As of Sunday, Penn State had lost nine players since the imposition of sanctions from the NCAA in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and cover up, but for those who remain its time to get to work. New coach Bill O’Brien has his hands full as he leads Penn State practice for the first time today.
O’Brien is the first new coach to conduct a Penn State practice since Joe Paterno in 1966. Paterno was among those sacked for his role in covering up the child abuse committed by Sandusky. The scandal rocked the college football landscape and destroyed the legacy of former head coach Paterno who claimed Penn State practiced what it preached, and held itself as a moral high ground in college sports. Among the fallout from that were the sanctions — a four-year bowl ban and a reduction of 10 scholarships per year for the next four years.
O’Brien must find a way to replace key players, including the most recent defector — wide receiver Justin Brown. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sunday that Brown transferred to Oklahoma. His top returning tailback transferred to South Carolina. More could come, as the NCAA has allowed Penn State players to transfer until Sept. 1 and still gain immediate eligibility as a result of the sanctions. But O’Brien’s coaching chops come from the New England Patriots, where he was offensive coordinator. The Patriots, more than most NFL teams, know how to replace a player in a system and keep moving forward.
“You’re talking about having experience in how to put that roster together, learning from the best in (Patriots head coach) Bill Belichick. How to practice,” O’Brien told the Washington Post at Big Ten media days in Chicago last month. “So there’s no question that my NFL experience … will certainly help.”
Penn State has faced and will continue to face the fallout from the Sandusky scandal and subsequent coverup but there is little the players on the field can do about that. With camp beginning today, they can at least return some sense of normalcy. The players of Penn State practice today, and 28 more times before the season starts, preparing to try and move on one game at a time.