Tough Road Awaits Bill O’Brien

Published On July 23, 2012 | By Courtney Fallon


A substantial test of loyalty awaits Penn State football coach Bill O’Brien.

It began early Monday morning, with the unprecedented sanctions handed down by NCAA President Mark Emmert over the Penn State football program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky’s child sex abuse scandal.

$60 million in school funding is gone. Four years of bowl eligibility stripped away. Significant scholarship opportunities and funding will cripple the Nittany Lions football program over its next five years of NCAA probation. Preparing for the team’s long, arduous, and highly scrutinized 2012 season will take more than just ‘Ignoring the Noise.’

O’Brien, who recently left his post as offensive coordinator of the Patriots, issued the following statement this afternoon:

“Today we receive a very harsh penalty from the NCAA and as Head Coach of the Nittany Lions football program, I will do everything in my power to not only comply, but help guide the University forward to become a national leader in ethics, compliance and operational excellence. I knew when I accepted the position that there would be tough times ahead. But I am committed for the long term to Penn State and our student athletes.

“I was then and I remain convinced that our student athletes are the best in the country. I could not be more proud to lead this team and these courageous and humble young men into the upcoming 2012 season. Together we are committed to building a better athletic program and university.”

Despite the prognostications of doom, O’Brien appears to be staying in State College and will begin laying down the framework for his decimated football program. Judging from the tone of his most recent statement, O’Brien seems up to the challenge.

His first task is keeping a full roster. Under the bylaws of the Penn State sanctions, players are permitted to transfer from the university immediately without serving a penalty. That’s a tough sell for your sophomore and junior athletes. Stick with a program draped in chains, or jump ship and head for greener pastures? It’s even tougher to imagine O’Brien trying to recruit student-athletes knowing they are committed to school that is ineligible for conference championship games and exiled from the new 14-team NCAA collegiate playoffs.

Perhaps the toughest sanction blanketed over the university is the hit to the school’s scholarship funding. The NCAA has pulled significant scholarship money and resources away from the university athletic program. Although it is relatively unfair to take away future educational opportunities from the perspective of student athletes, it is the all part of the steep price Penn State must pay for crimes committed years ago.

Hindsight is 20/20. O’Brien accepted this job knowing something of this magnitude might come down from above. After Monday morning, the NCAA has invalidated Joe Paterno’s legacy, vacating 111 of a record 409 wins from the Sandusky years (1998-2011). JoePa’s statue no longer stands outside Beaver Stadium, and he is no longer the winningest coach in Division I NCAA football history.

Bill O’Brien still has much he can benefit from by remaining at Penn State.

By nuking Paterno’s legacy, any success O’Brien has will be viewed as a miraculous accomplishment. Everything Paterno stood for is all a thing of the past. And if Bill O’Brien thrives and goes on to send top-quality talent to the NFL, he has a slim chance to survive the NCAA sanctions.

One week from now, our ideas regarding this issue might change. O’Brien stands to lose a number of his student-athletes. His team could be crumbling before our eyes, but all of that remains to be seen. Many in the college football community believe the death penalty—shutting down the program for a number of years— would have been better for the program.

Since the NCAA has chosen to bury Penn State alive, someone must be held accountable for steering the program in the right directions. It seems as though O’Brien has done well in his recruiting process so far. Freshman tight end Adam Breneman and quarterback Christian Hackenberg said they want to help O’Brien re-build the brand.

“This is bigger than football,” Breneman recently told a reporter from The Times Herald, a Montgomery, Penn. county newspaper.  “We really want to be difference-makers in the Penn State community.”

Hackenberg, who admits he chose Penn State because of O’Brien’s Tom Brady connection, chimed a similar tune in the same article: “Unless Coach O’Brien leaves or is fired, I’m staying at Penn State. We feel this class can play a big part in how (Penn State) moves on from this.”

“The longer Bill O’Brien stays in State College, Penn., the better off he is even though he may have Bill Belichick on the other line in case he ever wants to leave. Under significant pressure this season, O’Brien is the man to right the ship, and steer the program in a positive direction.

And the whole world is watching.

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