By Bill Campbell
There isn’t much question that the sports story of this week was written by a fellow named Bill O’Brien when he signed a contract to coach football at Penn State. He is, indeed, taking on a Herculean task. Replacing a legend is never easy but O’Brien will attempt to do just that in taking over for his fellow Brown University alumnus, Joe Paterno. Changing coaches every 46 years is a bit different from changing them overnight, as happens occasionally in other places. Accompanying the usual congratulatory messages to O’Brien will be some notes of disagreement. O’Brien’s background suggests that he is more than qualified for his new assignment but he comes to State College with more than his share of backlash. Simply replacing Paterno guarantees that. But as the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, he probably already regrets the recent screaming match he got into with Tom Brady, his Patriots quarterback, on the sidelines. It was all over You Tube and Twitter feeds. It really didn’t amount to that much. Both men attributed it to the heat of battle, which pretty much closed the issue — but it did add to O’Brien’s reputation as a fiery guy. His real task, however, might be in recruiting. Can you imagine the possibility of a few high school kids seeing the recent sideline fuss and comparing themselves to Brady and asking themselves, If this is how he handles Tom Brady how is he going to handle me? As of this week, Penn State’s recruiting class consisted of fourteen oral commitments, several somewhat fragile, and three kids reneging in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal that led to the firing of Paterno. The final recruiting push before national signing day on February first begins on January thirteenth and everyone, including Dave Joyner, Penn State’s Acting Athletic Director, said that it was crucial to have a new head coach in place in these final recruiting days. One bad recruiting season can turn into a disaster for a couple of seasons and become a major concern. However, I believe the words of Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft when it comes to O’Brien, whom I do not know and have never met. Kraft had this to say: “I am sad to lose him and I told him that. He is a very high quality guy of integrity and honesty. I am, indeed, sad to see him go but I think Penn State has chosen wisely.” The football future at Penn State will be captivating to watch.
The alleged “Arrogant Andy” legend continues. Would you believe that Andy Reid’s major at Brigham Young was Journalism? That he once had serious writing ambitions? That when he was a player at BYU he was also a columnist for the Provo Daily Herald.? That he once longed for a career as a writer for Sports Illustrated? That his favorite sports columnist was the late Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times? I shall always believe that Jeffrey Lurie’s biggest mistake as owner of the Eagles was his inability to convince Reid that one of a head coach’s biggest jobs is to communicate in an appropriate manner with and through the media to the fans. His overall won and lost record after thirteen seasons was good enough that civil communications should have been easily obtained. Lurie should have demanded it. Reid is the face of the franchise and Lurie’s failure to remind of that is remarkable.
Speaking of the NFL and of teams that are not in the play-offs, one of the most successful and experienced executives in the league has been Bill Polian in Indianapolis. He was fired last week along with his son, who was the general manager. Bill Polian told the AP the other day that his biggest mistake was in not having an adequate back-up for quarterback, Peyton Manning, which wound up costing him and his son their jobs; that the primary reason in not grooming an adequate replacement for the injured Manning was the reason the Colts collapsed this season going from Super Bowl contender to the worst record in the league. Polian said he always told his organization to hope for the best but plan for the worst. He failed to heed his own advice, leading to this season of catastrophe.
How about Tim Tebow? The Eagles, as you know, finished 8-8. The Denver Broncos finished 9-8. But the ninth win was a memorable play-off victory and they are now heading to New England for a second round game against the top-seeded Patriots on Saturday night. Despite the late game heroics of Pittsburgh quarterback, Ben Rothlisberger, he lost a coin flip to start the overtime – tails instead of heads. Tebow and the Broncos ran one play in just eleven seconds — the quickest ending to overtime in NFL history. In victory Tebow, who threw the game-winning play pass, knelt on one knee in thanksgiving – a gesture now described almost everywhere as “Tebowing”. After three struggling weeks, Tebow took the advice of Bronco executive and former football hero, John Elway, a Bronco legend. Before the game he told Tebow to just “let it fly” – lifting Denver to it first play-off win in six years.