Just 4 months into his new gig as the head of the Nittany Lions football program, Bill O’Brien was barnstorming across Pennsylvania, East Coast media markets, and Penn State alumni hotbeds. He also went to Cleveland. At the time, it seemed like a great idea to get the new face of PSU football out in front of the most loyal of fans, and bring along some of the most successful coaches in the athletic department to trumpet the #OneTeam mantra. I was not able to make any of those gatherings, and won’t again this year, but one thing has been clear to me observing from afar. These events are much more than just a gimmick. These coaches genuinely like one another, and clearly enjoy these events, and working together.
One thing that always irked me in previous years was how the football program was really off on its own, content to fund the rest of the department. I look at some of the most successful athletic programs across the country, and there’s a real connection between the de facto head of those departments, the head football coach, and the men and women that run the other programs on those campuses.
I grew up in Columbus (you may make your own jokes here. I’ll wait….ok then), and there is a story that sticks with me that proves my point, I think. The men’s hockey program had a number of prospects in town for a recruiting visit, over a football weekend. After touring the practice rink, the players came outside, and saw a crowd of thousands lining the streets as the OSU band headed into the stadium, with raucous crowds. One of the recruits would later say that’s when he made his mind up where he was going to school. Seeing that much energy surrounding a football game, and the passion of Buckeye fans told him everything he needed to know. I look at Ohio State now, and see a football coach and basketball coach that find ways to work together for the betterment of the other. Florida had a similar atmosphere when Meyer was in Gainesville as well. I think Penn State has the beginnings of that with O’Brien and Pat Chambers’ very obvious friendship.
Now, Penn State has always used football weekends to bring in recruits for the other programs, and football recruits are often seen at home basketball games if there is one taking place on their recruiting visit. But it also feels more genuine now. I know this whole “One Team” marketing campaign draws more than a few laughs, but I also see these coaches working together to use the best aspects of their programs, and their individual talents, to help their colleagues. And in the end, that is going to pay huge dividends for ALL of the Nittany Lions teams.
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