Child Abuse Program Underwritten by Sue Paterno


Scott Paterno said, “is my dad’s life becomes a really useful tool to have a broader discussion of both how we address these types of problems, how we train people to see them and everything else.”

“These types of problems,” in this case, are the Jerry Sanduskys of the world.

Last spring, Stop It Now!, a Massachusetts-based non-profit that works to prevent child sexual abuse, began a pilot program with the 14 state universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) to train university employees who work with minors on campus on how to create safer conditions for children and prevent them from being victimized.

The 149 employees included administrators, faculty, counselors, athletic directors, legal counsel, communication director, students — basically, anyone who might deal with the summer camps that many schools host. They are trained to look for the signs of “nice-guy predators,” because that is the profile of the Sanduskys who prey on children. They appear to be respectable members of the community. They mentally seduce their peer adults. Then they seduce the children around them.

The news release said that Stop It Now! created the pilot program “through the generosity of a donor.” That donor is underwriting the $240,000 to fund the pilot program. That donor is Sue Paterno, Joe’s widow and the one-time matriarch of the entire Penn State community.

“You can look at it,” Scott Paterno said, “and say, hey, look, here’s a guy who tried to do in every other instance, every other documented instance, tried to do the right thing to the best of his ability,'” Scott said. “And here’s this one situation, we can debate whether or not he could have done more. But let’s not debate the fact that had he been equipped with better understanding, had he known exactly what he was dealing with, had he been trained to see what he was dealing with, had he been told how to handle this particular problem, would have dealt with it.”

This spring, Stop It Now! and the PASSHE system will hear assessments of the pilot program, both from participants and an independent evaluator based at the University of New Hampshire. The hope is to expand the program beyond the borders of Pennsylvania.

“Our evaluations are showing that it’s an effective program,” said Deb Donovan Rice, executive director of Stop It Now! “We’re real happy with what’s being accomplished. It wouldn’t have ever happened without Scott and Sue and the whole Paterno family.”

To the people who look at what happened at Penn State and are sure they would have been able to see what Jerry Sandusky hid in plain sight for 35 years, the pilot program may look like an attempt at penance — too little, too late. As if the motivation to stop child sexual abuse, to prevent another college community from enduring what Penn State has endured, isn’t enough.

Call it what you will. But while the rest of us pointed fingers and debated and dithered and pulled out our righteous indignation, Sue Paterno tried to solve the problem. As it turns out, locating the legacy of Joe Paterno on the road to redemption isn’t hard at all.

THON fundraisers scheduled across country


 Note: This story originally appeared in AlumnInsider, the Penn State Alumni Association’s monthly member e-newsletter.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — THON doesn’t happen just throughout one February weekend each year. It’s a yearlong effort by thousands of students — and thousands of supportive alumni.

Penn State’s 46-hour IFC Panhellenic Dance Marathon is set for Feb. 20 to 22 at the Bryce Jordan Center at University Park. Last year, a record-total of $13.3 million was raised for THON, bringing the total raised in the history of the event to more than $114 million for Four Diamonds at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

Alumni volunteers go all out for THON. They host events, send care packages and mail to dancers and support Penn State students who are canning in their communities. Read an article in last month’s issue of AlumnInsider about the recent Volunteer Awards, many of which recognized the extraordinary efforts of Alumni Association affiliate groups and individuals supporting THON.

The theme for THON 2015 is “Empower the Dreamers.”

In Pennsylvania, Washington and Greene counties will hold their annual celebration, We Too Can Dance, on April 11. Below are dates for additional upcoming fundraisers across the country.

– Atlanta, Diamonds Over Georgia, Feb. 7

– Pittsburgh, Blue White Ball, Feb. 7

– New York City, Hope Gala, Feb. 28

– Los Angeles, Lights. Camera. Cure., March 21

– Philadelphia, Liberty Ball, Jan. 24

Many other alumni groups hold fundraisers for THON. From THON nights at various professional hockey matches to baseball games to raffles and auctions to golf outings, Penn State alumni chapters across the country are busy year-round raising money for THON and Four Diamonds.

Find out what your local chapter is doing to support THON. Or, donate directly to THON via the students’ website. Shop online at the THON Store for THON apparel, accessories and gifts, all of which benefits Four Diamonds.

For more information on THON 2015, visit thon.org.

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Penn State Football Gains Recognition for Scholastic Excellence


OnwardState.com

Penn State football was honored for its success in the classroom yet again, receiving an honorable mention in the American Football Coaches Association’s annual Academic Achievement Award Survey.

The Nittany Lions were honored for the 23rd time by the AFCA after posting a Graduation Success Rate of 87 percent, good for second in the Big Ten behind Northwestern and No. 5 among all public FBS programs, according to the NCAA.

Penn State’s GSR was 16 points higher than the national average of 71 percent. Penn State was honored by the AFCA for having a GSR of 75 percent or better for student athletes that were freshmen during the 2007-2008 academic year under then-head coach, Joe Paterno.

Penn State has now received recognition from the AFCA 23 times, tied for No. 3 all-time with Rice and behind only Notre Dame and Virginia Tech at 24 apiece. The Nittany Lions’ all-time total of 63 Academic All-America football honorees ranks second nationally, while their 18 Capital One/CoSIDA Academic All-Americans over the past nine years (16 first-team selections) leads the nation.

This comes on the heels of another strong year for Penn State football in the classroom. 51 players received a 3.0 GPA or better in the fall semester and set a program record with 25 members on the Dean’s List. Prior to Penn State’s thrilling win over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl, a Big Ten Conference-high 16 members of the football team had earned their degrees to rank in the top 10 percent among all FBS institutions.

Hopefully the success continues in the classroom for the Nittany Lions to keep the positive trend going.

Photo: OS Admin

Lest We Forget–The Surma Brother’s Vendetta to Get Joe Paterno


Vic Surma, Sr, ( a Pittsburgh Dentist)wrote  in 2007–(Vic Surma, Jr, came to PSU to play as walk on–did not go well)

“The RAT (Paterno) has hurt so many young men, destroyed their self esteem, ruined their confidence, etc.

I’m starting with a Pittsburgh reporter (Sara Ganim was main source quoted in Freeh report) and hope to take his fraud national.”

The person who started the implosion that put Penn State on the defensive by using Tom Corbett’s (PA governor and former attorney general) plan of distraction of firing Joe Paterno was John P Surma, younger brother of Victor Surma, Sr. and VP of the Board of Trustees. John P Surma was responsible for the cancelling of the press conference Joe Paterno was holding to explain what he did, when, and why. John P Surma, after cancelling Paterno’s press conference, made it clear that it was his intention to have Paterno fired so the board would finally show Joe who was “really in charge.”

This cancellation fueled media speculation that the Board of Trustees would remove Paterno as head coach. Nothing could have had a greater impact on the public’s view of the guilt or innocence of Joe Paterno or Penn State. We know that the attorney general used blatant lies “that Paterno was informed of a blatant sex act by McQueary–which we now know is false. 

 

Penn State Magazine Questions Penn State President


Penn State president Eric Barron addressed the media for about 20 minutes this afternoon, talking about the agreement that repeals the NCAA’s sanctions against Penn State. Here are a few of his comments:

—”I’m pleased we can close this chapter,” he said, “and look ahead to the important challenges and opportunities that face Penn State.”

—In addressing “a few key details” of the agreement, he mentioned that the $60 million fine imposed on Penn State “remains in the state of Pennsylvania, first and foremost.” Of that, $48 million goes to the Commonwealth, and the other $12 million “will remain at Penn State, to create an endowment, which is a long-term investment in [programs] … to help eradicate child abuse.”

—Asked about the fate of the Paterno statue, and other calls for Penn State to honor Joe Paterno’s career, Barron said: “Those who know me know that I prefer not to talk about things that will be a topic of discussion [publicly] … before chatting with lots of people. [But] there will be a time and place.”

—Asked what becomes of the Big Ten sanctions, including the sharing of football bowl revenues, Barron pointed out that the Big Ten is a party to the Athletics Integrity Agreement that will be renegotiated under the terms of the settlement. “I will discuss it with my fellow presidents,” Barron said. “They’re expecting that discussion to occur.”

—Barron was asked if, with the 2012 consent decree now erased, this might be a good time for academia to take a fresh look at the NCAA and its powers. “Hindsight is a fascinating thing,” Barron began. “I’ve talked to many of my fellow presidents, and did so to my ACC representative when I was at Florida State, suggesting that the NCAA moved too quickly. At the same time, they came to their decisions with the best possible motive—of not wanting to have such things occur, and with the notion that they had a responsibility to look … at institutional control. I see little purpose in trying to fault them.”

—He was asked to talk about how much communication there was with the Board of Trustees in the negotiations with state officials and the NCAA. He wouldn’t say much, except that “I hear frequently from my trustees, and that’s a good thing … but negotiation of details is first and foremost with the attorneys. … Then, when you have a sense of what agreement is possible, that’s the best time to bring it to the board. Then they can make the best possible decision. And, as you can see, the vote was unanimous.” He added that the negotiations were going on “right up to that moment,” presumably meaning right up until the start of the trustees’ meeting this afternoon.

—Asked again about the Paterno statue, he said: “Same answer. [I’m a] boring guy. There’ll be a good time and place.”

—In November, President Barron said he was committed to personally reviewing the Freeh Report. At today’s news conference he said today’s events don’t change that plan. “I am very appreciative that we’ve hit a tremendous milestone today, and that’s what we’re going to focus on,” he said, “but I don’t think my responsibilities change.”

—Asked if he had a message for students who might be inclined to celebrate today’s news, he referred to the spontaneous—but peaceful—rally that took place when Penn State’s bowl eligibility was restored last fall. “Our students acted with a high level of enthusiasm but with a great deal of respect,” Barron said, “and although I think I told you I was always worried about such an activity, I was very pleased by their behavior. And I’m hoping from every inch of my body that I can be equally proud today. This is something to be very happy about; this is not something that should promote destructive behavior in any way, shape, or form.”

Tina Hay, editor

President Barron’s Comments on the NCAA Settlement


Myke Atwater:

Let’s rejoice in what we accomplished so far, knowing that there are other issues still to be resolved, and wrongs that need to be made right!

Originally posted on The Penn Stater Magazine:

Penn State president Eric Barron addressed the media for about 20 minutes this afternoon, talking about the agreement that repeals the NCAA’s sanctions against Penn State. Here are a few of his comments:

—”I’m pleased we can close this chapter,” he said, “and look ahead to the important challenges and opportunities that face Penn State.”

—In addressing “a few key details” of the agreement, he mentioned that the $60 million fine imposed on Penn State “remains in the state of Pennsylvania, first and foremost.” Of that, $48 million goes to the Commonwealth, and the other $12 million “will remain at Penn State, to create an endowment, which is a long-term investment in [programs] … to help eradicate child abuse.”

—Asked about the fate of the Paterno statue, and other calls for Penn State to honor Joe Paterno’s career, Barron said: “Those who know me know that I prefer not to talk about things…

View original 489 more words

The Grand Experiment Continues–Success with Honor!


— The Penn State football team had 51 squad members earning at least a 3.0 grade-point average in the fall 2014 semester, the second-highest total in program history.

Coach James Franklin’s squad set program records with 25 players earning dean’s list recognition and 57 players owning a cumulative 3.0 GPA or higher after the fall semester and 21 true freshmen posting a 3.0 GPA or better last fall.

“We take a great deal of pride in our academic performance and we are committed to a high level of success and achievement in the classroom and on the field,” Franklin said. “I have been so impressed by the dedication, work ethic and pride our players have demonstrated with all their academic and team responsibilities. We want our players to have the complete student-athlete experience at Penn State.”

Could NCAA Officials Face Criminal Charges for Role in Penn State Case?


By Matt McClenahen of McClenahen Law Firm posted in Penn State on Wednesday, November 12, 2014.

With Senator Jake Corman and Treasurer Rob McCord’s lawsuit against the NCAA now in the discovery phase, emails have been uncovered, which are very embarrassing to the NCAA. It now appears that NCAA officials privately acknowledged in internal emails that the NCAA did not have the authority to sanction Penn State. This conclusion is not at all surprising, given the fact that the university had not broken any NCAA rules, and in the past, criminal matters had always been handled exclusively by the criminal justice system.

Yet the NCAA’s internal discussions were very different from the public pronouncements of NCAA President Mark Emmert, who stated in the summer of 2012 publicly stated in interviews that the NCAA not only had the authority to take action against Penn State, but that even the death penalty was an option. Emmert claimed that the circumstances were so egregious, that prior precedents did not apply, and apparently the NCAA’s bylaws could simply be disregarded as well. Former Penn State President Rodney Erickson has stated that he was essentially forced into accepting the controversial “Consent Decree,” because the only other alternative would have been a multi-year death penalty for Penn State football. But it turns out that the NCAA was just “bluffing” Dr. Erickson, because NCAA officials knew all along that they could not legally make up new rules as they go along, or at least that is unless they could convince Penn State to “agree” to draconian sanctions.

The media seems to have missed a very important question in its coverage of the Corman and McCord lawsuit against the NCAA, and that question is whether the conduct of NCAA officials crossed the line into criminal conduct. It is quite possible that certain NCAA officials may be investigated for and ultimately charged with theft by extortion pursuant to section 3923 of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code. NCAA officials would be guilty of theft by extortion if they obtained or withheld property from Penn State by threatening to “take or withhold action as an official, or cause an official to take or withhold action,” unless the threat was made in the honest pursuit of lawfully owed restitution or indemnification of harm. In simplified terms, if the NCAA had a legal right to impose sanctions against Penn State pursuant to the organization’s bylaws, then NCAA officials did not commit the crime of theft by extortion. They were simply negotiating with Penn State in a completely lawful manner. If on the other hand, the NCAA threatened to take official actions, such as imposing the death penalty or some other sanctions, and the NCAA had no legal authority to impose such sanctions, then I don’t see how this is anything but theft by extortion. Not only is it theft by extortion, it amounts to a first degree felony, because the amount of money extorted exceeds $500,000.

In addition to the charge of theft by extortion, NCAA officials could also potentially be charged with conspiracy to commit theft by extortion. A criminal conspiracy is an agreement between two people or among three or more people to commit a crime, with some overt action taken in furtherance of the crime. In this case, the allegation would be that NCAA officials worked together to commit the crime of theft by extortion, which would amount to an additional first degree felony.

A first decree felony in Pennsylvania is punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years of incarceration and a fine not to exceed $25,000. If NCAA officials are convicted of both theft by extortion and conspiracy to commit theft by extortion, they face possible aggregate sentences of 20 to 40 years. I assume that none of the potential NCAA criminal defendants have a prior record, so they should not expect to face anything near the maximum possible sentences. The sentencing guidelines call for anywhere between nine to 16 months incarceration, which would either be a “long county jail” sentence or a “short state prison” sentence. That being said, if any NCAA officials are convicted, I would not be surprised to see “aggravated range sentences” of more than 16 months, as the amount of money extorted amounts to $60 million in fine money, plus millions of dollars in lost bowl revenue.

If any members of the Emmert Gang are charged, they may or may not be in a position to mount a defense. It will really depend upon the contents of emails, most of which have yet to be released. Possible defenses would be that the NCAA did in fact have authority to impose sanctions and/ or that D. Erickson was never threatened with the death penalty or any other sanctions. The first argument would be very difficult to make, given the plain language of the NCAA bylaws. The second argument would require a jury to believe that Dr. Erickson is lying about the death penalty threat. In short, any defenses mounted by the NCAA at trial would likely be some version of the “Chewbacca defense.” As things stand right now, certain NCAA officials look pretty damn guilty, but then again, my opinion could change as new evidence emerges.

Ultimately, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane will have to decide whether criminal charges are warranted against any NCAA officials, and I am sure she will make such an important decision only after conducting a very thorough investigation. She is not going to want to file criminal charges is such a high profile case unless she is absolutely sure she can get convictions. I highly doubt she will be in a position to make any type of decision until after the Corman and McCord versus NCAA civil trial in early January, 2015. I just hope that Attorney General Kane has already assembled a team of some of her best prosecutors and agents to begin an investigation.

Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense lawyer in State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University. He is a Penn State alumnus and proud Penn State football season ticket holder.

Penn State Board Has a Job to Do! NOW


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Now is the time for the board of trustees …

To demonstrate leadership and defend our great school.

To practice openness and transparency in deeds as well as words.

To be a body of inclusion rather than one of exclusion.

To recognize that trust is earned in two directions.

To correct Mark Emmert for his many misstatements that have harmed our school.

To invite Louis Freeh to Penn State so that the community can query him regarding his conclusions.

To invite former U.S. Attorney General and Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh and former FBI profiler James Clemente to Penn State so that the community can query them regarding their assessment of the Freeh report.

To respond to former Jerry Sandusky prosecutor Frank Fina’s statement that he “found no evidence” that Joe Paterno covered up Sandusky’s crimes by publicly repudiating the conclusions of the Freeh report.

To put back the statue and wall in their rightful place outside of Beaver Stadium.

To work to ensure that we leave Penn State a better place than we found it.

To join our 600,000 alumni who never lost the “We” in “We are.”

If we are truly interested in real healing, then we should demonstrate the courage and leadership that our roles as trustees require in order to serve the best interests of our great university. And if the Penn State community did not distrust us, then …

To formally honor the 61 years of service that Joe Paterno gave to Penn State.

written by trustee Anthony Lubrano

editor note: NOW IS THE TIME.  WE WANT THE STATUE AND THE WALL BACK WHERE IT BELONGS!

Penn State BOT and Dave Joyner Reason O’Brien Left


After days of dancing back and forth, with everyone from Penn State’s fans to the trustees wondering if head football coach Bill O’Brien was going to stay or go, he finally ended the suspense: O’Brien announced he would be leaving State College after two seasons to coach the NFL’s Houston Texans.

At first glance, it’s an old story: An NFL offensive coordinator gets a chance to lead a legendary college program, then jumps back to the NFL when he’s offered the opportunity to become a head coach. But after conducting hundreds of interviews inside Penn State’s program to write my latest book Fourth and Long, and several articles, I can tell you it’s not that simple. Or, rather, it’s almost that simple — but it’s not what you think.

Dig a little deeper, and you’ll see O’Brien’s decision — made at the eleventh hour, after much hand-wringing — was based as much on the appeal of the Texans’ offer as it was the lack of leadership presented by Penn State.

Probably no one felt this more acutely than the players on the 2012 team, Penn State’s first after the dismissal and death of Joe Paterno.

“Who was stepping up and taking it?” 2012 senior Michael Zordich asked me. “We were. They never stood up for us. Not the president, not the AD. They were silent. Silent. Thanks. Who was standing up for us? O’Brien — and that’s it.”

Trustee Anthony Lubrano, who was elected to the board as an alumnus in the summer of 2012, understands Zordich’s frustration. “From 1995 to 2011, until they accepted Graham Spanier’s resignation and fired Joe Paterno, those two were clearly the face of Penn State,” he told me. “Since their respective departures, no one has replaced them, and we’ve struggled to overcome that. New logos and slogans haven’t helped, either.”

‘It Lies With The Board’

Penn State’s problems start with its outdated 30-member Board of Trustees. While other universities elect or appoint their trustees, Penn State uses a bizarre hybrid to fill its Board. This includes the state secretaries of education, agriculture, conservation and natural resources; six appointees by the governor, nine elected by alumni, and six elected by Pennsylvania agricultural societies. It harkens back to the school’s founding as a land-grant college. Six additional trustees are selected by a committee representing business and industry.

Although the six business appointees, led by BNY Mellon president Karen Peetz, comprise only one-fifth of the board, they tend to have the most influence, and the nine elected alumni much less.

Consider three key decisions that were driven by just a handful of business appointees:

— On July 12, 2012, within hours of receiving the damning Freeh Report — which accused Penn State’s leaders of a “total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims” – a few business appointees officially accepted the report on behalf of Penn State. That decision, in turn, prompted the NCAA to accept the report in lieu of its own investigation, resulting in severe sanctions.

— Failing badly to select a permanent president in November 2013 (more on that later).

— Creating the $4.25 million per year salary for new football coach James Franklin, in early 2014.

The nine elected alumni trustees, in contrast, could count only one representative on one of those committees.

After NCAA President Mark Emmert delivered his famous quote about the “culture problem” with Penn State’s football program, in July of 2012, Lubrano, who had just been elected to the board as an alumnus, responded, “We do have a ‘culture’ problem. But it lies in the board of trustees.”

The Sandusky scandal has taken its toll on Penn State, as you’d expect. But right when the football team, at least, seemed poised to emerge from the crisis, the issues with Penn State’s leadership have persisted, manifest in their struggles to select a permanent president and to provide crucial support for a football program still in flux.

Hiring One Of Their Own

This brings us to the position of Athletic Director. After longtime AD Tim Curley stepped down in 2011, the process of replacing him has been similarly bumpy and unorthodox. The board quickly named one of its own, David Joyner, as the “Acting Director of Athletics.”

Joyner had been an all-American defensive lineman at Penn State in 1971, and went on to become an orthopedic surgeon. He was elected to PennState’s Board of Trustees in 2003, 2006, and 2009, taking one of the nine seats reserved for alums, voted on by alums.

Nonetheless, Joyner was an odd choice for athletic director. That Joyner had no experience working in an athletic department was a weakness Michigan, Notre Dame and Oregon had also overlooked in their searches, in favor of business experience. But what business experience Joyner had was not a ringing endorsement for his candidacy. In 2002, he founded a company which operated a chain of gyms called C-5 Fitness. In 2006, the company filed for bankruptcy.

“Some companies do go bankrupt, no matter what you do,” Joyner said to PennLive.com. “I’m certainly not a venture capitalist, but I’m told that successful venture capitalists fail 85 percent of the time.”

Messages to the Penn State Athletic Communications office to speak with Dr. Joyner (left in picture, with O’Brien and interim president Rod Erickson) for this story were not returned.

After Joyner took the job, trustee Ira Lubert, a real estate millionaire, arranged for the Joyners to stay in one of his homes in State College, and another in Hershey. Two months later, Penn State named Joyner the permanent athletic director.

The board’s decision to hire a fellow trustee attracted the attention of the Pennsylvania auditor general, who released a report in November 2012, stating it created “reasonable public perceptions of insider influence and conflicting interests.”

Penn State dismissed the AG’s concerns, but the players did not. After the 2011 team finished 9-3, without a permanent president, athletic director or head coach, the team captains called a players-only meeting to decide whether to accept the bid to the lowly TicketCity Bowl in Dallas. After a civil discussion, they decided if they represented Penn State’s values, they had to go.

All seemed settled — until Dr. Joyner addressed the team after their vote. According to over a dozen players present, he accused them of being “a bunch of children” for declining the bowl invitation, which prompted Gerald Hodges to stand up and demand Dr. Joyner show more respect. The two started walking toward each other, creating a commotion loud enough for assistant coach Larry Johnson Sr., waiting outside, to come into the room, hold Hodges, and literally escort him out.

Finally, when captain Devon Still told Joyner, “We already decided. We’re gonna go,” Joyner calmed down, and told the team they had their full support, but the players never bought it. After Joyner hired O’Brien, the players asked O’Brien to keep Joyner away from the team — essentially banning him from their sideline, their locker room and their team meetings — and Joyner obliged, not appearing before the team again until the 2012 senior banquet.

The Outsider

When Dr. Joyner courted Bill O’Brien after the 2011 season, he asked him to FedEx his resume and cover letter, then lost the envelope in the department mailroom for eight days until O’Brien called to make sure they’d received it. O’Brien was smart enough to ask about the possibility of the NCAA punishing the football program, but naïve enough to believe Joyner when he assured O’Brien the NCAA would steer clear.

On July 23, 2012, the NCAA leveled historically severe sanctions against the school for the Jerry Sandusky scandal, leaving Penn State’s football program to face a slow version of the death penalty. But O’Brien and a special class of seniors not only kept the team alive, they thrived, knocking off ranked teams en route to an 8-4 record.

Two days after Penn State finished the triumphant 2012 season by beating eventual Big Ten champion Wisconsin, I sat with Bill and Colleen O’Brien at their breakfast table. “We like it here,” Bill said. “She likes it here, and the kids do, too. We love this team, the families. I love the values here, and I believe in them.”

But as he was talking, his cell phone buzzed so often it almost fell off the edge of the table.

It wasn’t friends or well-wishers calling, but athletic directors from Boston College, Tennessee, and Arkansas, and the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns and San Diego Chargers. They all wanted to know one thing: What would it take to get O’Brien to jump?

The Monday after the football season ends, college and pro alike, is traditionally the day when the athletic director, the general manager, or the owner calls in the head coach to assess the season just past and to plan for the seasons ahead. But not at Penn State. At least, not in 2012.

While O’Brien’s phone was blowing up, Dave Joyner was on a hunting trip. It was the opening day of Pennsylvania’s deer season. When I asked O’Brien about this, he shrugged it off, but then-senior linebacker Mike Mauti did not.

“That enrages me,” Mauti told me, in December 2012. “Let’s lay it out there: He’s the reason we did all this. They hire anyone else, this doesn’t happen — and who knows where the program is? He’s it. If O-B leaves … it’s because they didn’t do their jobs and do what’s right.”

Nonetheless, O’Brien declined the overtures from other athletic directors and the NFL, and stayed put in State College. In the spring of 2013, Penn State bumped O’Brien’s pay to $3.2 million. To keep up with the never-ending arms race that is modern college football, O’Brien also received assurances from Joyner that he would increase the budget for assistant coaches’ salaries, recruiting and facilities face-lifts — the very things rivals Michigan and Ohio State already have.

O’Brien’s players followed up their inspirational 2012 season with an equally surprising 7-5 record this year. After the NCAA greatly reduced Penn State’s sanctions, and recruiting picked up accordingly, the program’s future suddenly looked much brighter.

New Year, Same Problems

But the school’s leadership, from the Board of Trustees to the athletic director, continued to stumble. After the Board set a meeting for November 1, 2013, to name SUNY Upstate Medical University president David Smith to replace interim president Rod Erickson, it canceled the meeting when Smith told one of the committee members he had received roughly $35,000 of unapproved income from a company that did business with the SUNY system. However, in a November 1 letter, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher informed Smith they had discovered the total was actually $349,295. Smith resigned, but there is a flap about his continuing to draw a paycheck from New York state.

After Penn State’s 2013 season, according to insiders familiar with the situation, Joyner failed to follow through on his promises to boost O’Brien’s budget for assistant coaches’ salaries, recruiting and facilities. At the 2013 senior banquet, one witness said, the tension between the two men was “palpable. You couldn’t ignore it.” After the event, Dr. Joyner waited more than a week to respond to O’Brien’s requests to follow up on his promises. (When I asked O’Brien about these accounts, he did not deny their accuracy.)

Given this, when the NFL’s siren song resumed, O’Brien was ready to listen. The Houston Texans offered him the most appealing package: A great contract, a loaded roster, and strong, supportive leadership.

O’Brien based his decision partly on his long-held desire to become a head coach in the NFL, and the Texans’ attractive offer. But it wasn’t simply about money. It wasn’t State College, the Penn State fans or the players, either.

When I reached him last week, he said, “I want to be clear: I love the Penn State fans and always will. They were incredibly supportive, and the players were great. I love those guys. I just felt that this was the best move for me and my family.”

Joyner responded to O’Brien’s departure faster than he’d responded to O’Brien’s phone calls. He lured former Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin to State College for $4.25 million a year — a third more than O’Brien received his second season. Joyner was also willing to overlook the fact that four of Franklin’s players were charged in June for raping an unconscious 21-year old woman in a dormitory, and a fifth player who pled guilty to covering it up.

More By
John U. Bacon.

It is hard not to conclude the Texans wanted O’Brien more than Joyner did, and that Joyner was more eager to hire Franklin than keep O’Brien.

Reached this week, Mauti said of O’Brien’s departure, “It doesn’t shock me one bit, unfortunately. It didn’t take a genius to see it coming. You always try to leave your program better than you found it. That’s what O-B did. He gave us all he had, and that’s why I’ll always respect him. I wish him nothing but the best.”

O’Brien’s career as an NFL head coach has just started. At Penn State, however, instead of basking in the incredible good fortune of finding the right guy during a desperate time, the same school that needed only two head coaches for 62 seasons is now welcoming its second coach in two years.

The years ahead will tell us who made the best decisions. But it’s a safe bet that Penn State University will not return to its former heights until it finally addresses its fundamental problem: the lack of strong leadership.

– John U. Bacon 

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