Something has been bothering me since we received confirmation that Larry Johnson is leaving. I’ll try to convey my concerns and thoughts but I’d be grateful for any insight.
I was raised on Penn State. By that, I’m not just referring to the football or the education (both of which I hold dear), but the idea. I was raised on the idea that you could have success with honor and you should do everything you can to live up to that level of integrity, even when no one is watching. Perhaps it comes across as self-righteous but this has been my model and a source of great pride. When the actions of Jerry Sandusky were made public, I was shaken. The Penn State idea was shredded by the media and public at large. Joe Paterno was held up as a hypocrite, our leaders were charged with turning a blind eye to atrocities against children, and the makeshift Penn State administration responded with all of the backbone of a jellyfish.
Still, even in the worst of moments, I saw Penn State coming through. The alumni immediately launched a fundraising campaign that raised millions of dollars to support organizations that mediate abuse. We passed a jar at my local chapter’s meeting. In the unrest that followed Joe’s dismissal, I recall a number of interviews in which students first expressed their concern for the victims before decrying the media and the administration’s treatment of Joe (often articulating their position with impressive eloquence given the circumstances and the emotion). And with regard to the football team, the statement made by Zordich, Mauti, McGloin and other players who vowed to stay together following the NCAA sanctions helped to reaffirm that the Penn State idea would live on. The presence of Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden buttressed my belief that the football program would continue to do its job in molding players into men of integrity and honor.
This brings me to my concern. With the departure of LJ, there is no remaining coach from the Paterno era, to my knowledge. Zordich, Mauti, McGloin, and other leaders are gone. I know that there are still kids left that were recruited under Joe, but I can’t think of a flag bearer for the program as it was. And I am left to wonder, who is going to carry on OUR tradition?
I understand the excitement that surrounds James Franklin. I am hopeful that he will continue the success of the program. I have no compelling reason to believe that he wouldn’t further the tradition of success with honor, but there are a few issues that give me pause. For example, much has been made about the recruitment of Vanderbilt’s players. I have no desire to rehash the details of whether or not it is okay to recruit them; but if nothing else, I am concerned that we are recruiting kids that were sold on a coach and not a school or, more importantly, an education. He was asked about this on the Dan Patrick show. Although he makes a decent point about the relationship between a recruit and the coach, he goes on to say that he is doing what is in the best interest of Penn State. For me at least, I’d prefer if he were doing what is best for the kid. I realize that those things aren’t mutually exclusive but I just wish the emphasis had been on the student-athlete. I don’t mean to criticize Franklin because he deserves a fair opportunity to show us who he is and where his convictions lie. Regardless, actions speak louder than words and we have only a small sample size.
So who will carry on OUR tradition? I guess my answer should be the alumni and the current students. Maybe it is too much pressure to place on a coaching staff. The reason I am uneasy, though, is that the football program receives so much publicity and Joe so skillfully fashioned it as a conduit for the grand experiment. I wanted to make one final acknowledgement…many have told me that I am far too naïve and the program could never have the honor and integrity which I have ascribed to it. I don’t know if that is true or not. I think the Penn State idea is real and I hope WE (still) ARE!