One of my favorite features we have here at BSD is the weekly game previews on Fridays during the season. Well, since there's no more games on Saturday we need something to put in the Friday slot. So through the offseason we'll try to do a weekly roundtable to discuss the topics of the day. I or one of my fellow bloggers will through out a question and we'll all respond. You know how these things work. This one is a bit long, so going forward I think we're going to try to shorten them up.
A few weeks ago it looked like Penn State football was lying in a ditch just waiting for someone to start throwing dirt on top of them. Rumors swirled that Joe Paterno's health was fading and the old man might not make it to next fall let alone coach in 2011. Tom Bradley was looking at other coaching jobs, and the threat of him taking half of the Penn State staff with him looked very real. Penn State had just a handful of verbal commitments secured for the class of 2011. Robert Bolden was looking to transfer. It's hard to imagine things getting any worse.
Skip ahead to today. Joe Paterno looked refreshed and alert at the Outback Bowl. Tom Bradley and the entire rest of the staff is staying put. Rob Bolden decided to stick it out and compete for the starting job this spring. And a furious rally in recruiting has Penn State bringing in a class that will probably end up being ranked in the top third of the conference. What a difference a few weeks makes.
Given all of this, how bullish or bearish are you for the future of Penn State football?
The answer to this really depends on who is the QB entering 2011. Matt McGloin was a great story in 2010. He saved the season, got us to a bowl game, and energized the offense. With that said, McGloin’s physical limitations, which became exposed multiple times against Ohio State (second half), Michigan State, and Florida will keep Penn State from reaching full potential in 2011 and beyond if McGloin is under center.
I’m not questioning Matt’s leadership ability. He proved he can lead. He also played the "I have a chip on my shoulder and I’m going to prove everyone wrong" role to perfection. You know what Matt McGloin is? He is a Penn State QB from the 1980’s trying to work his craft in the 2000’s. Betamax trying to fit in with 3D. McGloin IS a Paterno QB. Limited physical tools, solid leader, working in front of a solid rushing attack. That blueprint worked in the 80’s, but it just won’t get it done in 2011 and beyond. If Penn State wants to be an elite (yea I said it) program, a program that is consistently in the BCS (Ohio State, Oklahoma) it needs to do it with players that have the ability to change the dynamics of the team. Michael Robinson did it in 2005 and Daryll Clark was able to accomplish the feat in 2008. Which brings us to Robert Bolden.
Bolden was able to do something no true freshman accomplished in the history of a Joe Paterno run football team; become the Game 1 starting QB. Bolden took his lumps, as you would expect any freshman to. His TD to INT ratio was poor to quite poor and left much to be desired – but the potential was and still is there. The biggest lead a QB takes is from Year 1 to Year 2. Everyone is so quick to forget that Bolden wasn’t an early enrollee. He hasn’t had the benefit of the weight program, or six extra months of coaching. Imagine the 2011 Rob Bolden – 10 to 15 pounds bigger, stronger and faster. Perhaps most important, his comfort level within the offense, the huddle and familiarity with his teammates.
If Rob Bolden wins the job this Spring, 2011 has the potential to be a banner year in Happy Valley and we might just add a couple of more numbers onto the side of the building, something we haven’t done since 2008. If McGloin can muster up his moxy and keep the job, well let’s just say history will repeat it self and we are looking at 7-5 and not 11-2.
To me, it is apparent that Tom Bradley is not in the long term plans for Tim Curley and Graham Spanier. You don’t wait around for over 30 years at Penn State just to all of a sudden try and get ANY head coaching job that will have you. Honestly, the thought of Tom Bradley getting excited to coach the Temple Owls is laughable at best. Maybe Tommy knows something that we don’t. Or maybe, just maybe, he was trying to prove a point to Curley and Spanier and show that they don’t hold all of the cards and the assistant coaches (the important ones) would follow him to the next destination. My best guess – when Joe does go, the press conference to follow that won’t include Tom Bradley.
And to all of the haters that said Penn State couldn’t recruit anymore, well you can enjoy a nice heaping plate of crow. Just because Penn State didn’t have 20 verbal commits by August (I’m looking at you Texas), doesn’t mean they can’t recruit. When did it become the norm to make sure the class is locked up by August 1st? Last I checked, Texas had an awful season, no bowl game, lost 6 assistant coaches – including their "coach in waiting." The coach in waiting trend, was about as short lived and successful as O-Town.
Penn State has a couple of big decisions to make this off-season. If they guess right, we could end up in Lucas Oil Stadium. Guess wrong and we will have another off-season of Joe must go and Penn State is in the "dark years" again. If I were a betting man, I would bet the house on Penn State getting it right this off-season.
Future is an interesting word in college football. Each year multiple players graduate, transfer, drop out or sell their Gold Pants, and a new cohort of teenagers joins the playing-time competition scrum. Coaching staffs don't have as much inherent annual turnover as the players and, in general, are far more stable from one year to the next. But the winds of change blow hard on them as well. Top assistants often aspire to higher positions, athletic directors can get antsy about their program's direction, new hires could beat up their baby-mamas and spend the weekend in a South Bend jail, and successful young head coaches could finally listen to their health issues and walk away. Coaching Stability beyond a single season into the future is impossible to project. So I won't do it. I have no idea what the coaching staff will look like for the 2012 season, or how the hell its makeup will be determined or, importantly for some, by whom. But 2011? It's a known commodity, and you're bloody right I'm bullish.
But I'm generally a bullish Penn State fan, as you know. I'm usually a little overboard on our positives and try to be objectively honest about our weaknesses, and this year is no different. Our trenches need work. And on offense, there's considerable evidence our coaches may not be able to provide it. At the least, C & RG will have new starters, but with the way this staff juggles Olineman, I won't be surprised to see completely new faces at each position. The young talent seems to be there, if they can be taught. The Dline may just not have the talent we were spoiled with from '05 to '09. But their play will probably be improved with a little more experience and some better health this year. And it most certainly will be improved by an LBU corp which just has to be improved via addition by subtraction. Right? Vandy will have another deep pool of strong and fast LBs, most of whom seem unburdened by the instinctual weaknesses suffered by those departing. Skill players on both O & D are aplenty and can probably be counted upon. To, you know, MAKE PLAYS. The schedule presents its own challenges, but the team will be much, much better. Way better than 7-6, and, with a few breaks and decent health, could be as good as 11-2 or 12-1.
So, yeah, I'm bullish on Penn State's 'future.' Frankly, I'm much more worried about our fanbase.
BSD Mike Says...
I'm feeling pretty good about things. In the short term, things are going to be a little frustrating. The fact is we have an 84 year-old coach that doesn't travel to recruit. Our offensive coordinator doesn't recruit at all. But yet they're pulling in some pretty good recruiting classes. Even this year when Joe was sick in the spring and it seemed like they botched the entire year, they're still going to manage to pull a top 25 class out of their asses.
This tells me the Penn State brand is extremely strong. Penn State, with the help of Guido D'Elia, has sank a lot of effort into improving their facilities and polishing their brand. No other school east of Ohio and north of the Mason-Dixon line can seat 107,000 fans in their stadium. Nobody can compete with Penn State's facilities. Penn State is the jewel of the east, and that will make them a power house when they get a new coach with some energy.
Unfortunately, the current coaching situation prevents them from realizing their full potential. And this is where I'm conflicted. I'd love to get a young, vibrant coach that can keep the best talent from fleeing the northeast as well as use some more modern coaching practices. But at the same time, I just can't turn my back on Joe Paterno. The guy is a national treasure, and he made Penn State what it is today. God willing, I have another 40 or 50 years to enjoy Penn State football. Paterno doesn't have that luxury, so I'm not about to demand we take it away from him now.
So I'm willing to put up with a few more years of mediocrity. With the recent recruiting classes, I think the Autumn Lion has one more run in him. I know a lot of people think 2011 will be his last season, but I'm not so sure yet. I really think he's just going year-to-year. It'll be intersting to see if he gets a contract extension this spring as is the usualy custom when a coach is entering the final year of his contract.
To me this question comes down to knowing the difference between change and collapse. When Bradley was interviewing with Pitt and UConn people were getting bent out of shape because they thought it was a sign the sky was falling. Realistically this was how it was supposed to pan out. Joe would leave and a new coaching staff would come in. Maybe a few coaches stay but it seems unlikely that a new head coach would come in without hiring a new staff. In the end Bradley was jumping at the chance to get his dream job, it's not the sign of unrest in the program, or some massive behind the scenes drama. They guys has wanted the job forever, and given the chance at the right time in his life he took a shot at it.
As far as the programs future I like where it's going. Penn State football was built on principles and standards that have been held up for decades. Joe has been a large part of setting that foundation but it's success has come from people buying in to that foundation. All of the great football programs have seen their icon go and have moved on to continue what their leaders started. Maybe that means a few tough years, I’m ok with that because in the end the big picture is more important. Sure Ohio State beat us this year, but we had a roster of almost entirely underclassmen. It's not some sign of coaching failure to take a bunch of kids that could pass as high schoolers and put them up against 3 of the toughest teams in the nation and lose. People get worked up over a wins and losses and stop thinking. I want to win every game, and I expect to, but I also know what's reasonable. I think that our fanbase is failling away from thinking and just dealing in a knee-jerk internet age world.
That's why I don't get worked up over recruiting. So many players pan out in 6 different ways once you get them. We didn't get Pryor and in all honesty we're probably better off because of it. Recruiting is like the stock market. A small window doesn't let you accurately look at the big picture. I understand why recruiting is important, I don't want to downplay it, but I also know Penn State has a track record of successful, winning football, and plenty of those years were built on the backs of blue-collar football players that worked hard and listened to their coaches. There isn't any reason that a class of kids that weren't rated high enough on some "expert's" website can't keep that tradition going.
Joe Paterno has always said Penn State is bigger than just him. And he's right. Paterno has shaped this program, but he isn't it's life-force. I don't know what will happen in the next 5-10 years, but I'm not going to assume the program is headed downhill because I can't tell the future.
I've never been much of a message board reader, I've never been very into the recruiting scene, and I never saw anything in Robert Bolden that made me believe the program would be sunk without him. With that said, I was never bearish on the "future of the program" even in what many would consider its darkest moments earlier this month, so its hard for me to say I'm bullish, either.
Truthfully, I think "the end is near" stuff was a flagrant overreaction brought about by the media culture we live in today and little else.
In the 1970s and 1980s, when Joe Paterno was kicking butt, he wasn't evaluated as a recruiter by the kids in the class he was compiling, but the kids that were winning games for Penn State on the football field. Rivals and Scout changed all that, and now, unless you've got six "five star" kids in your class by June, people are going to freak out because they apparently have nothing better to do. That's where all this stuff comes from, and frankly, it annoys me, so I just kind of mock it.
There are folks out there that want a change at head coach. That's fine. But if those people don't stop overreacting to every bit of bad news that comes Penn State's way in the next year, or two years or however long Paterno decides to stay on, frankly, following this team isn't going to be a whole lot of fun. I think everyone just needs to cool their jets. Penn State is going to be fine with Joe and it'll be fine after Joe.
Trust me, you'll rest a lot easier with that as your personal motto than "If pimply high school kid X doesn't commit to Penn State we're screwed!"
As a rule, I'm cautiously optimistic about Penn State football. The program's foundation attracts quality athletes on a consistent basis; everything can work out as long as the coaching staff is a) able enough recruiters to grab kids we have a legit shot at, and b) able enough coaches to put the players in a good place to win on the field. At the moment, the bigger concern is probably the recruiting ability/capacity of the coaching staff.
Until we have a new head coach, we're going to be recruiting at a disadvantage, because your head coach needs to be able to make home visits. I remember when JoePa visited my high school to recruit a lineman a year older than me in 1997. Everyone at the school talked about it, and Joe undoubtedly had a chance to meet--and charm--other potential recruits from the underclassmen. Mike McQueary, as much as I love him, doesn't generate the same buzz.
I used to think that we should just hire Scrap after JoePa retires, but I no longer hold that opinion, and I'm glad that the powers that be don't seem to either. While nothing's certain, I feel increasingly optimistic that the next head coach at Penn State is going to be a great hire, someone like Boise State's Chris Pedersen, Urban Meyer, or someone else equally impressive. Add a coach with that kind of cache to the facilities, Beaver Stadium on autumn Saturdays, and all the rest, and I think we'll be back competing for national championships before you know it.
In the shorter-term, I'm bullish, though doubt we'll ever really be in the national championship debate come November with the current coaching. This year's team was one of the youngest in Penn State history, and that should provide a good platform for growth. On the other hand, I don't buy the argument that Robert Bolden will be the savior of the program because he started as a freshman. He didn't start as a freshman because he's such a great qb, he started b/c we didn't have another option. In a certain sense, he was the proverbial "tallest guy at a midget convention." The bigger issue is the line on both sides of the ball, and I'm really excited about this upcoming recruiting class. Whether we have the coaches to get the most out of the talent remains to be seen.
Longer-term, I'm very bullish, shorter-term, less so, but still the glass is at least half full.