OPINION: A Shortsighted Former Nittany Lion

Here's a clue for Brandon Short: man up and apologize to new Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien.

A prevailing thought from new Penn State coach Bill O'Brien's introductory press conference at the Nittany Lion Inn Saturday:

Wow, Brandon Short sure looks like a dolt.

In case you missed it, Short is the former Penn State linebacker who took personal shots at O'Brien even before he was hired. In a clumsy effort to rally support for longtime Nittany Lion assistant Tom Bradley — who recruited Short out of McKeesport, Pa., in the 1990s and was also in contention for the top job before O'Brien landed it — Short strongly protested O'Brien's pending hire when word of it leaked Thursday.

“There is a tangible standard at Penn State that this poor (O'Brien) guy knows nothing about,” Short told USA Today. “I feel badly for him (because) he is clueless and will not have the support of the majority of the Lettermen. This is a hornet's nest (for him).”

Apparently that “tangible standard” does not include giving a man the benefit of the doubt or a chance to talk before he absorbs a wanton potshot.

Worse still from Short's perspective is that he purported to be speaking on behalf of the Penn State Football Letterman's Club. As it turned out, he was not authorized to do any such thing, and the club quickly attempted to distance itself from his comments about O'Brien.

The officers of the Letterman's Club had the common sense — not to mention the common courtesy — to wait for the hire to happen and for O'Brien to say something before formulating their opinions (expect a release supporting the hire soon).

As for O'Brien, during his introductory press conference, he proved he was anything but clueless. He said all the right things, including paying homage to legendary Nittany Lion coach Joe Paterno and the school's classic uniforms.

He deftly worked his way around the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal that led to Paterno's firing, saying only that there was serious discussion about it but declining to provide further details.

He wrote a letter to the “Penn State football family” — including the lettermen — and read it aloud, saying that he gets that this is an emotional time for the program and its fans. But if people give him and his staff a chance, he'd like to try to “earn” their trust.

And he made the smartest first hire of an assistant coach he could have made. While answering his opening question Saturday — on an unrelated topic — O'Brien managed to weave in the fact that he had already retained defensive line coach Larry Johnson.

Fans in the room erupted with applause. The Johnson hire was key on many levels, listed in no particular order:

• He is arguably Penn State's best recruiter. He will help keep the current class intact and may even open doors to talented players (we're looking at you, Noah Spence) who eliminated the Lions due to the uncertainty with the staff.

• Johnson's track record for producing outstanding defensive linemen is, well, outstanding. And junior tackle Jordan Hill, who as of this writing was considering an early entry into the NFL Draft, had previously said that having the chance to play another season under Johnson would weigh heavily on his ultimate decision.

• He is the most prominent black coach on the current staff. And in a place like Centre County, where more than 90 percent of the population is white, a major college football staff better have some strong black leaders and role models. Johnson is both and so much more.

• Johnson quickly praised O'Brien for getting the way things work at Penn State: “He wants to win the right way. He understands the tradition. He embraced it. He knows what Coach Paterno has done here. So I think that's kind of neat. When he said those kinds of things, I said, 'OK.' ”

• Finally, like Paterno, Johnson did not attend Penn State. But through his time as an assistant — now at 16 years and counting — he has become the epitome of a Penn Stater. In other words, somehow, Johnson gained an appreciation for Penn State's “tangible standard” despite graduating from another school (Elizabeth City State).

Come to think of it, so did Paterno (Brown). And Rip Engle, the man Paterno replaced, coached at Brown and graduated from Western Maryland.

Anyone know where this O'Brien guy went to college? Just wondering if someone could have learned anything about the tangible standard there.

I'm joking, of course. Like Paterno, O'Brien is a Brown graduate. So nobody really had to wait to see his press conference performance to realize there is a certain level of brainpower at work for the new head coach.

Short's no dummy, either. His story is one to be admired. He grew up in a difficult area of McKeesport and earned a football scholarship to Penn State. While becoming an All-American, he earned a degree. He parlayed his football success into a solid NFL career and his academic success into an MBA from Columbia. He now works in investment banking at Goldman Sachs.

But he apparently didn't take any PR classes along the way. Once the USA Today (estimated circulation 1,829,099) story blew up in his face, he took the comical measure of issuing a “clarification” via his Facebook page (circulation 1,258).

In it he (predictably) blamed the media for misquoting him, “to say that I spoke for the Letterman's Club.” There was not a word of apology for misrepresenting the club and putting the club's officers in a terrible spot.

Then he rambled on in a single paragraph, 500-word diatribe on why a PSU assistant — Bradley, Johnson or linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden — should have been named head coach instead of O'Brien. It included a line blasting the school's Board of Trustees for a “rush to judgment” in firing Paterno.

The clarification offered no mention of Short's hypocritical rush to judgment against O'Brien. There was no apology for the “clueless” comment cheap shot at the new head coach.

Short was particularly upset that lettermen were not allowed more input into the hire. We should note that the administrator who made the final call — acting athletic director Dave Joyner — is himself a Penn State letterman.

Saturday afternoon, Bradley released a statement that was overwhelmingly positive toward Penn State. Though it was not clear if he would remain with the program, he did throw his support behind O'Brien.

“I wish Coach O'Brien all the best,” Bradley said. “No matter the challenges that the university may face, Penn State will always have my support. This is forever my home and forever my family. It is important that we come together to support our players and our university. Now is the time to demonstrate that we are — and always will be — Penn State.”

Did we mention that Short is looking like a dolt here?

Even the people he was supporting are saying the right things about O'Brien.

It is time for Brandon Short to man up, too.

He can maintain his grievances against the Board of Trustees — beefs which might have been taken more seriously if not for his direct, personal rant against O'Brien. Some of what he said about the BOT was legit.

He can continue to use the convenient scapegoat of the media to defend his attempt to leverage the power for the Letterman's Club. Better people have used stronger tools to accuse us of worse.

But this poor guy ought to apologize to O'Brien now.

Because failing to do so would be to come up short of the tangible standard that marks the measure of a true Penn Stater.


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