Commentary

Spring is time for healing

Originally Published: May 7, 2012
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

A secret affair. Hidden payoffs. A bungled cover-up.

The John Edwards trial?

[+] EnlargeJohn L. Smith
AP Photo/Gareth PattersonJohn L. Smith gives Arkansas a veteran coach who is familiar with the Razorbacks.

Not exactly. More like the worst week in the life of Arkansas football this spring. In fact, I can't remember an early college offseason that was less about football and more about a martini mix of scandal, NCAA penalties, legend replacement and the BCS pregnancy test results (It's a playoff!).

Start with the sad, sordid stuff:

Out at Arkansas -- Bobby Petrino, sweetheart employment deals for the woman with whom he was having an affair, the woman herself, The Petrino Motorcycle Driving School.

In at Arkansas -- John L. Smith, transparency, national championship aspirations/expectations.

The Razorbacks were the biggest losers of the spring, but it could have been worse. Just think if Petrino had waited to crash his Harley -- with 25-year-old Jessica Dorrell on the back of it -- this coming fall instead of this past April 1? How do you think it would have gone against defending national champion Alabama on Sept. 15?

At least this way, Smith and the remaining coaching staff have about 4½ months to prepare for the big game against the Crimson Tide in Fayetteville. Wait -- what a coincidence! Four-and-a-half months is how long Smith stayed at Weber State before ditching Ogden for his one-season, big-money gig at Arkansas.

So it's a win-win for everybody, not counting Weber State.

Anyway, when you think 2012 spring football, you think, healing process. It's happening in Hogdom. It's happening in Columbus, Ohio. It's happening in State College, Pa.

Smith will be fine at Arkansas. I hate that he stuck it to his alma mater and those Weber State players and recruits, but he gives Arkansas what it needs right now: a veteran coach familiar with the Razorbacks. Plus, he can schmooze with the best of them.

Bill O'Brien isn't a schmoozer, but he's trying to scrape off about 10,000 layers of Joe Paterno wallpaper at Penn State. The late, great Paterno was the winningest coach in major college football history, but his program wasn't exactly open to the public.

Now comes O'Brien, the former New England Patriots offensive coordinator who wasn't part of the Penn State football mafia. He doesn't know the secret Nittany Lion handshake. He didn't learn the game at the cuffs of Joe Pa's khaki pants. And that's OK.

A Paterno clone or son of the program wasn't necessary at Penn State. It needed someone willing to pull open the curtains to the place, acknowledge the program's past, but most of all, emphasize the program's future.

O'Brien, who is finishing up a nine-day, seven-state, 18-stop bus tour, isn't simply a breath of fresh air; he's an entire oxygen tank of open mindedness. But he's also under all sorts of pressure. During the caravan's stop in suburban Philadelphia, the New York Daily News reported that the first question asked during a Q&A session with Penn State fans was, "How many games do you predict you'll win your first year?"

Urban Meyer can relate. He comes to Ohio State after some down time with ESPN. Before that he was at Florida, where he won two national championships.

Meyer officially replaces interim coach Luke Fickell, who remains on the staff as defensive coordinator. But in reality, Meyer will be measured against Jim Tressel, whose Tattoogate-related cover-up now seems sweetly quaint compared to the Petrino scandal.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteUrban Meyer said he won't actively recruit Penn State players to join his Ohio State program.

Meyer used spring practice to install his spread offense, mess around with a no-huddle system and convince Buckeyes fans that the program will survive NCAA probation and a 2012 bowl ban. And by the way, it will. With ease.

The truth is, Meyer is playing with house money this season. He'll tell you the clock started this spring on his rebuilding project, but the hard deadline really isn't until 2013. By then, the Buckeyes will be back -- that is, if they can keep convicted sex offenders from scaring away their blue-chip recruits. (Seriously, you can't make this stuff up.)

And while we're on the subject of rehabs and rebuilding, it was interesting to see how Kansas' Charlie Weis, Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Washington State's Mike Leach went demo on their new fix-me-uppers. They ordered new everything: offenses, attitudes, culture, etc..

It's going to take some time at KU and Wazzu, but Rich Rod might turn it around faster in Tucson. Then again, Rodriguez is trying to rehab his own coaching image after the three-season flameout at Michigan.

So this was a spring for first, second and third chances. First chances for the likes of O'Brien and Illinois' Tim Beckman (who came to U of I from Toledo) to run big-boy programs. Second chances for the likes of Weis, whose tenure at Notre Dame was marked by success, egotism, dysfunction and ultimately, mediocrity. Third chances for the likes of Terry Bowden, who once oversaw an undefeated Auburn program, spent the last three seasons at Divison II North Alabama and now returns to the FBS via Akron.

And the new-look Big East is also experiencing change at the top, with commissioner John Marinatto announcing his resignation Monday.

Best of all, it's been nice to see the BCS folks putting in some serious conference room time. If ever something needed to become good friends with a wad of C-4 explosive, it's the BCS.

The BCS has served its purpose. It is better than the previous screwed-up "system," but it still has too many uncorrectable flaws. The BCS is a beautifully tailored tuxedo -- except that the zipper doesn't work. And never will.

Soon we'll have a playoff plan in place for the next BCS cycle. And later this summer, when practice begins for those late-August openers (Bowden's Akron team plays on the first day of the season), we'll talk about actual football, not Petrino's 4,300-plus text messages to Dorrell.

Goodbye, spring drama. And good riddance.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter