(We’re counting down to the first Saturday of college football, now 39 days away.)
There have probably been a billion words written lately about Penn State, but indulge just a few more. The perspective that fascinates me is how the football team moves forward.
Many of the best athletes will leave, but not all. There are young men who dreamed their whole lives of playing for the Nittany Lions and some of those will stay true to their school. It’s just a few days before the start of practice, so some players may opt to stick with the team this fall and then use their NCAA-approved golden tickets to go elsewhere in the spring.
This fall figures to be an unmitgated disaster, at any rate. If things come unwound, there could be as few as four wins on the schedule – for a program that’s won 83 games over the past decade.
But the sun will come up on Happy Valley and the team will play. To navigate the rough waters through the next few seasons, I think the new coach should pick up the phone and call Rick Pitino. No, really.
Pitino, after all, returned from a couple of seasons in the NBA to take over a Kentucky program that had been slammed by the NCAA. It took him three seasons to get the Wildcats to the Elite Eight – and that mind-boggling 104-103 loss to Duke in the East Region final.
In his seventh season, he won a national championship.
It would be crazy to suggest that Bill O’Brien will win a national title at Penn State. The program today appears light years from ever competing effectively on the national stage. But the Pitino model suggests some possibilities – find a fan-pleasing style of play, forget about winning the recruiting-service wars and focus all efforts on those young men who have grown up loving the Nittany Lions. Then, build a roster that understands that its mission is to play for pride until the program can fight through the current sanctions.
Would that work? I don’t know – is there any other choice but to try?