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So Much for Transparency

When Rodney Erickson became the 17th president of Penn State University, he promised to usher in a new era of transparency. In his Promise to Penn State, he states that the university is “committed to transparency to the fullest extent possible” and that he would also pledge “to providing meaningful and timely updates as frequently as needed.”

It was with those words that Erickson, Athletic Director David Joyner and a head coaching search committee embarked on the task of finding a head coach to replace Joe Paterno. Fifty-nine days later, Penn State fans were left with yet another undefendable public relations disaster following the clandestine hire of Bill O’Brien.

It all started Thursday night when ESPN reported that O’Brien would be hired as the next head coach. Just an hour prior, David Joyner went on national television at the halftime of the basketball game to spread the same rhetoric he’s been using for two months: “We don’t have a hire in place, I haven’t made a decision yet, We’re still talking to people,” etc.

It seems that this statement was not entirely transparent. Or factual, for that matter.

Sports information director Jeff Nelson also issued a one-sentence statement Thursday night, “We will comment when we name the new coach.” (Not the first time he has dismissed the press with minimal communication.)

It seems like Nelson was fibbing too. They already had their man.

Through this, interim head coach Tom Bradley insisted that he head heard nothing from Penn State, and held that position even as he entered the Lasch Building around 3 p.m. Friday. Current players heard nothing. Penn State remained silent.

Friday was a day of Penn State playing cat and mouse with the media. Joyner had a meeting with the current coaching staff at 4 p.m. at the football building. After hearing nothing from Penn State all day, most people expected a statement immediately following this meeting. It never came.

Joyner exited the Lasch building quickly, phone-to-ear, and declining comment. Penn State football interns came out with the keys to the coach’s cars, and maneuvered them to multiple building entrances in an attempt to throw off the media, creating absolute chaos. A true media circus. The coaches that the media were able to stop just said that they had been instructed not to talk.

Many media members were tracking a Penn State private airplane with flight plans filed to a small Massachusetts airport. The plane was scheduled to land with a 30 minute layover, and return to the University Park Airport. It was assumed that this plane would be picking up Bill O’Brien. About a dozen media members were at the airstrip when the plane landed, and sure enough, O’Brien and his family emerged.

Rather than even acknowledge the press, he was whisked away in a white SUV to the Bryce Jordan Center, where he quickly entered under the eye of a once-again silent Jeff Nelson. And still, Penn State said nothing.

Penn State would not officially release a statement on the hire until 9:44 p.m. on Twitter, nearly 24-hours after ESPN confirmed reports of O’Brien’s hire. By that time, everybody already knew. Media members wouldn’t receive an e-mail confirming an 11:30 a.m. press conference the next day until nearly 10:30 p.m Friday night. Penn State knew of this press conference for hours, perhaps even days.

It’s clear that the leaders at our University learned absolutely nothing from the detriments of staying silent two months ago. If Penn State can’t control a story about a head coaching search that they are conducting exclusively, what can it control?

Penn State fans deserved better than that. Current players deserved better than that. Tom Bradley deserved better than that. Recruits deserved better than that. No one should find out their fate from an ESPN report after 34-years of service to a University as Bradley did. David Joyner sat there during halftime of that basketball game and spoke the company line knowing it wasn’t the full truth. He spoke directly to the people he was hired to serve, and in no way abided by President Erickson’s commitment to transparency.

We all deserved better.

Bill O’Brien will be introduced this morning at the Nittany Lion Inn. What this chapter holds for Penn State football remains unwritten, but let’s just hope that the administration finally internalizes the lessons about transparency and disclosure we’ve learned over the past two months. Pride before the fall, indeed.

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About the Author

Kevin Horne

Kevin Horne was the editor of Onward State from 2012-2014 and currently holds the position of Managing Editor Emeritus, which is a fake title he made up. He graduated from Penn State with degrees journalism and political science in 2014 and is currently seeking his J.D. at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. A third generation Penn Stater from Williamsport, Pa., Kevin is also the president of the graduate student government. Email: [email protected]

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