Saturday, January 7, 2012

Bill O'Brien's adventure of a lifetime begins

Following a legend is always exceedingly difficult, but that's only part of O'Brien's challenge

What did he say? How did he sound? How did he look?

Did he emphasize academics? Did he show reverence for JoePa? How did he acknowledge the dissension surrounding his selection? Did he mention that eight-letter word that begins with S?

Did he seem ... like the man for the job? (a.k.a. the "Job of the Century")

Perhaps no new coach in college football history has had his press conference scrutinized quite like Bill O'Brien did today.

How did he do?

In part the scrutiny is because so little is known about him, a relatively low-profile outsider. In part it is because of who he is succeeding.

But of course it also is because of Sandusky.

O'Brien has an extraordinary task before him. It's a for-great-leaders-only task. It's that daunting.

Can he succeed? The answer is ... who knows. But he sure exemplified the part today.

He commanded the moment. He owned the room. He covered the bases. He made no meaningful mistakes. He was very good, almost excellent.

He seemed to get Penn State football.

And the Larry Johnson Sr. announcement nearly brought down the house. (On the flip side, he did mention the 108,000 seat stadium a little much.)

This is the ultimate risk-reward position. Because as turbulent as the present is, Penn State is without question one of the great football coaching positions in America. It is saturated with potential in every way.

  • (UPDATE: O'Brien's five-year contract, finalized Friday, included base compensation starting at $950,000, with a 5-percent increase each season. O'Brien also will collect another $1 million a year for radio and television work, as well as a $350,000 Nike contract. So, it's worth $2.3 million per initially and escalates about $50,000 each year.)

It's got everything needed to achieve ultimate, complete success. It's just blanketed by the Sandusky mess for the time being.

PSU football will be back. The question is when.

Will O'Brien be remembered as nothing more than the guy (the poor sap?) who held the job for a few years as PSU transitioned from Paterno/Sandusky, and then slink back to relative anonymity?

Or will he be the guy who stabilizes the short term and blooms in the long-term, taking PSU back to the heights it enjoyed, by and large, for decades, rising to the challenge and scope and magnitude of the job?

He looked like the latter today.

  • (UPDATE - excellent story about O'Brien's personal and professional background:

But forces beyond the control of anyone in his position will factor into play as well. He'll need a little good karma, in addition to great leadership. He'll need the vast majority of PSUers to move past the collateral damage of the scandal - the brutally unfair fate of Tom Bradley - and embrace O'Brien, the program, the university and the future.

We're talking about you, LaVar Arrington and Brandon Short. It's time to move on.

In at least one regard O'Brien is off to a bad start. By holding on to his current job as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots through the playoffs instead of leaping into his new job, O'Brien is making it more difficult to get off to a great start. He explained well why he's doing it that way - loyalty, responsibility, etc. - but nonetheless it will be a disadvantage out of the gate.

He needs to hire a great coaching staff. This is extremely important. It requires his full attention. Great first move retaining Larry Johnson Sr.

He also needs to assuage and - for the most part - be embraced by the football alumni, the boosters and the fan base. He needs to take command of the current players - the 2012 team - and begin recruiting the next generation of PSU football players.

He'll need to do all of that in the short term, and have all of the following characteristics in the long run:

The equanimity to gracefully cope with everything that comes his way. The perspective and integrity to always do the right thing. The patience to deal with the perpetual scandal lurking in the background, possibly for years. The focus and resolve 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 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.

At the Tour de France, they like to say that the yellow jersey, given to the race leader at that time, has a magical effect. It makes average riders good, good riders great and great riders legends.

The jersey infuses the man. He becomes more than he ever has before.

May the PSU coaching job do the same for O'Brien. May he rise to the occasion.

Today was a good start.

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