Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

Sports

January 11, 2014

As Paterno's successor, O'Brien didn't get his due at Penn State

(Continued)

For O’Brien the job included presiding over an emotional break between his predecessor, a football icon, and those who worshiped his achievements. It’s a scene that’s almost always marked by regret, disappointment and bitterness. Pity those who follow The Man.

I recall when Ray Perkins left the New York Giants in 1983 to return to Alabama to take over for Paul W. Bryant, who passed away shortly after announcing his retirement. Many in the state were still grieving when Perkins began making a few seemingly minor changes.

First, Perkins moved the coaching tower from which Bryant observed practice to a remote spot. The fans recoiled. The reaction was the same when Perkins made a slight modification in the players’ football gear.

The changes were too early and insensitive for the public, especially one that was still mourning. Perkins lost key fan support.

The situation was similar, although the circumstances far different, after Coach Bob Knight’s forced exit from Indiana. To this day, Knight’s following remains fervent in the Hoosier State. Coaches that bring home major championships become part of a state’s history and reputation, rightly or wrongly. Indiana has never recovered from that divisive parting — a wound that refuses to heal.

That’s part of what made O’Brien’s challenge so big. Despite Paterno’s flaws and mistakes, he was larger than life. He meant so much to a university and state, it was unreasonable to think that fans could transition quickly to a new regime. Old allegiances die hard.

O’Brien has shown once again that a coach never wants to be the one who follows The Coach.

“You can print this,” he told Jones. “You can print that I don’t really give a (expletive) what the ‘Paterno people’ think about what I do with this program. I’ve done everything I can to show respect to Coach Paterno — everything in my power. So I (couldn’t) really care less about what the Paterno faction of people, or whatever you call them, think about what I do with the program. I’m tired of it.

“For any ‘Paterno person’ to have any objection to what I’m doing, it makes me wanna put my fist through this windshield right now.”

O’Brien, by any fair measurement, was successful at Penn State. What he didn’t consider was that by following Paterno, some simply wouldn’t judge him fairly.

— Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

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