Bill O’Brien brought light to a Penn State football program that was in a dark and unsure place following the breaking of the Jerry Sandusky scandal two years ago.
Despite the unprecedented sanctions placed on the school and football team by the NCAA, Bill O’Brien exceeded all expectations in his two seasons with the Nittany Lions; he coached the team to stunning eight and seven win seasons, respectively.
However, his stay wasn’t permanent, as expected. Before coaching for Penn State, O’Brien was the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots and always showed a desire to be a head coach in the National Football League.
With the opening of the Houston Texans head coaching job, O’Brien finally got his wish and departed from Penn State on New Year’s Eve.
While it did not come as a surprise for many that he left for the NFL, it still sent shock waves throughout Nittany Nation.
Former offensive lineman for Penn State (1981-84) and 1982 National Champion Tom Couch felt a lot of anger at the news of O’Brien no longer being the head coach. “I met him once and he said he was willing to do what he had to and he talked about his commitment to the program.”
In his two years with the team, Couch felt that O’Brien had “brought the community together to some degree and gave people the opportunity to rally around something…[O’Brien] was a galvanizing force and overcame a lot of adversity.”
Dave McCleary, guidance counselor at Red Lion Senior High, was disappointed in O’Brien’s leaving, saying “he preached to the players about loyalty, dependability and commitment. I fully expected him to stay for another two years.”
Tina Bernhardt, 1992 Penn State graduate of Red Lion shared similar feelings, but said “while it sets back progress he made, so far it doesn’t seem like it’s affecting many recruits.”
Quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who will be a true sophomore next season, has said he is committed to returning to Penn State. In a meeting with the media, Hackenberg said he did not consider leaving despite having such a close relationship with O’Brien: “This is where I want to play ball.”
Charlotte Albert, 2010 Penn State York graduate and lifelong fan of the Nittany Lions, from Red Lion, was not necessarily upset that O’Brien left, saying “they need someone who’s willing to stick around for awhile...a lot of people want the Joe Paterno type and you won’t find it...Penn State is unique because of ‘JoePa’ but there will never be another Joe Paterno.”
Bill O’Brien was the successor to the legendary Paterno, who was the head coach for an extraordinary 46 years.
Red Lion Social Studies teacher Jay Vasellas commented on the matter of who will follow O’Brien, saying “this is a good opportunity for a brand new coach to have a completely fresh start. Though ‘JoePa’ will never go away, there’s now a buffer between them.”
Approximately nine days after O’Brien’s departure, Penn State made their highly anticipated announcement regarding who would be the 16th coach in their history: former Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin.
Franklin, 41, turned around the Vanderbilt program in his three years with the Commodores, making them a force to be reckoned with in the dominating South-Eastern Conference. He led the team to a 24-15 record and three consecutive bowl games. Vanderbilt finished this season ranked No. 24 in the AP Poll.
An observation of junior Allison McKenzie is that he brings a “hometown feel,” which isn’t too far off. Franklin’s roots are in Pennsylvania. He’s not only from Pennsylvania, but he was a quarterback at East Stroudsburg University and his first coaching job came with Kutztown University.
His other coaching experiences have been with Maryland and Kansas State as their offensive coordinator.
Franklin is also a highly-regarded recruiter, and at one point recruited Christian Hackenberg for Vanderbilt. A big focus he has for the program is to “lockdown this state” in terms of recruiting and to “work hard every single day to develop the best football team we can.”
Season ticket holder and 1975 Penn State graduate Barry Foreman of Mt. Joy said the selection of Franklin is a good choice because he will bring a “renewed energy” to the team. Foreman also noted that so far Franklin has made a good impression of wanting to coach for Penn State.
In his introductory press conference, Franklin mentioned that he grew up as a Penn State fan and always dreamed of this opportunity.
“I am a Pennsylvania boy with a Penn State heart,” the new coach said.
With his clear commitment to the program and energetic personality, he has won over many people of Nittany Nation. Though he has a lot to do in the offseason with his recruiting goals and establishing a coaching staff, Franklin appears to be a good fit for Penn State, hopefully for the long term.