Sunday, January 8, 2012

What can Penn State expect in the post Joe Pa era

As an Alabama fan who has really lived through the entire highs and lows of the post Bear Bryant era (the only games I even remember watching of the Bryant era are the 1982 Penn State and Liberty Bowl games), this is provided as a public service announcement since you have to replace a legendary coach, while dealing with scandal, a divided athletic department and a fragile psyche.

You see, Alabama has had to deal with Bryant's shadow for over a quarter century. I think part of the problems during that time is the Bryant passed away less then a month after coaching his last game and thus there was never a transition period or hearing his opinion on issues over the years, that in some ways may have led to an even greater growing of his legacy.

There were family hires in Ray Perkins, Gene Stallings, Mike Dubose and Mike Shula. There were completely out of the box hirings of Bill Curry and Mike Price. There were hirings of the hot name coach in Dennis Franchione. Then we finally went to find the best coach money can buy mode and hired Nick Saban, who is 47-6 in the last 4 years with his second national title game appearance coming on Monday.

So what can you expect Penn State fans and how long will your struggles last? In no particular order, these are some of the feelings you may have in the next decade or longer an may have already experienced some of them.

1. Disappointment. This comes in many forms, from losing games to inferior competition, to having your university's name involved in scandal to wondering why you can't hire a big time coach.

There already seems to be major disappointment in some camps about the current coaching search and hire. Bottom line is with everything thats happened at PSU and the unknown thats still out there, you stood virtually no chance of getting a proven, established coach. But on the next hire (and yes, there will be a next hire) you will have a better chance of landing a hire profile, established coach.

2. Division. Its already happened with the lettermen, Lavar Arrington and many others who have been outspoken about the hiring process and who has been hired. There is also division within the athletic department and administration that even a blind referee could see.

I'm sure there will be a sense of some unity as next year nears, but that division will seep back in among the fan base at different levels with each bad loss or blown game. Some will stick behind the team and coach, others will desert knowing that the writing is on the wall and you can't win in the current situtation.

3. Stop dragging our name in the mud mode. There will be numerous times your school will be criticized by people who never came within a stone's throw of State College. They will bad mouth you time and again, you will want it to stop but it won't. This is a tough pill to swallow because you love your university and outsiders are criticizing it, but it will hang out there like the elephant in the back of the room.

And with almost certainty, when there is turmoil, the national media will always turn to one person who has experience at PSU to discuss the issues at hand, like it or not he will usually speak poorly even if all of the facts aren't there (I think for PSU it will be Matt Millen). For Alabama, Bill Curry always popped up on the radar with every coaching change, speaking about the Alabama Mafia and a brick through the window incident at every turn. It becomes a broken record, like always counting on seeing a local news story at the post office on April 15th when tax returns are due.

4. Thinking your a national power when your not mode. This one's tough, because you have tradition, but the PA announcer does not say before the game, "Due to Tradition, Penn State will start with a 17-0 lead over Northwestern" before you even kick off. But some fans and others will be in denial of how bad things are, knowing that you are closer to being an also ran program like Ole Miss or Illinois then you are of being elite like an Alabama or LSU right now. So when inexplicable losses happen or over a 5 year period you go 2-3 vs Minnesota, those things are tough to swallow.

5. Poor Recruiting days. If I could offer any advice to Coach O'Brien, forget 2012, start on 2013. This year is lost, it can't be saved. Go focus on 2013 and even 2014. Get out, make yourself seen and known throughout the entire keystone state and the northeast. You must build relationships quickly and focus down the road. Its what Saban did when he came in and Gene Chizik did the same thing. You will force the other schools to keep up or their lazy recruiting will be sniffed out and eventually you will dominate them on the field (see Phill Fulmer and Mark Richt). I bets its been light years since a PSU coach has stepped foot in over 90% of the high schools in Pennsylvania. Make it a point to have a coach visit each one, it will help you out in the long run even though we all know most of those schools will never produce a D-1 product, but you will begin the healing process for your university in doing so.

6. Inconsistency mode. For a decade, Alabama would have a losing season, then go to a bowl and year 3 win 10 games and go to a big New Year's Day game. Shula, Franchonie and Dubose all won 10 games in a season, but even an incompetent coach will eventually win 10 games because their is so much support in place that its hard not to half way win at a tradition rich school. Penn State falls into this category, so expect a 10 win season, just don't fall for the foolish contract extensions, make them prove it more then a flash in the pan win over one or two good teams at home.

7. Destruction of property mode. Could be trees, remote controls, furniture, letting out frustrating yells, cursing, slamming of hands against couch, walls or bleachers, kicking items, screaming at family members for no apparent reason, wanting to punch your rival friends out, dreading going to work on Monday. All of these can occur at the unlikeliset moment.

I hope all this helps. Your talking to an individual who sat through losses to La. Monroe, La. Tech, Central Florida, Northern Illinois, Southern Miss and has witnessed giving up first downs on 4th and 19, losing in 5 overtimes, getting ripped apart in SEC road games, losing Orange Bowls on missed extra points, getting beat by your rivals 6 and 7 times in a row.

But I also been there for the SEC titles, the rebirth and hopefully a third national title this week. So its been worth it keeping the season tickets even in the darkest of mements over the past 15 years.

So good luck PSU fans, these dark days will pass Penn State, it might just take several years or a couple of decades, but you'll get through them and come back out on top one day.

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