Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Must-Do List for Search Committee: Expeditiousness and Vetting

Newly named PSU football coach search committee must be both swift and sure. Don't let the search drag on for weeks, and make sure the background checks are as thorough as possible

The one thing that can cause the impending announcement of Penn State's new football coach to blow up in PSU's face is if something unsavory about the new coach comes out though the media.

Vetting, that popular word come election time - it's frequently used to describe presidential candidates searching for a VP - is of the utmost importance. PSU is scrambling to its feet right now and can't afford another knockdown.

After the concussive blows to the school's image absorbed during the Jerry Sandusky scandal - the staggering sexual abuse charges, the initially inept response from the school, the barrage of negative media coverage, etc. - PSU is beginning to get its footing again.

To take the next step, Penn State has to find the right successor to Joe Paterno. And the six-member search committee, formed this week by PSU president Rodney Erickson and headed by acting athletic director Dave Joyner, has to make sure the committee knows more about the finalists than the candidates themselves.

Anything less will make it seem like PSU didn't do its homework, didn't fully perform its duty. Anything less will leave PSU open to possible embarrassment it simply can't afford right now.

For example, a few years back Notre Dame had to fire George O'Leary just a few days after he had been named head football coach because it was discovered he had embellished his resume.

If a PSU coach candidate got a DUI in college, the committee needs to know about it. If he was tossed out of study hall in high school, the committee needs to know. If he kissed Suzie McGillicuddy behind the bleachers in middle school ...

You get the point. Which is why Tom Bradley, deserving as though he may be, can't be the next coach. It's not necessarily because he is so connected to Paterno or Sandusky. Because Bradley was immersed in PSU football for the past three-plus decades, as the investigation moves forward Bradley's name might turn up in some context. For example, completely hypothetically speaking, maybe video surveillance will reveal Bradley was the last person to leave the Lasch Building on that fateful night in 2002 when Mike McQueary stumbled upon Sandusky assaulting a boy.

Regardless of whether Bradley is absolved of any wrongdoing whatsoever, it's too late: the damage will have been done by simply having his name mentioned in any way in relation to the scandal.

So the vetting process is paramount, as important as finding the right guy.

It's also important to be expeditious. It shouldn't take more than 15-20 days to identify a few excellent candidates, evaluate and background check each of them, choose one, and make an announcement.

If this drags on past Christmas, something is wrong. It will look like Penn State doesn't know what it is doing. The PSU community, media, public and those associated with the football team - such as the players and recruits who need to know who the next coach will be - all are eager to get the new head coach on board.

This isn't to suggest that the committee should rush through such an important task. But this is their task, and they need to be working on it all day, every day. And as such, it simply shouldn't take more than three weeks.

Hopefully PSU is ready to make the financial commitment necessary. Urban Meyer just cost Ohio State $4 million annually. Penn State should be willing to part with at least half that.

Who is that best candidate? As has been written here before, the new coach must have a lot of positive characteristics:

The equanimity to gracefully cope with everything that comes his way. The perspective to always do the right thing. The patience to deal with the perpetual scandal lurking in the background, possibly for years. The focus to not let it impede success. The energy to make a full commitment and to recruit relentlessly. The connections and pull to compile a stellar coaching staff. The confidence and clout to follow a legend (albeit a suddenly greatly diminished one). The experience to be at his peak professionally. The persona to deal with the media, boosters, public, former players and student body in an engaging manner. The skill to produce a team that consistently contends for the Big Ten title and puts 100,000-plus in the stands week after week.

Someone like the Joe Paterno we knew for 46 years.

The long-awaited next era in Penn State football begins now.

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