Strength In The Storm

I have a strong connection with Penn State.  My dad went there.  I went to one of their satellite campuses to play baseball my freshman year of college.  The first college football game I attended was the 1990 Blockbuster Bowl when the Lions played my Noles (I was one of two people in our group cheering for FSU that day), and I have been to several other bowl games of their since then.

At this time last year, Happy Valley was not so happy, and rightfully so.  The football program was wrapped up in an ugly scandal, one that cut deep.  There is no need to recap that whole situation here other than to say that I have always felt that one man’s sick actions did not necessarily represent the beliefs and values of the entire university.

When the NCAA announced it was punishing the Nittany Lions for the scandal, even though they gained no on-field competitive advantage and it really was not an NCAA matter, I had my concerns.  While I am a Seminole first, I want to see Penn State do well, unless they are playing FSU.  Even a novice football fan could tell that a 4 year bowl ban, coupled with a loss of 10 scholarships during that time, was going to hurt the Lions for a long time.  Some suggested it would take a decade for the program to recover, and that might still be the case.

When Bill O’Brien was hired away from the New England Patriots to replace Joe Paterno, I thought they made a good choice.  No, he was not a “Penn State guy,” but when is that a requirement to be a good coach?  PSUIt’s not, but some Penn State alumni vowed to stop supporting the program because he was hired.  It told me a lot about their character.

The college football world learned a lot about the character of Bill O’Brien after the sanctions were announced.  He could have voided his contract, and any number of schools and NFL teams would have been happy to hire him, but he did not do that.  He put his head down and got to work.  Some players, including star running back Silas Redd left the program, but O’Brien just kept on working.  A vast majority of the team stayed on for this season, and that told me a lot about the character of those young men.  They were committed to the university, the program, and to O’Brien.  In an unprecedented move for the program, O’Brien had player names put on the back of the jerseys this season.  It was a way to reward the players who stayed, and a way to show that those players would be held accountable for their play this season.  He was not giving them a free pass because things got tough.

Penn State promptly lost its first two games of this season, and I saw a lot of articles and Facebook comments about how happy people were that they had struggled.  Some people felt justification in the struggles of college athletes who had nothing to do with what had happened, and they were taking out their anger and disgust on these young men; I did not understand it then, and I do not understand it now.

With 10 games to go in the season, it appeared as if the Lions were in for a long season, and that it just might take them a decade to recover.  Then they went out and won 8 of those 10 games, and it can be argued that the Nebraska game might have had a different outcome had a touchdown not been incorrectly ruled a fumble.

At 8-4, Penn State would have been bowl eligible this year, but they will not be heading to a bowl.  The players who stayed for the 2012 season showed a lot of character, and will be remembered more because of it than they would have if they had gone to the Alamo Bowl or some other bowl.  The entire team was inducted into the Ring of Honor at Beaver Stadium, and rightfully so.

Bill O’Brien showed what it is like to demonstrate strength through a storm.  While the storm is not yet over, O’Brien sent the message that he is going to face it head-on.  I am excited about the future of the program under Bill O’Brien, even with the inevitable drop-off that is bound to happen over the next few seasons because of the reduction in scholarships.  The Penn State program is going to be stronger on the other side of the storm with O’Brien leading the way.  He was the right man for the job, and I hope he sees it through.  Maybe his approach to the whole situation can be attributed to who he worked for before heading to Happy Valley..Bill Belichick.  Say what you want about Belichick’s coaching style or personality, but there is no denying the success he has had by taking every day as it comes, and every game as its own event; there is no need to get caught up in what tomorrow might bring or in things that are beyond your control.

Whether or not you are a Penn State fan, or whether or not you believe that the program should be punished for the actions of a sick man, you cannot deny that Bill O’Brien did a tremendous job this season.


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