Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Who's Next?

There are so many angles, so many tragedies to the Penn State scandal. First and foremost is, of course, the unknown number of young men whose lives have been (okay, fine, allegedly) irreparably damaged by one sicko, and a group of people who ignorantly or recklessly let him take advantage of his position. There's the downfall of arguably the greatest icon in higher education, let alone college sports. There's the collateral damage—currently players and assistant coaches who had nothing to do with any of this but who will not be able to just focus on football for the rest of the season (and for the coaches, who will all but certainly be gone, through no fault of their own, at the end of the season). And, especially for us alumni, there's the dragging of a great University's name—and everything it has held itself out to be—through the mud.

At the risk of committing a crass, "too soon" violation, one of the ways I got through a borderline existential crisis today was by thinking about, with Joe's impending—and now official—departure from dear old State, who would be next. Because Pennsylvania State University—and the Nittany Lions football team—will go on. Must go on. Joe Paterno may have built the idea of "Success with Honor," and arguably (probably) failed to meet the high expectations that he himself helped build for PSU.

For years, when many were waiting for JoePa's retirement (or passing) to excise him from the sidelines, names were bandied about as to who would succeed him. Well, it'll soon be a question that has to be answered. Perhaps because I wanted to think about something other than the negative negative negative. So who should be the next Penn State coach? Thinking about the circumstances as they are now, there's one clear choice.

Al Golden.

His name has been kicked around for the Penn State coaching job for a couple years now, and he's now got to be the clear front-runner.

As a Penn State alum, I refuse to believe that the "Success with Honor" idea is dead, even if we now think that Joe Paterno himself didn't live up to it. Too many people have carried it as a philosophy embodied at Penn State, especially former players. So while some people think that anyone who has any connection to Paterno should be off-limits, I feel quite the opposite. Penn State was Camelot, and the next coach should be someone who believed in that ideal and has the burn to restore it to that place. And the only way I think that will happen, given the circus that the next coach is walking into, is if the coach is someone who has a connection to and love for Penn State, and all that that name embodies. (Not embodied, embodies.)

Golden is a former Nittany Lion captain. He was an on- and off-field player-leader. So I hope he has a deep enough feeling for PSU to want to return it to Camelot status. By all accounts, Golden has impeccable character; and, he built Temple into a winning football program. Not great, but winning. If he could deliver a winning record at Temple, what could he accomplish with the facilities, tradition, and alumni backing of Penn State? He knew he was taking on a challenge by taking the job at Miami; but with the impending NCAA sanctions against "The U," rumor and reasonable suspicion is that he'd be looking to make a switch. The Penn State job would certainly be a challenge given the circumstances, but the odds are the new coach—whomever it is—will have a long leash and the opportunity to build a program from scratch, with the support of a brand new University president and a brand new athletic director. That kind of opportunity doesn't come around often, and I for one would love to see one of our own take it.

[An aside: We don't know whether the current assistant coaches on the staff, Mike McQueary aside, did or did not know anything. If not, and I suspect most or all of them knew nothing of the horrific events described in the Sandusky indictment, one of the sad aspects of this story will be the house-cleaning, necessary though it may be, of men who also buy into the Penn State-Camelot ideal. Assuming that they were entirely innocent, as I must at the moment, I hope guys like Tom Bradley find a place to land on their feet. It's just one of the many collateral-damage elements of this devastating ordeal.]

Image Credit: drocpsu

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

We Are ...

Shocked. Dumbfounded. Distraught. Angry. Hurt.

You pick it, all of us who bleed blue and white are feeling it right now. And the Penn St-haters are crowing. On Twitter. On Facebook. On comment threads. Everyone's coming out of the wordwork to bash Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier—and "Penn State."

I'm not going to defend Paterno, Spanier, Mike McQueary, Tim Curley, or Gary Schultz. (Do I actually have to mention I wouldn't defend Jerry Sandusky? No? Good. I thought that would be pretty obvious.) In some cases—Paterno and Spanier—I doubt we'll ever know what they did or did not know. But that won't stop the judging, and maybe that's okay. Perhaps as much fault could lie for what they should have known.

But despite being the University President, Graham Spanier is not Penn State. Despite being the University's paramount icon and having his name etched on the main library, Joe Paterno is not Penn State. Penn State is something different, but common, to the millions of people who have walked its campus and called themselves Lions.

For me, Penn State is hundreds of Four Diamonds families who inspire thousands of students and alumni to do more, ever more. It's learning more on the south side of College Ave. than the north side. (For the non-Penn Staters, College Ave. divides the main downtown of State College, on the south, from the University campus, on the north.) And it's friendships with some of the finest people walking this earth—people whose names you'll never read in the paper, but who do great things in the arts, business, and their communities. People I'm proud to know, who I met in a place that I am proud to call my alma mater.

If heads roll for this scandal—and they will—it is because they have failed not only in their moral and, arguably, legal obligations, but also in their duty to uphold the high honor of dear old State.

For the glory of old State,
For her founders strong and great,
For the future that we wait,
Raise the song, raise the song.

Sing our love and loyalty,
Sing our hopes that, bright and free,
Rest, O Mother dear, with thee,
All with thee, all with thee.

When we stood at childhood's gate,
Shapeless in the hands of fate,
Thou didst mold us, dear old State,
Dear old State, dear old State.

May no act of ours bring shame
To one heart that loves thy name,
May our lives but swell thy fame,
Dear old State, dear old State.

We are.