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New Year's Eve, Bill O'Brien and gym spikes


For the first time in 26 years, I was alone when 2014 arrived at midnight.

I had been at a friend's party. I usually spend New Year's Eve at an aunt's house with the rest of my family, but this year, the only chance all my friends had of getting together was New Year's Eve.

After one beer, about a metric ton of boneless buffalo wings and a few rounds of playing games on the Nintendo Wii, I noticed something shooting across he Twitterverse.

Bill O'Brien, the now-former Penn State football coach, had accepted a job with the Houston Texans.

Crap.

Over the last month or so, my newspaper has gone from LOCAL, LOCAL LOCAL to a more regional (plus LOCAL LOCAL LOCAL) and more web-first product. Because the higher-ups have been badgering our editor about posting and running more Penn State stories, and because fewer people worked in the office -- and more people were out at parties instead of sitting at computers -- I felt some desperation to throw something on our website.

Because the office was closer to my friend's house than it was to mine, I swooped in and got cookin'. Someone from news had put a story on our website, saving me a lot of the legwork, so I attached a photo and a poll and decided that was good enough.

Here's the thing about Bill O'Brien, the now-former Penn State football coach (other than the fact that neither he nor the reporter who broke the story had no other plans on New Year's Eve) -- the university didn't hire him to stick around forever. It didn't hire him to win national championships and endear himself to the community.

It hired him to help the football program stay relevant through the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

And that's what he did.

Now, I would consider O'Brien's hypocrisy -- all his talk of players being men of their words and committing to the football program, etc. -- and his outright lying -- telling recruits he wanted to be their coach and saying, "See you next year" at a team banquet -- to be the worst thing about college football. But when this is a follow-up story for a football program "recovering" from a child-rape-and-cover-up scandal, I'll settle for saying it's one of the many things wrong about college football.

To have a coach sit on one end of the room, pump up an 18-year-old kid in order to get that kid to sign up to move away from his parents to become a student-athlete (or, in most cases, athlete-student), and then feel no obligation to that kid while packing up and signing a multi-million-dollar contract to forget about him and all his teammates, well, that's pretty scummy.

That said, O'Brien's departure is more of a rule and not an exception for college coaches. And that's something football recruits should pay attention to. College football is a business -- a very sketchy, corrupt business -- and as soon as people can make more money off someone else, they'll leave. You're not committing to a coach or a teammate. You're committing to a) your degree and b) a football program.

So because of Bill O'Brien and the sketchy, corrupt business that is college football, I had no time before midnight to get back to the friend's house or to my aunt's to celebrate with family. So I wandered farther downtown and watched the red rose drop. By myself.

It wasn't a "woe is me" moment. I didn't mind it as much as I thought I would. I noticed a lot of people hugging and kissing. I think I interrupted a marriage proposal (oops!). A woman asked if I could take a picture of her with her sister because her boyfriend was too intoxicated to handle her phone.

I didn't picture myself scurrying around or working in an office or standing in the middle of a crowd downtown with no one to hug or kiss or even wish a happy new year, but that was okay. This year might be full of surprises.

And that might be a good thing.

...I didn't get to gym spikes. That's another post for another day. Tonight, I just wanted to write something, no matter how rough or brief

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
penshark
Jan. 2nd, 2014 06:36 am (UTC)
Good job, btw.

O'Brien's decision bugs me more than the average college coach ditching his team because his recruits bought into a tough situation (the sanctions) on the strength of his promises. He can dance away without penalty. They can't.

theoldsport
Jan. 3rd, 2014 08:38 am (UTC)
"They didn't have to stay at Penn State, but they committed to each other, they committed to Penn State, and they committed to our coaching staff. I felt it was important that they understood that I was committed to them. What are you if you're not a man of your word?"

That's such a damning quote from O'Brien (before the UCF game last season). And you're right. I think it's horrible that these KIDS can't reverse something that they were essentially conned into while the coaches can leave whenever they want. But I think a lot of the recruits and players who stayed are the same players who would remain committed to a program no matter who the head coach is (sans the All-America wide receiver who was going to the NFL even if O'Brien had stayed).

But I do believe that, when he took the job at Penn Stae, O'Brien planned to stay at PSU beyond two years. He was definitely using the job as a springboard to a "dream job" in the NFL (but really, who doesn't in the college ranks?). I just don't understand what made the opportunity in Houston different in comparison to similar opportunities that come up every year.
felixwas
Jan. 2nd, 2014 04:30 pm (UTC)
Dave Zirin writes about sports for The Nation; your post here is something like he would have written. He's well worth tracking down and reading. You'll like him.
theoldsport
Jan. 3rd, 2014 08:40 am (UTC)
Thanks for the suggestion. I run into Zirin's stuff every once in a while, and when I do, I usually stop to read it.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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