No pressure, though.
The school could hire the right permanent athletic director - someone from the outside, like O'Brien; a strong, veteran athletic personality with no current ties to the school and, especially, no current ties to the football coach - and it would not matter.
The school could complete an honest and thorough investigation of what happened and pull no punches in the report that it publishes, and it would not matter.
The school could put in place the kind of safeguards - not only against child abuse, but also against the insidious silence that can accompany it - and begin to practice transparency to the point of acute embarrassment, and it would not matter.
No one would notice if the football team was winning five or six games a year. All of the good would be cloaked in losing. They built a football culture unlike any in the country, headed by a man with a sterling reputation but a man who grew to be untouchable over the decades, and the culture failed them.
Now, only a new football culture - but a culture that wins like the old one - can save them.
With that, it is obvious that the stakes for O'Brien and Penn State are both all about Saturday and so much bigger than Saturday.
The new coach made a good impression during his weekend introduction. Everybody knows he has never been a head coach before, and that his path to the job has been a bit unconventional, and that he will be returning immediately to be the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator for as long as their playoff run continues. But he answers the questions easily enough, and he seems to possess the passion that this task will require.
Still, that is just an impression from the distance of a press conference. It is meaningless, really. This will be decided in the living rooms of 18-year-olds in the next few weeks and months and years, and really nowhere else. In that regard, the truth is that the best thing O'Brien could do in the short term is get his picture taken next month hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
Then things get hard. It was never going to be a picnic following Paterno. It is hard to remember someone so permanently tied to a team and to a place; maybe Adolph Rupp, the Kentucky basketball legend. For O'Brien, there is going to be all of that history, even if it ended so badly for Paterno, and then there is going to be the institutional upheaval that accompanied the end. Anyone who pretends to know when the trials and the civil suits and the depositions and the internal investigations will be over is doing just that: pretending.
The last time this happened at Penn State, it was so much easier. In February of 1966, the long-assumed succession took place. Rip Engle retired as football coach on a Thursday and assistant coach Joe Paterno took over on Saturday. Based on some of the news reports around the state, the school must have sent out a press release to the wire services containing a couple of canned quotes, and that was that.
All Joe did was hire a high school coach from Western Pennsylvania to fill out his staff and then get to work. It was easy, seamless, normal - and as he continued to win games, and preach a philosophy, and build extensions onto Beaver Stadium, the university grew with him. The momentum seemed irresistible.
But that was a long time ago, and it seems longer after the last few months. In a public-relations sense and also in reality, both the school and the football program have been wounded.
Through all of this, at a school where football is so big a part of the public identity, it is impossible to imagine one being repaired without the other. You wonder if Bill O'Brien realizes that, as he prepares to return to New England and compete for a Super Bowl.
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