Phil Sheridan: Outrage over hiring of O'Brien at Penn State is misguided

Posted: January 08, 2012

The backlash against Penn State's hiring of Bill O'Brien is, ironically, the most compelling argument in favor of the decision to replace Joe Paterno with an outsider.

To wail about the search process or its outcome or some perceived injustice to interim coach Tom Bradley and his staff is to admit that you just don't get it. That applies to current underclassmen and longtime boosters and all-time great ex-players such as LaVar Arrington, whose public comments are stunning in their willful ignorance and tone-deafness.

If you think Bradley or anyone on the current staff had a chance, let alone a claim on the job, you don't get it.

If your main concern is how the choice and the timing affect recruiting, you don't get it.

If you're shocked the university didn't go with someone from the Penn State "family," you don't get it.

If you saw the tragic end of the Paterno era as an opportunity to upgrade to one of college football's ethically challenged proven winners, you really don't get it.

This was not the typical college football coaching search. This was not business as usual. This was not about seamlessly changing coaches and contending in the Big Ten in 2012.

Once the shocking Jerry Sandusky allegations became public, the Penn State football program as defined for six decades was finished. How is that not clear? And yet, as Arrington and some other former players proved, there are skulls thick enough to keep this reality from sinking in.

"I will put my Butkus [Award] in storage," Arrington told Blue White Illustrated. "I will put my Alamo Bowl MVP trophy in storage. Jerseys, anything Penn State, in storage. Wherever Tom Bradley goes, that's the school I will start to put memorabilia up in my home. I'm done. I'm done with Penn State. If they're done with us, I'm done with them."

According to Blue White Illustrated, another former linebacker, Brandon Short, chimed in with this:

"Penn State is a family and it is real and if they choose to get rid of Bradley and not hire a Penn State coach, then they've turned their backs on our entire family."

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a deeply dysfunctional and troubled family. There was no choice but to make a break here. Bradley is by all accounts a good man, and he stepped in to handle a thankless and difficult situation after Paterno's dismissal. But he played for and coached with Sandusky for nearly a quarter-century. It was an impossibility for the university to give Bradley the head coaching job in the wake of all that has happened.

The fact that Bradley's short tenure was distinguished by one of his players beating the starting quarterback into unconsciousness could not have helped his candidacy.

Could the search committee have found someone with Penn State ties, but not too closely allied to the previous regime? Probably. Coaches such as Al Golden and Greg Schiano and Mike Munchak are out there. They have Penn State backgrounds but have gone on to build separate careers and reputations. In time, maybe we'll find out the committee talked to and was turned down by coaches who fit that description.

This is a toxic job for a lot of people.

As for O'Brien, the truth is that no one knows whether he will be the right coach for this difficult situation. His experience at schools like Duke and Maryland should help him establish a clean program that pays more than lip service to ideals like fair play and reasonable graduation rates. His experience in the NFL should help him attract elite players and implement a more exciting style of football in State College.

Presumably, if the goal was to reset Penn State football while adhering to Paterno's best qualities, O'Brien outlined a plan that satisfied the search committee.

O'Brien, the program, and the university deserve a chance to see that plan put into effect without the shrill cries of clueless alumni and students. If it requires a step back on the field, then so be it. If it means some discomfort for people steeped in the Paterno way of doing things, that's just the way it has to be.

If nothing else, O'Brien deserves the benefit of the doubt for having the backbone to take on this unique challenge. He could have made more money and taken an easier path by waiting for an NFL job to come his way. Just taking this job should earn him respect and patience from the so-called Penn State "family."

The most outraged and outspoken will be placated the moment O'Brien starts winning games. They have established that all they care about is football, so success on the field will pacify them and shut them up. Beat Ohio State and LaVar Arrington's trophies will be out of storage before the final gun.

Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844,, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at

and his columns at


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