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Defining the Terms: "Success with Honor"



On Monday, Ben Jones wrote an interesting article about what happens after Coach Paterno.  There is the hope and expectation that the next head football coach will be like Joe Paterno in that, he will have "success with honor."

But what does that mean?

I suggest "unpacking" and defining the terms.  My sense is, in the end, many factors are favorable for Penn State being able to continue this tradition. 

Defining "Success"

For any Head Coach, there are many components to "success" such as wins on the field, working well within the administration, being "the face" of the program for media, fans, donors, etc.

But, let's admit it: wins are all that really matter.

And for wins, the definition is pretty straightforward (pick your own exact point on the spectrum); 8+ wins every year, contending for B1G and national championships.

Defining "With Honor"

This is the more complex and interesting question.  However, for our purposes, let's wildly oversimplify and define "with honor" as "not cheating."


Defining "Not Cheating"

Consider these as the sources of "cheating:"

          ---- Boosters and fans (want PSU to be the best)

          ---- Self-interested For-Profit Types (want $ for themselves; runners, agents, entourage, etc.)

          ---- family members (may or may not be For-Profit Type, may or may not be fans of PSU)

          ---- Student Athlete

          ---- Coach and coach's statf

          ---- Administration

I think PSU is "good" on many of these categories. 

There is no widespread sense that PSU boosters are "out of control" handing out bags of cash and ATM/debit cards.  That is important, because a "clean program" starts with the fans, alumni and donors.

Likewise, clearly, the administration has a commitment to a clean program.  This is both in terms of staffing and in terms of culture.

To date, PSU has hired coaches that do not cheat either overtly or by looking the other way or by tolerating the For-Profit Types and/or Rogue Boosters and/or Troublemaking Family Members.

And now we arrive at the most interesting categories: the student athlete and his/her family.  I speculate that Stanford has never had a major NCAA violation because of their students.  It takes a certain kind of strong character and background to work hard enough to achieve the grades and credentials necessary to be admitted to Stanford.  Such a student will not be easily tempted by the For-Profit Types and Rogue Boosters.  Likewise, such a student undoubtedly has family members who are supportive and intolerant of anything resembling cheating.

So, how about PSU? How has JoePa succeeded in running a "clean program" for 40+ years?  Obviously, the man himself has a strong character and he has not tolerated the For-Profit types and the Rouge Boosters.

But there is also a piece of this puzzle that involves the types of players recruited.  Has JoePa recruited the "risky" players and successfully transformed them? or are those "risky" recruits avoided?  I do not know the answer since I have not followed PSU recruiting.

Not that I want the comments to devolve into more bashing of tOSU and Tressel, but T. Pryor is a good case study.  Pryor was recruited heavily by PSU, Michigan (once RichRod was hired) and tOSU.  So, clearly, JoePa was willing to overlook some of the "warning signs."  But interesting question about what ran through Pryor's mind.  Obviously, recruits consider which program is mostly likely to help get them drafted.  But, if the recruit is self-interested or money-minded, do the recruits take that into account?  Is "too country" code for "not enough $100 handshakes"?

Add to that: Is JoePa's strength of character too strong for the self-interested "risky" recruits?  My guess is that the recruits learn what they can get away with before signing their LOI.

Anyway, the type of recruit matters.  Off the top of my head, I can't remember who, but someone recently said: "you recruit your own trouble."  The converse is true as well.

Defining "Success With Honor"

Another way of defining something is to define its opposite.  With greatest respect to the man and to Penn State, you just parted ways with a basketball coach that "did not quite succeed," but certainly did so with honor.  From what I have read on PSU blogs and media, said former bball coach was a source of much internal conflict/debate.  The "with honor" was much lauded, but there was great tension with the "not quite succeeding."

As for the football program and what happens "After Joe:"  the crux of the matter is whether a school can win championships without cheating and without recruiting "risky" players?  The answer is yes.  Stanford does it all the time in the non-revenue sports; PSU as well.

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