Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Not So Great Expectations

Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations, but the stories being written at Penn State would more appropriately be attributable to Greek or Shakespearean tragedies.

Prior to November 5th, the head coaching job at Penn State was perhaps one of the more attractive coaching jobs in the country.  Now, we may be lucky to find a high school coach who will be willing to take this job.

Okay.  That's an exaggeration to some degree.  But the short list of candidates seems to be getting shorter the further we go in this process.  And that's NOT a good thing.  And the rationalization of how these coaches who don't look good on paper but will suddenly be taking us to national championship heights is almost comical. 

I have often said that the problem with electing a president of the United States is that the individuals who are best suited, most capable, and would do the best job . . .  are all smart enough not to want the job.

That describes the Penn State coaching vacancy at this point.

While Urban Meyer may not be the best coach in the country, and may not even have been the best coach for THIS job, he was probably the best available coach given our circumstances.  He would bring in a record of success (although Florida did have its share of off-the-field problems under his tenure) and a name that would bring recruits in immediately.

But whether because of the Sandusky Scandal or in spite of it, he has chosen to sign with the enemy.

The committee to select the next head coach is not rife with football experts.

PSU President Erickson, said this in a USA Today article by Johnson and Whiteside:
President Rodney Erickson told USA TODAY on Tuesday that he is seeking to transform the university's public image from a football school to a "world class research institution."

"We need to refocus the spotlight on those things [academics] and de-emphasize the spotlight on athletics," he [Sims, Penn State's vice president of student affairs] said, adding that a de-emphasis does not equate to "damaging" the program. "I think we also need to understand that there's all this other stuff that's more important to us than football."

One way to demonstrate that, Sims suggested, was the selection of the new football coach.

He said it would be a "terrible mistake" to pay a new coach on a scale equal to other recent football hires, including Urban Meyer at Ohio State where he is expected to earn $4.5 million per year.
So now we are going to try and hire a guy to a position that we are trying to de-emphasize, and at a salary less than his direct competitors.  GOOD LUCK WITH THAT!

What is really maddening is that the academic side has never been an issue under Paterno, who has always stressed education as a priority of the Grand Experiment.  There is a library named after him.  And despite his 409 wins, if there has ever been a criticism of Paterno's experiment, it was with the results on the field, not in the classroom.

Exhibit A:  The Academic BCS

New America Foundation 5th Annual Academic Bowl Championship Series
  1. Penn State - 117
  2. Boise State - 107
  3. TCU - 101
  4. Stanford - 100
  5. Alabama - 78.7
  6. West Virginia - 75.7
  7. Georgia - 72.3
  8. Southern Miss - 69.3
  9. Kansas State - 64
  10. Nebraska - 64

Note that the two Big Ten schools are the newest members of the conference. LSU is 13th on this list.

And while most people associate Penn State with the legendary coach and his football program, it is not --and despite this scandal STILL is not --- a "bad" association.  It was a cleanly run program and has never been a football factory like some other programs out there.  The implication that the football program is somehow to blame for the Sandusky scandal or that because there may have been some mistakes made in the handling of that information that the football program has less integrity is simply poor logic and fallacious. 

Just because President Clinton fooled around with Monica Lewinsky does not mean the whole system of American Democracy is disreputable.  Schultz and Curley were part of the football system:  they were NOT the system.  But I digress.

Based on all this to date, I don't see Penn State hiring a "qualified" candidate because basically that would mean that said candidate was not good enough to command more salary elsewhere.  In other words, I don't think there is anyone out there with the right qualifications at the price we seem to be willing to pay.

Is Penn State willing to ink a contract for 4 million dollars a year, say 24-30 million over six years with incentives and the like, when attendance was already down this year, the economy is not improving that fast, and STEP is discouraging folks from getting season tickets when there are so many tickets available at single game prices?

Unfortunately, the football program has educated countless athletes in a wide variety of sports over the years--and it has not cost Penn State one dime from the academic budget.  If football fails, then either student athletic scholarships will be reduced--we educate fewer people--and we offer fewer sports.  That ladies and gentlemen is the harsh reality.

De-emphasizing football does not emphasize academics and research.  You can't build up the poor by destroying the rich.  Socialism fails because eventually you run out of other people's money.  (Paraphrased from Margaret Thatcher.)

So could we end up with a coach like Petersen (Boise State)?  Look where Boise State is in the academic BCS.  But can we match his salary, and would he be interested in the job?  Salary (see below) is not an issue so much.  But I think not.  I hope I am wrong because he is (and was prior to all this) my personal first choice to succeed Joe.

David Shaw at Stanford?  Another nice rumor and fun to debate, but seriously?  Why would he leave Stanford for Penn State?

I couldn't find Shaw's current salary, but my search found this site about coaching salaries on the rise.  Shaw is listed as N/A.

I mean if you were going to go out and get a coach, wouldn't you want someone like a Les Miles or a Nick Saban?  A proven winner.  National Championships.  Recruiting gurus.  Evidence on the field.  Both are in the top 13 of the academic BCS.

If you are--and assuming they would even think about coming to Happy Valley-- the price tag is going to be $3.7-4.8 million per year.

Petersen is a bargain at $1.5 million. 

Mullen (MSU) is at $2.5 million.  London at Virginia--$1.8 million.  Neuheisal was making $1.25 million at UCLA.  Patterson (TCU) pulls in just over $2 million.  Sumlin (Houston) is at $1.2 million.  Despite a great year for Houston, he is 35-17 overall as a head coach.  Petersen is  71-6 in case you are wondering.  Miles is 103-38.  Al Golden is largely unproven, and has as many ties to Penn State as Bradley.  He isn't on that list of salaries either.  I saw some rumors about Mark Richt (Georgia).  That's almost a $3 million price tag.

I have seen some fans excited by Harvard Coach Tim Murphy.  Seriously?  The man is 119-59 at Harvard since 1994.  He is 151-104-1 as a head coach overall including time at Cincinnati pre-Kelley.  He had one winning season (8-3) with the Bearcats.  He originally started coaching as an assistant at Brown, where Joe Paterno came from, so he's got that going for him.  How can you extrapolate from these numbers that this man is going to be a successful coach at Penn State????  He's also 55 years old.  Bradley's resume is better than this!

Bill Cowher?  Gruden?  Tony Dungy?  Great wish list fans, but NFL salaries are even higher.  None of these guys has significant, if any, college coaching experience . . . and if they had been good at it, why aren't they still doing it?  They either want too much money, or don't want to coach college.  Don't get me wrong . . . I'd be excited as hell to see them take a shot at it, and I think any of them would fill the stadium next year.  But the reality is that we fans have a better shot at winning the Powerball, than Penn State has of signing one of these guys.

Mike Munchak (PSU grad and current Titan Head Coach) is in his first head coaching gig and is 7-5.  I've seen fans post that he could be the salvation of Penn State football.  I'm not seeing it.  I'm not feeling it.  It's just wishful thinking.  I don't know what he's being paid at Tennessee, but I kind of think it's more than we'd be able to offer.

In the end, Tom Bradley might be (and in reality is) the best choice.  He is affordable and available.  He loves Penn State.  He is most likely to retain key elements of the staff such as Vanderlinden and Johnson.  All three are great recruiters.  Any new coach is going to need to set up a system and rapport with high school coaches.  These guys are already there.  Our defense will continue to be good, if not great.  The only down-side to Tom Bradley is that he is "part of the system."  He is Al Gore to Bill Clinton.  He coached under Sandusky.  Did he know anything about this scandal?  Can the University afford to continue with a man who might be tainted?

My personal opinion:  Bradley has NO chance, unless the committee absolutely can't come up with a candidate by the bowl game or before LOI day.  Then, he would probably be kept year to year.

But I sense that the BOT and Joyner want to clean the slate and start over.  And depending on how hell-bent they are to clean house, that might mean signing a less than ideal coach just for the sake of moving on.

But I don't think they want to invest the capital they need to keep this $100+ million business running.

And even IF they open up the checkbook and are willing to spend big bucks . . . who is going to be willing to come to Penn State with this scandal hanging over the stadium like a black cloud?  After all, there is more to job satisfaction than money.  And who knows how serious the administration is about "de-emphasizing" the football program and what ramifications that will have in the future.  I actually think the scandal and fall-out thereof would actually take some pressure off the new hire, much as it has endeared Tom Bradley to many Penn Staters who wouldn't have wanted him to succeed Paterno before this scandal--i.e. look how good a job Bradley did under the circumstances, when the reality is that Bradley went 1-3 and didn't make it to the Big Ten Title game.  A new head coach could "buy" an extra year or two claiming that the scandal has hurt his recruiting, etc.  Just a thought if you're considering applying for the job.

Who do I think will be the next head coach?  I haven't a clue.  But we could do worse than Chris Petersen.  I truly expect Penn State to go low budget, lose recruits and season ticket holders and struggle for probably a decade.  But then, I have lowered my expectations.  Maybe this merry band of non-football folks can pull a Paterno out of a hat for a song.  But I'm not going to hold my breath.

And BTW, Dr. Joyner . . . if I were you, I'd be keeping a list of those that don't return your calls or express no interest.  Because the odds are that whoever is selected will be there for only a few years.  That is what history has taught us.  Notre Dame since Lou Holtz.  Alabama after the Bear.  Nebraska after Tom Osborne.  Oklahoma after Switzer.  The jury is still out on Jimbo Fisher, but if F$U doesn't get back into the Top Ten at the end of the season pretty soon, we will likely add the post Bowden era to that list.

Not every coaching change is as successful as the Engle to Paterno transfer was.

So I'd keep a list of those that turn you down now.  They wouldn't get another opportunity down the road when the dust from this scandal has settled, if it were up to me.

And if it were up to me, I'd throw my hat in for a nomination to the BOT.  I'll show them some change.

1 comment:

Carolyn Todd said...

Ugh. Keep in mind that it was Sims, not Erickson, that made the comments about Urban Meyer's salary being too high.

I think the media is over-reacting to Dr. Erickson's statements about wanting to emphasize other things besides football. Also he stated he did not want to damage our football program.

As an academic and a marketing professional who knows something about branding, I can see the other side of this story. Football will be associated with child sexual abuse for a while. Creating something positive about Penn State's brand image is an important mission right now and football might not in fact be the means to do that.

However, I have wondered myself at Dr. Erickson's absence at the last two away game pep rallies. He sent Dr. Tom Poole, Senior VP of Administration, to address the Nittany Lion faithful. Who did a nice job, by the way, addressing the ethical issues in this scandal.

But his absence certainly sent a message that Dr. Erickson wants to distance himself from Penn State football.

Maybe he had other commitments. I don't know. But somehow I recall him being at Penn State away games quite frequently before this crisis. So to me it's noticeable that he wasn't there.

If he doesn't show up for the Ticket City Bowl then I will really be worried. Right now I wonder if Sims is speaking for him or not.

Or if it's a trial balloon of sorts to see the reaction.