The Right Man for the Job
During my three years as a student, I’ve seen my fair share of leaders rise and fall. I’ve watched superiors turn away from the initiatives they promised only months before. And I’ve definitely witnessed several ugly, brutal — yet mostly deserving — plummets from grace at Penn State.
Rewind seven months. After a very confusing, frustrating 48-hour game of hide and go seek led by acting AD Dave Joyner, Bill O’Brien was announced as Joe Paterno’s successor. At the time, much of the Penn State community, including myself, was disappointed. It wasn’t Urban Meyer, and anything less was unacceptable. Still, I knew that Penn State needed a communicator to vouch for the program’s mission to equally blend athletics and academics more than an on-field tactician.
But I still doubted BOB. “He may be a good gameday coach, but could he recruit?” I pondered, “Will he ever live up to the expectations?”
I can say, now, that my doubts were completely unfounded.
Let me remind you that this man did not have to come to Penn State. Honestly, he probably could’ve even landed a higher paying job elsewhere down the line. O’Brien accepted the position amidst NCAA, Big Ten, and federal investigations. I’m sure he had an idea something like this was coming, and that’s all the more reason to admire him.
The Athletic Department has trotted Bill O’Brien out there to represent the program day after day like no one else could (or would). On Tuesday, just 24 hours after NCAA pummeled O’Brien’s program with severe sanctions, he appeared on the Dan Patrick show. Again, he impresses:
“I’m committed to this football team. I feel very proud to be associated with this university. I’m proud to be leading this football team. And, I’m proud to be coaching these young men.”
Many forget or aren’t aware that O’Brien fathers a son with severe disabilities. To compare football with his son’s illness would be silly, however his perseverance shines through in his life both personally and professionally. On Friday, he said discovering his son’s medical condition was “a hell of a lot tougher than [the NCAA sanctions].” O’Brien always finds a way to maintain perspective through the situation. For years, he stared uncertainty in the face, and he’s ready to do it again.
What happens on the field this season matters very little in the grand picture of Penn State football’s future. What does matter is that recruits are sticking around, much to the credit of O’Brien’s sales pitch of a shot at the NFL and Penn State degree (Yes, Mark Emmert, it is possible to have both). What does matter is that more than 90% of his original roster has bought into O’Brien’s staff — an incredible feat given the circumstances. What does matter is that O’Brien has been able to restore the hope of a fanbase in a matter of days.
Bill O’Brien has exemplified the kind of leadership that Penn State as a whole has so desperately needed. The Penn State community strived to look up to someone, anyone for a sense of direction. The players, recruits, and fans certainly believe in his eager to move forward mentality. Perhaps the most fitting thing is that the man everybody’s rallying behind has only been a Penn Stater for 205 days.
Realistically, O’Brien is arguably the best spokesman Penn State has had over the past seven months. We have a Board who virtually no one has faith in; we have a president who opted to contradict his self-imposed pledge of openness and transparency, and then…we have Bill O’Brien.
“I feel like I’m a mentally tough guy right now. I feel like I’m the right guy.” – Bill O’Brien at his introductory press conference on January 8th, 2011.
He wasn’t kidding.