F. Dale Lolley's Sports Column

Welcome to college football, Penn State

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Penn State is back in the market for a head football coach after Bill O’Brien agreed Tuesday night to accept a head coaching position with the Houston Texans. O’Brien will reportedly sign a five-year contract and be introduced by the Texans today at an afternoon press conference.


So now a school that had just two head football coaches from 1950 through 2010 – everyone forgets that Rip Engle was there for 16 seasons before Joe Paterno’s 45-year run - will now be looking for its fourth head coach since the start of the 2011 season.


That’s getting into Cleveland Browns range.


Heck, Pitt, which has been ridiculed for its head coaching turnstile in recent seasons, has only had three since 2011, including interim coach Keith Patterson, who led the Panthers for one game after Todd Graham took his traveling carnival show to Arizona State.


Welcome to the world of college football Nittany Lions fans. This is what happens at schools across the country every year.


But, for 46 years under Joe Paterno, it’s what didn’t happen at Penn State. Penn State had stability. Penn State had honor, such as it is in college football.


And as we later found out with the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State had secrets; dirty, vile, contemptuous ones.


O’Brien was supposed to help salve the wounds inflicted on the Penn State program by the Sandusky scandal and – at this point – alleged cover up.


He was supposed to be a standup guy. He stood up, all right. O’Brien stood up and left the first chance he got, apparently weary with dealing with the people in State College who refuse to stop living in the Paterno past.


Where does Penn State go from here?


There will be pressure to hire a “Penn State guy,” somebody with ties to Paterno, somebody who won’t jump ship the first time a better offer comes along. There will be pressure to hire somebody who sees Penn State as a destination, not a turnstile for a better situation.


Former Penn State assistant Greg Schiano, former Nittany Lions tight end Al Golden, Langhorne native James Franklin and San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman are the names that are the most mentioned.


But is any of that group anything special?


Schiano, fired by Tampa Bay Monday after leading the Bucs to an 11-21 record in two seasons, spent 11 seasons at Rutgers. In those 11 seasons, the Scarlet Knights went 68-67 and finished fourth place or worse eight times in the Big East.


In contrast, Dave Wannstedt finished third or better in the Big East five out of six seasons at Pitt before getting fired.


Sure, Schiano turned Rutgers into a winning program. But was it really? In his final season there, Rutgers went 9-4 with four of those victories coming over North Carolina Central, Ohio, Army and Navy. What, the Coast Guard Academy didn’t want to play?


Like Schiano, Golden has a so-so track record.


He’s been at Miami – which he called a “dream job” when he was hired - for three seasons, leading the Hurricanes to a 22-15 record. Prior to that, he was head coach at Temple, where he compiled a 27-34 record playing in the Mid-American Conference.


Franklin has bounced on the coaching carousel since graduating from East Stroudsburg, where he played quarterback from 1991 through 1994. Since 1995, he’s coached at 10 different stops. Yes, he’s led Vanderbilt to a 23-15 record in three seasons. But the Commodores have never finished higher than fourth in their division of the SEC in any season under his guidance.


Roman was a finalist for the Penn State job when O’Brien was hired, but has spent the vast majority of his career coaching in the NFL. His name has also surfaced as a potential candidate in several of the current NFL openings, and he might prefer to stay at the professional level rather than deal with recruiting.


The bottom line is Penn State has its work cut out for it, sifting through the flotsam for its next head coach. The school doesn’t want to be a revolving door for coaches. No school does.


But with NCAA sanctions still in place, Nittany Lions fans and the administration must realize coaching Penn State football isn’t the destination job it once was considered. Those days are gone, thanks in part to the football program itself.


It got too big to fail, at least in the eyes of those who allegedly chose to cover up Sandusky’s crimes rather than do something about them.


For years under Paterno, Penn State and its fans were insulated from the unscrupulous side of college football, the side where football coaches come and go, leaving for better jobs at the drop of a hat.


Those days are now gone, lost in the recesses of the Penn State football facility along with the cries for help from Sandusky’s victims that went unheeded.


Whether the pro-Paterno crowd at Penn State likes it or not, that’s part of the school’s legacy as well.



F. Dale Lolley can be reached at dlolley@observer-reporter.com.


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