Thank You, Dave Joyner

Justin K. Aller

Your hostility is misdirected, Penn Staters. Joyner's athletic department graduates players, wins championships, and hires big time coaches.

The tension is palpable.  The anger is real.

State College has been teeming with it since 2011 - November 4th of that year, to be exact - and it has only increased with each passing day.  Each decisioneach moment, amplifying the frustration of a tightly knit community.  An anger that a just result couldn't cure, where the cheers on the steps of a picturesque courthouse in bucolic Bellefonte were cheers of neither vindication nor celebration, but momentary (and fleeting) relief. The Penn State family once stood tall amongst its peers in university athletics.  Starting in November 2011, it was awash in a sea of allegations that would devastate a reputation that it had cultivated for five decades.

In what can only be described as a completely unsurprising turn of events, the world looked for someone or something to blame for unspeakable tragedy.  The world[1] found Penn Staters and their "culture,"[2] and proceeded to decimate the legacy of an icon and the memories of a proud community.  Penn Staters, all 500,000 of the living alumni, the overwhelming majority of whom had nothing to do with these horrors except having the misfortune of living within 10 miles of a manipulative sociopath for 4 years of their lives, were tagged as "enablers"[3] who cared more about a successful football program than about young children.

In turn, starting in 2011, Penn Staters found targets for their own scorn.  Jerry Sandusky was the most obvious (and deserving) recipient.  Some other targets were entirely appropriate - Penn State administrators Graham Spanier, Tim Curley, and Gary Schultz, who were, in the most charitable interpretation, grossly negligent and embarrassing naïve.[4] The Penn State Board of Trustees, who collectively allowed this scandal to fester for nearly eight months without even bothering to ask basic questions about liability and the potential fallout of their most visible employee testifying to a grand jury.  Mark Emmert, President of the ever so popular[5] NCAA, who was so eager to make his organization relevant that he piled on Penn State as if he were James Laurinaitis.

Penn Staters demand winners who graduate. By that metric, Dave Joyner's tenure has been a remarkable success.

Other targets were less deserving of the derision they received. Current Penn State President Rodney Erickson, for example, had the unenviable task of taking over for Graham Spanier at the height of the highest profile scandal in the history of American universities.[6] His reward for the loyalty he exhibited is endless disdain from a small, but vocal faction of the population.

And then there is Dave Joyner.

Dave Joyner is the Director of Athletics at the Pennsylvania State University. As a student, he was a two-sport All-American in Happy Valley. He played offensive tackle for Joe Paterno's dominant squads that went a combined 29-4 from 1969 through 1971. He followed that feat by finishing second in the heavyweight division in the NCAA Wrestling Championships as a senior. Joyner was also named an Academic All-American in 1971, and was later inducted into the CoSIDA (College Sports Information Directors of America) Academic All-America Hall of Fame. He's also a member of the Pennsylvania Sports and Pennsylvania Wrestling Halls of Fame, and was the 1997 winner of the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award.

After graduating from Penn State, Joyner earned his medical degree from Penn State's College of Medicine and spent several decades as an orthopedic surgeon. He currently sits on the Board of Directors for the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, and served as the head physician for the United States Olympic Team at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France. In 2000, he was elected to the Penn State Board of Trustees, and served until his appointment to Athletic Director in November 2011.

It is mostly that stint on Penn State's much maligned Board of Trustees that has created some of the enmity that has been thrown in Joyner's direction.  After all, he was a member of the Board when the Sandusky grand jury testimony first broke in March 2011, when the indictment broke eight months later, and when the Board discharged Joe Paterno from his coaching responsibilities.

But Joyner is the subject of far more ridicule than his former Trustee position offers.  Joyner has been repeatedly slammed as a nepotism hire,[7] an entirely unqualified puppet who is clueless when it comes to running the Athletic Department of a major university.  A cursory glance at the comments of this article, written just seven months ago, will give you a quick synopsis.

It's true that Dave Joyner had no previous experience running an Athletic Department[8] before taking over Penn State's position from long time former AD Tim Curley.  The time to judge a resume is while the search is ongoing.  After 2 ½ years as Director of Athletics, Dave Joyner can no longer be judged on potential.  He's being reviewed based on results.

History demands that the Athletic Department at Penn State University be judged by a dual metric.  "Success with Honor" was a phrase that seemed destined for the recycling bin in the immediate aftermath of the Sandusky horror, but the sentiment still exists among the alumni - Penn Staters demand winners who graduate.  By that metric, Dave Joyner's tenure has been a remarkable success.  Penn Staters are true student athletes, graduating at rates far higher than their peers.  That success is not limited to the classroom, either - Penn State continues to perform at high level across the board, finishing 12th in the Learfield Sports Director's Cup for the 2011-12 academic year, and 6th place in 2012-13.  This year, on the heels of the school's 6th women's volleyball national title, Penn State is again tied for 6th place in the standings.

Of course, the Director's Cup measures success across all sports.  For those sports to be successful, they require the funding.  While Penn Staters may love wrestling, ice hockey, volleyball and soccer, it's football that foots the university's very large bill.  Penn State requires a successful football program in order for its Athletic Department to be self-sustaining.  Given the scholarship reductions and bowl ban that stem from the Sandusky scandal, that success is simply not a given.

Dave Joyner's first serious task as Director of Athletics was perhaps the largest task in the history of Penn State athletics. Finding Paterno's successor was always going to be nearly impossible.  Now, Penn State had to search for a successor to a college football icon in the most uncertain time in the program's history.

So Dave Joyner hired Bill O'Brien.

Bill O'Brien was a question mark when he was hired.  A one-year offensive coordinator from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, with a relatively unremarkable college coaching career.  The selection, with Joyner as its architect, was roundly derided as an "overwhelming disappointment" and "a failure on every level."[9]

Penn Staters castigated Dave Joyner because he hired someone that wasn't Mark Richt or Les Miles.  All Penn Staters got in return was a unified football program, several marquee wins, a modern offense,[10] Matt McGloin as an NFL starter, and two of the toughest teams to ever wear black shoes, white pants, and blue jerseys.  Bill O'Brien made that happen, but Dave Joyner brought him here.

And alas, to no one's surprise, least of all mine,[11] Bill O'Brien left this job half-finished, sprinting back to the NFL once he had amassed his first bit of leverage, and putting his fist through the proverbial windshield of the Penn State community on his way out the door.  That comment erupted in the media, sending a significant portion of the community into a tailspin.  And so once more, Dave Joyner had to set out to find a new coach for his franchise property.

So for the second time in as many years, Dave Joyner had to hire a new football coach. So Dave Joyner hired James Franklin.

James Franklin isn't family, but he's close enough.  He's "a Pennsylvania boy with a Penn State heart."  A tremendously successful coach in the country's toughest conference.  An enthusiastic, charismatic leader, who plans on being here "for a very, very long time," and is looking for "long term" success.  A coach determined to "reunite" the Penn State community, "Dominate the State" in recruiting, and represent Penn State University, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the northeastern United States.  A coach that isn't afraid to invoke Joe Paterno's name, and one that resurrected "Success with Honor" in the first five minutes of his introductory press conference.

James Franklin is the hottest name in coaching.  He was the home run hire that Penn State fans could never imagine years ago, when the fear was that Penn State wouldn't spend the money necessary to bring in a top-flight coach.

Dave Joyner spent over $4 million per year to bring the best coach on the market to his alma mater.

Penn Staters have been angry for a long time, but that hostility is misdirected.   You can feel free to keep telling the stories about Joyner's late-December hunting problems, and how he once prevented Mike Mauti from drinking a beer on a university-sponsored flight.  Dave Joyner's athletic department graduates students, wins championships, and makes big time hires.

It's time to recognize success.  It's time to tip our cap to Dave Joyner.


[1] At least it felt like the world, although it was first the sports media, then the national media, and then, perhaps, the world.

[2] I'm quite aware that "the world," as it were, ignored years of exceptional graduation rates coupled with on-field success and the unparalleled and inspirational work of THON, among other things, but let's keep that discussion to a minimum.

[3] I'd link the 100 or so stories that I found, but that seems completely unnecessary.

[4] At worst, they engaged in a cover-up that harmed young children, but that will all be fleshed out at their upcoming criminal trial on charges of conspiracy and failure to report suspected child abuse.

[5] Read as: "shameless"

[6] President Erickson neither wanted nor asked for this job, but he served when called upon with a measure of grace in a time of crisis, and he should be commended for that.

[7] Given the long-standing family dynamic that runs throughout the university, I'm not quite sure when this became an issue.

[8] Note that this isn't the same as saying he's "unqualified."

[9] These are my own words.

[10] Finally.

[11] See footnote 9.


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