Posted Jan. 8, 2015

Nov 27, 2011

Thoughts From The Valley: The End Draws Near


The hangover

HOW AM I FEELING: Done. I am feeling done. Goddamned done. After 13 weeks, 25 columns (here), another 30 or so elswhere, 14 award-winning podcasts* and, of course, thirteen straight Saturdays of all-out, all-day college football watching, I have just about had enough of this, the College Footballing Year of 2011. It's been a blast, yes, as it always is. But at some point it's gotta come to an end. That end is now very clearly in sight. Sad, perhaps, but necessary. Oh, also, Penn State got steamrolled 45-7 by Wisconsin, bringing an end to the single most bizarre regular season that any team has ever endured in the history of Our Great Game. More on that in a bit.

WHAT I AM DRINKING: Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA. Which, apparently, is the same beer that TCFA Podcast Co-Host Mike Unger was drinking this weekend as well. This is notable, and for two reasons: 1. Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA is one of the finest beers in the world; 2. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when The Aforementioned Co-Host was more of a Light/Lite beer fan. Progress folks.

WHAT I AM LISTENING TO: Phoenix, "1901." I would declare this The Official TCFA Song Of 2011, except for one small issue: It was released in 2009.

WHAT’S NEXT (FOR THE NITANY LIONS SPECIFICALLY, AND FOR THE GAME IN GENERAL): For the Nittany Lions, nothing short of the most crucial month in the history of the program. And for the game in general? Well, nothing short than the most crucial month in the history of the much-maligned (and oft-unfairly so) Bowl Championship Series. In other words, yeah, it should be an interesting few weeks. Which means, I suppose, that I'm not getting a break anytime soon.


The die have been cast, the declarations have been made, and the results from Madison are in; which is to say, the ever-deserving Tom Bradley, sadly and unfairly, will most assuredly not be named the next head coach at Penn State.

Actually hiring Bradley (who, it should be noted, might actually be the best man for the job) would require the kind of bravery that, I think it's safe to say, is (perhaps necessarily) lacking up in Happy Valley of late. From a public relations perspective, the move is an impossibility, as it has been determined by one and all that Penn State needs to cut all ties with the past, Bradley included, and must do so immediately.

Yes, we all understand that Penn State must bring in an alleged "outsider," someone who is free and clear and generally unblemished by the catastrophe that has unfolded in State College. It sounds simple enough: Find a big-name coach with no ties to the program, bring him in, start over, move on, leave the past behind.

But let's face it, you don't simply flip the switch and move from one footballing culture (a culture that, it should be pointed out, was carefully cultivated over a period of approximately 60 years) to a completely different footballing culture without enduring a few bumps along the proverbial college football road. No matter who Penn State hires—and with each passing day, it seems more and more obvious who they're going to hire (see below)—this transition will not be an easy one.

From where I sit, it seems clear that the powers-that-be in Happy Valley face two massive challenges: 1. Finding somebody both willing (don't assume this will be easy) and able (ditto) to handle one of the toughest rebuilding jobs (in the macro sense) in college football history; 2. Convincing a stubborn, jaded and not-so-patient fan base that true change (in the macro sense) will take time to take hold, and that even the greatest of coaches would and will struggle to completely tear down, and then completely rebuild, Penn State football.

This is not a one-year fix. It is not a two-year fix. We are talking about a half-decade slog here, folks.

There will be controversy along the way. There will be pain along the way. There will be losses both literal and metaphorical. There will be frustration. There will be, perhaps at all times, crushing, mind-numbing doubt. And, yes, there will be failure. A lot of it.

But this is the road that lie ahead, Penn State fans. There is no alternate route.

So do not delude yourselves into thinking that we are facing anything else than a true Test Of Will. If you thought The Dark Years were bad, well, you ain't seen nothing yet.

You may proudly call youself a loyal Penn State fan today. And perhaps you are right.

But I just wonder, five years down the road, how many of you will remain. Because your loyalty is about to be tested.


THREE: So what we've known to be "likely" for at least the past few weeks now seems awfully close to "official." Urban Meyer, perhaps the greatest college football coach alive today, will be the next head coach at Ohio State. Yes, folks, believe it or not, and against all odds, the Buckeyes have actually managed to bring a guy who counts as a freaking upgrade over Senator Jim Tressel, who could rightly be considered the greatest coach in school history. It's a staggering, earthshaking hire, and one that unquestionably will secure Ohio State a spot at the top of the Big Ten so long as Meyer decides to remain on the job. I don't know if the guy will last five years or seven years or ten years in Columbus. Heck, he may not even last three. What I do know, however, is that, after what figures to be a tough transitional year in 2012, he will win the Big Ten championship in his second season and every single season after that. He will also win at least one national title. Congrats, Buckeye fans. You officially own the conference. Again. Sorry, Brady Hoke.

TWO: As for who Penn State hires, now that Meyer is off the table? Well, I claim no special inside information, but of all the candidates mentioned (Gary Patterson, Tony Dungy, Greg Schiano, Al Golden, Tim Murphy), none seems to make quite as much sense, in pretty much every way, as does Dan Mullen. Mullen, currently struggling but battling bravely down at Mississippi State (his record there is 20-17 in three seasons, which ain't half bad), has Pennsylvania roots and coaching connections in the Northeast. He's also got a proven record as a offensive genius, having helped Meyer achieve massive success down at Florida. Though Mullen's Bulldogs fell short of expectations this season (they finished 6-6 in a year where many expected 10 wins), let's face it, he's coaching at freaking Mississippi State, and he's being asked to compete in the SEC West, against the likes of, oh, you know, the two best coaches in the nation. It's an impossible task, and one that he may just be tiring from. So, even despite all of the issues up in Happy Valley, Mullen may rightly view Penn State as an escape—a escape, that is, from his currently impossible situation. And Penn State, you can be sure, would be thrilled to have Mullen. He's young, he's energetic, he's innovative ... and he never worked for Joe Paterno. Can there possibly be a more perfect fit?

ONE: If you are complaining about the pending/inevitable rematch between Alabama and LSU in The Mythical National Championship Game, please stop. Or at the very least, please stop until you can find me a more deserving "No. 2" than 'Bama. Hint: There isn't a more deserving "No. 2" than 'Bama. So let's move on, shall we?

TOUCHDOWN: And, finally, one interesting item from The Irony Department. It seems, according to the latest reports, that ESPN knew of allegations of sexual abuse against Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine as early as 2002. It also seems that ESPN did nothing to alert the police about these allegations until a couple weeks back, when it finally reported the allegations and kicked off a firestorm up in 'Cuse. Which means, of course, that ESPN essentially pulled a Penn State here; they knew an alleged predator was on the loose. And yet they did nothing. ESPN rightfully castigated Penn State for their inaction regarding Jerry Sandusky. The quesiton now, of course, is whether ESPN will castigate itself for the same. Let's just say I'm not holding my breath.

* No awards for the podcast yet. But we're working on it.

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