- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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Sitting at work -- work, on this particular day being the bleachers at a recruiting event -- Brian Daly heard the jeers and heckles.
The verbal attack, from unknown adults, was fueled by Daly’s choice of clothing.
The Penn State basketball assistant was wearing Nittany Lions gear.
This is the new world of Penn State athletics. The horrific decision-making of a few has scorched the earth for everyone associated with the university.
The NCAA’s crushing punishment is just the latest -- and to date, the most powerful -- blow absorbed by the university community.
Fully prepared after the NCAA promised “unprecedented” sanctions, basketball coach Pat Chambers gathered his team together on Sunday night.
They were equal parts numb and petrified, he said, asking, “Where do we go from here?” and “What’s next?’
“There are so many mixed emotions for all of us,’’ Chambers said. “I’m a father, so I can’t imagine what the families are going through. I have a nephew on the football team and my heart goes out to Bill O’Brien, to our football players … some weren’t even born when this happened.
“But the question is, in the middle of adversity, ‘how do we react?’ I told my team, ‘it’s about time the basketball team helped the football team for a change.’ It’s about time we stepped up. We can help them for once, so let’s do that. They talked about creating a culture. The culture I’ve tried to create is about attitude and hard work and doing the right thing. That’s the culture we choose.’’
It will be, of course, easier said than done.
Though both the NCAA and Penn State are insistent other sports won’t be hurt by the football team’s sanctions, the blow to everyone across the board is significant. Aside from the crippling financial hit of $60 million are the less tangible and quantifiable damages, like the heckling Daly endured.
The Penn State brand has been tarnished beyond repair, the name now synonymous with reprehensible scandal and horrific cover-up.
Only five people have been charged with culpability by either the law or the Freeh report, but the broad brush paints everyone, including sports other than football.
“It’s out there, on every major network, so it’s not like we can avoid it,’’ Chambers said. “I just tell people that Penn State basketball is about our staff and what we believe in, what we’re trying to do. This is still an incredible institution, so we can either continue to let this knock us down or we can create a new culture together.’’
It is all exactly the right thing to say, the right attitude to convey and Chambers, hired for his effusive energy as much as his basketball savvy, is exactly the sort of remedy Penn State needs right now.
But being plucky will only go so far in this uphill battle. While it may sound counterintuitive for an institution just smacked with a $60 million fine by the NCAA and countless more dollars lost in the form of future civil suits, Penn State needs to offer contract extensions across the board to its coaches.
Chambers, along with wrestling coach Cael Sanderson, women’s basketball coach Coquese Washington, women’s volleyball coach Russ Rose and the rest of the once supporting role coaches at Penn State, will be counted on now more than ever to redefine the athletic department’s brand.
As the university distances itself from a football-first appearance, they will be asked to be the face of the department.
There ought to be a pile of contracts being written right now because they, along with the campus’ incarnation of Sisyphus himself, Bill O’Brien, face an impossible task they did nothing to create.
It will be up to them to reconstruct Penn State and redefine the university’s image.
They’ll be asked to rally the alumni base and the students, to try and make people again believe in Penn State and believe enough to open their wallets to counter the staggering financial hit.
And all the while, they’ll have to turn the other cheek to the hecklers.