry Sandusky are far-reaching and seemingly here to stay. Why would Nick Saban, who on Monday night won yet another BCS title, leave Alabama to step into a mess? Is it realistic to think that Mike Munchak, upon completion of an admirable inaugural season as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans, would return to his alma mater for 35 percent less money than he’s currently earning? Bob Stoops was surely attainable, but Dave Joyner was supposedly unable to top a real estate hurdle which complicated that possible transaction. And Jon Gruden? Talk about nightmare contracts – Chucky apparently wanted every out-clause known in legalese.
So if the goal was to hire a brand name, it’s very evident that those who fall into such a category wanted to steer clear – hundreds of miles clear – of this scandal and/or made the contract simply too difficult to complete given the time constraints of this disaster.
Still, how did PSU end up settling on O’Brien, who prior to his public spat with all-time all-timer Tom Brady on the sideline recently was basically unknown to a majority of the football universe? There’s an interesting connection here that needs to be discussed.
Ira Lubert is the cash cow behind the recently-concluded search which ultimately landed O’Brien in State College. Lubert is a shrewd businessman from Philadelphia who runs in circles most people don’t even know exist. One of his business partners and colleagues is Ron Jaworski, the current national broadcaster but more importantly – at least to this story – a former quarterback for the Eagles. “Jaws” maintains his residence in suburban Philly and is heavily involved in many Philadelphia sports business deals. He co-owned the Arena Football League’s Philadelphia Soul, has a majority ownership interest in several golf courses in the area and regularly camps out at NFL Films studios breaking down game tapes in nearby Mount Laurel, New Jersey. He is also a prominent figure within the Maxwell Club, which has substantial clout among the inner workings of the sport. In short, Jaws is a very, very highly respected member of the “SportsBiz” community in and around Philadelphia.
When Lubert became one of six men walking the planet placed with the charge of replacing Paterno, it would be naïve to think anything else but that the first phone call he made to at least have a reliable sounding board for ideas was to his local business buddy. As a former quarterback, Jaworski undoubtedly knows that the current trend in both the pro and college game is high-flying offenses which can point points on the board. Not to say that defense doesn’t still win championships because it surely does, but in terms of selling tickets, attracting eyeballs to the television screens and promoting water cooler gossip, it’s all about the offense with a gunslinger under center these days. Put two and two together, and Jaws could’ve easily told Lubert that in order to attract top recruits to State College and improve the area which desperately needs, well, improvement, for Penn State was the offense. Any dope who watched one snap of any Nittany Lions’ game this season easily saw so. This program has been based on defense and a running game since Paterno took over in the late 1960s. An updated offensive philosophy is not only needed, but demanded by the fan base. It’s time.
Jaworski very easily could’ve planted the seeds in Lubert’s mind that a young, up-and-coming offensive coordinator from the NFL was the way to go if in fact the search committee was striking out with the aforementioned current head coaches who politely said, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” for obvious Sandusky-related reasons. If that was the case, the field could’ve then been narrowed to the coaches most closely related to the top quarterbacks in the Sunday game, namely Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Is it a coincidence that Tom Clements’ name was also thrown around during the whacky and wild search period? Clements is Rodgers’ position coach.
Whatever the case may be and however this decision did come to pass, O’Brien has his work cut out for him. He was impressive at his introductory news conference, rightfully acknowledging Paterno and reaching out to a group of former players and alumni who were publicly very upset about his hire. For those worried about the incoming recruiting class, try to think about the bigger picture. Yes, it will sting if Penn State loses Armani Reeves and Cam Williams, but a few missed recruits will not tell the tale of this decision. Give O’Brien a chance. You must – there’s obviously no other choice.
Joyner was in an impossible spot. To give him the benefit of the doubt is surely your choice, but don’t doubt that he certainly understood the scope of how important this decision was. If the best available choice was O’Brien, have faith that he, Lubert and company performed due diligence. O’Brien has been a recruiting coordinator and fully understands that it’s the lifeblood of a successfully collegiate program. He’s already making sound decisions with his assistant coach hires, in particular Mac McWhorter, who will be in charge of the offensive line.
Remember the days when a Penn State front five would force its will on defenses? If you’re under the age of 20, then no, you don’t. It’s probably the most important position group on a football field and has been broken for over 15 years. And yes, that’s a direct shot at Dick Anderson. The list is painful: Mark Farris, Joel Holler, Greg Harrison, Antonio Logan-El, Josh Marks and Eric Shrive just to name a few. Missed opportunities, for various reasons, yes, but still missed nonetheless. It’s time to clean up that mess, and McWhorter is an excellent choice to do so. Shrive, who will enter the 2012 season as a redshirt junior, still has a chance, and certainly he and the other hogs were giddy upon hearing the news of their new taskmaster.
For the time being, keep an eye on the remainder of O’Brien’s hires and hope that he and his new group can salvage a solid class when National Signing Day arrives on February 1. The grasp of how much this fan base is excited about a fresh start will begin to take shape in April when the most anticipated Blue-White scrimmage in history will occur. The fact that said day could bring more fans to Beaver Stadium than September’s Eastern Michigan game is certainly telling.
Now if only Jaworski can further his local influence in a different way and maneuver a certain coach’s son to keep his verbal commitment.