PSU search shows lack of foresight

January, 6, 2012
1/06/12
3:50
PM ET
Penn State fans should give Bill O'Brien a chance.

Remember that he left a pretty good job, working with one of the most successful franchises in sports, to step into a potentially no-win situation in State College. He wanted you, even if you don't think you want him. While we'll learn much more about O'Brien in the coming days and weeks, it's clear the guy doesn't shy away from a challenge.

He deserves the benefit of the doubt, and I think a portion of Nittany Nation, especially those not blindly loyal to Joe Paterno, will give it to him. The more Penn Staters who take the approach of former Lions star linebacker Paul Posluszny, the better.

Much of the ire Thursday night and Friday has been directed at the school's administration, and for good reason. After a search that lasted nearly two months and inspired more confusion than confidence, the Penn State brass has a much steeper climb to win back the trust of alumni, former players and fans.

[+] EnlargePenn State's Dave Joyner
AP Photo/Brandon WadeActing Penn State Athletic Director Dave Joyner is facing questions about the length of his coaching search to replace Joe Paterno.
Penn State looked very much like a school that hadn't replaced a football coach since 1966 and had never conducted a football coaching search in the modern era. Most coaching searches take 10-14 days. They're structured and swift. The athletic director leads the way, and a search firm often is involved. Sometimes, information is actually confirmed. Imagine that.

Penn State, meanwhile, used an acting AD (Dave Joyner) and formed a search committee nearly three weeks after the school's trustees fired Paterno on Nov. 9. Ultimately, Joyner and his former Penn State wrestling teammate, Ira Lubert, a search committee member and a respected businessman, drove the search essentially by themselves. Joyner was tight-lipped during the protracted process.
"This is the first coach search, in football, that maybe we've ever done," Joyner told reporters last week in Dallas. "I'm not sure how things worked in 1950 and maybe 1966 but I imagine it was a lot different than what we're doing."

He's right. It might have been faster and more organized.

Yes, the circumstances were unique and incredibly difficult. Yes, former athletic director Tim Curley and former president Graham Spanier deserve blame for putting the school in a bind. Yes, the Penn State job isn't nearly as appealing as it was before the sex-abuse scandal broke and the school fired Paterno.

But Penn State still looked unprepared to replace its 85-year-old coach.

Joyner set deadlines that came and went. According to USA Today, Joyner had little interest in getting input from former Penn State players who wanted to be involved. The committee talked with internal candidates like interim coach Tom Bradley, Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden, but these were courtesy interviews more than anything.

And that's OK. Penn State would have been skewered for promoting from within. But it could have gotten away with hiring a candidate who had some ties to the school.

Speaking of candidates, we heard plenty of names during the past six weeks. Some were legitimate, like Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak, and some were not, like Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. The school reportedly made several runs at Boise State's Chris Petersen, who seemed more likely to become the next BCS executive director than the next Penn State coach.

Remember when Mississippi State's Dan Mullen was the flavor of the day for Penn State?

All along, Penn State fans hoped that Joyner and Lubert had an ace in the hole, a name no one was talking about who would make anxiety about the interminable wait and the compromised recruiting class go away. Munchak might have been that guy, but it didn't happen.

Even the post-hiring process has been curious. It's not unusual for players and even assistant coaches to learn of hirings through the media. But more than 17 hours have passed since ESPN reported O'Brien's hiring, and the school hasn't said anything. Bradley hadn't been told as of late Friday morning. Keep in mind this is a guy who has devoted his career to Penn State and began recruiting for the team this week after returning from the TicketCity Bowl debacle.

O'Brien deserves a fair chance, and he might just be the right guy to lead Penn State football through its most difficult period.

Maybe the best thing he can do is make everyone forget how Penn State hired him.

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