Chargers cornerback Marcus Cromartie is one of many Wisconsin Badgers who recently have had an impact in the NFL. Find out why he thinks the Badgers are playing so well and what's to come for Wisconsin.
Full Story >>
Chargers cornerback Marcus Cromartie is one of many Wisconsin Badgers who recently have had an impact in the NFL. Find out why he thinks the Badgers are playing so well and what's to come for Wisconsin.
Full Story >>
This spring, the Michigan athletic department admitted what many had long suspected: Student football ticket sales are down, way down, from about 21,000 in 2012 to a projected 13,000-14,000 this season.
The department has blamed cell phones, high-definition TV and student apathy sweeping the nation. All real problems, to be sure, but they don't explain how Michigan alienated 40 percent of its students in just two years -- and their parents, too.
How did Michigan do it? By forgetting why we love college football.
Dave Brandon, the former Domino's Pizza CEO-turned-Michigan athletic director, has often cited the difficulty of using cell phones at Michigan Stadium as "the biggest challenge we have." But when Michigan students were asked in a recent survey to rank seven factors that would influence their decision to buy season tickets, cell-phone coverage was seventh -- dead last.
What did they rank first? Being able to sit with their friends.
But Brandon did away with that last year, with a new student seating seating policy. Instead of seating the students by class -- with the freshmen in the end zone and the seniors toward the 50, as Michigan had done for decades -- last year it was first come, first served. If you wanted to sit together, you had to walk in together. (They also raised the price from $195 for six games in 2013 to $295 for seven games.)
The idea was to encourage students to come early, and come often. Thousands of students responded by not coming at all.
This was utterly predictable -- and I predicted it, 13 months ago, in this column.
Since the mid-70s, TV networks have loved showing blimp shots of the sold-out Big House -- one of college football's iconic sights. Now, with the student section still half empty at kickoff, they don't show any.
Working with student government leaders, the athletic department revised the policy for the 2014 season, giving the best 6,000 seats to the best "frequent fliers" from 2013, and allotting the rest by class. But it was apparently too little, too late, as some 6,000 Michigan students decided to drop their tickets for 2014 anyway.
Insult to injury: Most college teams now play their biggest rivals on Thanksgiving weekend, when many students have gone home.
If the students don't love college football now, when it's half-price, will they love it more when they're paying twice that?
"We know who our competitor is," Brandon often says. "Your 60-inch, high-definition TV."
If that's true, maybe they shouldn't have increased seat prices by an average of $100 each since Brandon took over in 2010. Perhaps they should stop charging six bucks for a hot dog, five bucks for popcorn and four dollars for water. Maybe they shouldn't make their paying customers wait 20 minutes to get to their seats, another 20 to buy that six-dollar hot dog, and 20 more to visit a bathroom – marking an hour waiting in line for things fans at home can get in a minute.
Of course, every college football season-ticket holder's most hated delay is TV timeouts. Because just about every major college game is televised, ticket holders have to endure about twenty commercial breaks per game, plus halftime. That adds up to more than 30 minutes of TV timeouts -- about three times more than the 11 minutes the ball is actually in play.
To loyal fans, who sit in stadiums that are often too hot in September and too cold in November and too rainy in between, this is as galling as taking the time, money, and effort to drive downtown to a local store, only to have to wait while the clerk talks on the phone with someone who didn't bother to do any of those things.
I'm amazed how eagerly universities have sold their souls to TV. It wasn't always this way. Michigan's legendary coach, Bo Schembechler, often said, "Toe meets leather at 1:05. If you want to televise it, fine. If you don't, that's fine too."
Bo's boss, Don Canham, backed him. For years, TV was dying for a night game at the Big House. Canham wasn't. So, they compromised -- and didn't have one.
If season-ticket holders want night games, give 'em what they want. But nobody likes waiting for TV to decide when your favorite team is going to play that week -- especially fans flying in from far away.
Why do the people who run college football let TV spoil your day at the stadium? TV doesn't make spectators at the Indy 500, the Masters or the World Cup wait for their ads -- yet those events still make billions. If the TV whizzes can't figure out how to make a buck on football without ruining the experience for paying customers, those fans will figure it out for themselves, and stay home.
While TV is running ads for fans at home, college football stadiums too often give their loyal season-ticket holders not the marching band or -- heaven forbid -- time to talk to their family and friends, but rock music and, yes, ads! To its credit, Michigan doesn't show paid advertisements, but the ads it does show -- to get fans to host their weddings at the 50-yard line, starting at $6,000, and their corporate receptions in the skyboxes, starting at $9,000 -- Michigan fans find just as annoying.
Yes, advertising in the Big House does matter. Americans are bombarded by ads, about 5,000 a day. Michigan Stadium used to be a sanctuary from modern marketing, an urban version of a National Park. Now it's just another stop on the sales train.
Everything the ticket holders spend hundreds of dollars to wait for and pay for, they can get at home for next to nothing – including the ads -- plus better replays. They can only get the marching band at the Big House.
Survey after survey points the finger for lower attendance not at cell phone service or HDTV, but squarely at the decisions of athletic departments nationwide. Fans are fed up paying steakhouse prices for junk food opponents, while enduring endless promotions. The more college football indulges the TV audience, the more fans paying to sit in those seats feel like suckers.
Yes, Michigan's athletic department has always followed basic business practices, but it has never been run strictly as a business -- until now. The proof is the wait list, which former athletic director Don Canham grew by the thousands. Canham was a multi-millionaire businessman in his own right. If he wanted to "maximize revenue," he knew he could increase the price to meet demand, just like hotels do. But he didn't, because he believed that would dispel the magic of Michigan Stadium.
Brandon's predecessor, Bill Martin, introduced Personal Seat Licenses to the Big House, but only after the nation's next 19-biggest stadiums had already done so. Even then, the PSL program was relatively moderate, he spared the fans in the endzones, and he lowered ticket prices after the 2008 recession. Even after the team finished 3-9 in 2008 and 5-7 in 2009, Michigan's wait list remained robust.
"Just because you can charge them more," Martin told me, "doesn't mean you should. You're not there to ring up the cash to the nth degree. It's a nonprofit model!"
In Brandon's first four years, he has increased the operating budget from $107 million to $147 million. That does not include the building program, most recently estimated at $340 million. In Brandon's defense, he has generated a $5 million surplus (down from $9 million a year ago) and the buildings will benefit all Michigan's teams, not just football and basketball. But his budget also includes his $1 million salary, almost three times what Bill Martin paid himself -- and yes, the AD does pay himself -- plus Brandon's $300,000 annual bonus, which contributes to a 72-percent increase in administrator compensation; not to mention an 80-percent increase in "marketing, promotions and ticketing"; and a 340-percent increase in "Hosting, Food and Special Events."
OK, you start dictating terms to TV networks, they might cut back on the cash -- though I doubt it. But even if they did, what would that mean? Perhaps Michigan's rowing team would have to make do with a $20 million training facility, instead of a $25 million one. Maybe Michigan head coach Brady Hoke would have to get by on $2 million a year, instead of $4 million. Perhaps Brandon might just have to feed his family on $300,000 a year, instead of $1.15 million.
I think Michigan could somehow survive these deprivations. It would be worth it if, in the bargain, the university get its soul back.
I've come to believe it's not scandal that will bring down college athletics, but greed. How long can these numbers, fueled by increasingly unhappy fans, continue to skyrocket before they come crashing down to earth?
All that money comes from someone -- and that someone is you, the fans. Tickets used to be underpriced, and you knew that when you scalped them for more than you paid. Now they're overpriced, and you know that when you try to sell them through Michigan's Official Scalper, StubHub, and get far less.
The wait list is long gone. The department has been sending wave after wave of emails to former ticket holders, retired faculty members and even rival fans to assure them, "The deadline has been extended!" Beg your former customers to come back five times, and you don't have a deadline, and you don't have a wait list.
This fall Michigan is in danger of breaking its string of 251 consecutive games with 100,000-plus paid attendance, which started in 1975. The college football world should take note. Michigan boasts the most living alumni in the world, roughly 500,000, and the second biggest fan base, of 2.9 million, behind only Ohio State's.
Michigan fans are not the canaries in the coal mine. They are the coalminers. The people who run college football should take note.
Michigan's biggest problem is not knowing who its customers are, what they're like and what they want.
Brandon often says, "We all think of every home Michigan football game like a miniature Super Bowl."
I don't know any Michigan fans who think that. Quite the opposite, they think Michigan football games are the antidote for the artificial excess of the Super Bowl -- as do most college football fans.
In 2005, then-athletic director Bill Martin commissioned a survey that revealed more than 50 percent of Michigan season-ticket holders had been buying them for more than two decades, but only 9 percent of them also bought season tickets to any professional team. This tells us a basic truth:
Michigan football fans don't just love football. They love Michigan football -- the history, the traditions, the rituals -- the timeless elements that have grown organically over decades. They are attracted to the belief that Michigan football is based on ideals that go beyond the field, do not fade with time, and are passed down to the next generation -- the very qualities that separate a game at the Big House from the Super Bowl.
After the 2013 Notre Dame game, Brandon said, "You're a 17-18 year old kid watching the largest crowd in the history of college football with airplanes flying over and Beyonce introducing your halftime show? That's a pretty powerful message about what Michigan is all about, and that's our job to send that message."
Is that really what Michigan is all about? Fly-overs, blaring rock music and Beyonce? Beyonce is to Michigan football what Bo Schembechler is to -- well, Beyonce. No, Michigan is all about lifelong fans who've been coming together for decades to leave a bit of the modern world behind -- and the incessant marketing that comes with it -- and share an authentic experience fueled by the passion of the team, the band and the students. That's it.
In his speeches, Brandon often mentions he's served as the CEO for three Fortune 500 companies -- the apotheosis of a recent trend among major programs such as Oregon, Notre Dame and Penn State, who've passed over experienced athletic directors to hire outside business gurus.
But if Brandon knows so much about business, why does he know so little about the people who've been filling the Big House for decades?
When the late Michigan broadcaster Bob Ufer said, "Michigan football is a religion, and Saturday is the holy day of obligation," he was on to something.
If the people running college football see their universities as just a brand, and the athletic departments merely a business, they will turn off the very people who've been coming to their temples for decades. Athletic directors need to remember the people in the stands are not customers. They're believers. Break faith with your flock, and you will not get them back with fancier wine.
If you treat your fans like customers long enough, eventually they'll start behaving that way, reducing their irrational love for their team to a cool-headed, dollars-and-cents decision to buy tickets or not, with no more emotional investment than deciding whether to go to the movies or buy new tires.
After a friend of mine took his kids to a game, he told me, "Michigan athletics used to feel like something we shared. Now it's something they hoard. Anything of value they put a price tag on. Anything that appeals to anyone is kept locked away -- literally, in some cases -- and only brought out if you pay for it. And what's been permanently banished is any sense of generosity."
After Brandon became Michigan's 11th athletic director in 2010, he often repeated one of his favorite lines: "If it ain't broke ... break it!"
You have to give him credit: He has delivered on his promise.Full Story >>
The campaign among Northwestern football players to form a union has been a huge national story since it began in late January. It has been covered in just about every major news outlet, especially after the players scored a big win in a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board.
But the players might have just gotten their most favorable bit of media coverage this week when The Daily Show decided to tackle the issue and skewered the NCAA in the process:
For the first time since 1937, no University of Texas player was taken in the NFL draft -- a 77- year streak that had been the longest of any program in the country. It is a development that will lead his detractors to argue that Mack Brown was more salesman than teacher. But to revere him as a recruiter and criticize him as a coach is to miss the point of Brown's true legacy.
Brown, who retired after the 2013 season, was the ultimate people person, quick to smile, happy to deflect praise away from himself and on to others, and always looking for ways to build goodwill and relationships. The moniker "Coach February" (the month recruits sign letters of intent) was a nod to his powers of persuasion as well as a direct attack on his inability to develop talent.
When I take you behind the curtain, you'll see that recruiting wasn't even his greatest skill.
It was his knack for putting others in a position to succeed.
Brown will always be remembered for leading Texas to its first national championship in 35 years when Vince Young quarterbacked the undefeated 2005 Longhorns to a Rose Bowl victory over USC. Before taking the reins in Austin, Brown led North Carolina to its only two New Year's Day bowl games in more than 50 years. Before that, he earned a reputation as an innovate offensive mind under Jerry Stovall at LSU in 1982 and Barry Switzer at Oklahoma in 1984.
College football coaches move players to different positions on a regular basis. The greatest coaches, though, have the foresight to recognize skills that others coaches, and we ourselves, miss. Most defensive backs were standout running backs in high school, just as 180-pound scholastic linebackers usually end up at strong safety. Brown not only made the obvious switches, but he also had an uncanny gift of awareness -- combined with the compassion to deliver his insight -- that changed the lives and fortunes of countless players.
My brother, Andy Dinkin, received a scholarship in 1987 to play defensive tackle for the North Carolina Tar Heels. Andy redshirted, and after a disappointing 5-6 season, Dick Crum was replaced by the 36-year-old Mack Brown, who coached him for the next four years.
Brown arrived on the Chapel Hill campus in the spring of 1988, and after evaluating his personnel, he saw exactly what his team was. In a word, slow. He knew that it was easier to put weight on a kid than make him faster. But rather than haphazardly change players' positions, he buried himself in the film room to study each of their strengths and weaknesses. Defensive linemen get the sacks and glory, so when Andy got wind that he might get moved to offense, he braced himself for bad news.
Fearing the worst, my brother was called into his new coach's office. Brown put on some practice film and told Andy that he loved his work ethic, strength and technique. Then he pulled out his two big guns, each loaded with because -- one of the most powerful words in the English language, and said, “Because you are most effective moving straight ahead rather than laterally, you will be more successful on offense. Because you can compete for a starting job, we are switching you to offensive guard.”
In my new book, The Leading Man, I identify four traits of today’s alpha male: Certainty, clarity, compassion and courage. When a man exhibits those traits, it puts others at ease and transforms their attitude. While most coaches possess certainty and clarity, Brown's ability to show compassion -- and walk in his players' shoes to understand their concerns -- is what made him both successful and beloved. Sure enough, Andy walked out of the room more motivated than ever and ended up starting three years at offensive guard.
Of the other five starting UNC offensive linemen in 1991, only one (tackle Andrew Oberg, who was drafted by the Green Bay Packers) played his original position. And only one, 6-1 Andy, did not get a look at the next level.
Brown transformed Brian Bollinger from a lumbering tight end to a lightning-quick guard, and the San Francisco 49ers chose him in the third round. Former quarterback Deems May moved to tight end and played eight years in the NFL. Defensive lineman Randall Parsons and Ricky Shaw switched to center and tackle, respectively, and both signed NFL free agent contracts.
The changes went beyond the offensive line. Brown took one look at junior running back Torin Dorn and knew exactly who he was (and perhaps more important, how he would be viewed by NFL scouts). Dorn was fast and agile, but too small and injury prone to make it as a running back at the next level. Thus, Brown made the bold move of moving him to cornerback for his senior year, and Dorn ended up playing seven years in the NFL after being drafted in the fourth round.
He switched Reggie Clark from running back to wide receiver and then again to strong safety. Had he stayed at safety, his career likely would have ended at the college level, but again, Brown saw what others couldn't and moved Clark to outside linebacker for his senior season. Three NFL seasons later, this paid off in dollars for Reggie Clark.
Watch a brilliant theatrical performance and we're quick to praise the actor. What we don't see is the casting agent, who chose the right actor and put him a position to succeed. Wouldn’t it be great to have Mack Brown watch life-film of you and clue you in on your weaknesses? You say "like" all the time. You lose eye contact when you get nervous. Your breath reeks. We can't see our own blind spots and often don’t even know our greatest strength.
This is why Mack Brown's real genius was putting players in the best position to succeed. Many of Brown's players resisted position changes and some quit the team. The ones who were successful had two primary traits: They were open to feedback and they took action.
It taught me that the best way to predict success is to watch people's feet. If they are moving and taking action, their odds of success skyrocket. Other leading indicators are lips and ears. Those talking the most are justifying old patterns and clinging to dated beliefs. Those whose lips don't move -- who shut up and listen -- are open to experimenting outside their comfort zone, and thus have the most success. As long as we remain open, the "casting agents" who often take the form of coaches will put us in the best position to succeed. If they earn our trust, they alert us to our blind spots and show us the best way to utilize our skills. In some cases, the payoff can be in the tens of millions.
Many fortunes have been altered due to a position change. Had J.J. Watt continued as a tight end at Central Michigan rather than transfer to Wisconsin to play defensive end, who knows where his career would be now. As detailed in a brilliant exclusive interview with ThePostGame, UCLA's Anthony Barr shifted from running back to linebacker, and the Minnesota Vikings selected him with the ninth overall pick of the 2014 draft. There are innumerable stories like this, but Brown's track record is long and impressive, as he made unconventional moves that few coaches could have imagined.
Henry Melton was a USA Today high school All-American running back who rushed for 625 yards in his first two years at Texas. Brown saw that Melton would be even more effective on the defensive line, and sure enough, he was drafted in the fourth round of the 2009 draft by the Chicago Bears and recently signed a contract with the Dallas Cowboys. In an interesting twist of fate, he’ll compete for playing time with Chris Whaley, another former UT running back-turned-defensive lineman who also just inked a free agent contract with the Cowboys. It was one thing for Brown to move Cory Redding, who in 1999 was the USA Today high school defensive player of the year, from linebacker to defensive end, but Whaley and Melton were both running backs.
They were numerous other beneficiaries of Mack Brown's gift of awareness. Ethan Albright arrived at UNC as a highly touted tight end in 1989, and Brown made the wise choice to move him to offensive tackle, where he earned All-ACC honors. The real "money” move was also turning him into a long snapper. It led Albright to the Pro Bowl in 2007, and he still holds the NFL record for most consecutive games (224) as a long snapper.
Cullen Loeffler's path was even more remarkable. He was a jack-of-all-trades in high school who excelled in tennis and basketball, and played everything from quarterback to receiver to punter on the football team. None of those skills was enough to earn a scholarship, and his prospects as a walk-on at UT looked bleak. After trying him at tight end, Brown made him a long snapper. Now ten years into an NFL career, Loeffler still holds that position for the Minnesota Vikings.
Brown's success as a recruiter means we'll remember him for his salesmanship. But it was combining that gift of gab with awareness and compassion that translated into getting players to buy into the best choice for both team and player. As my brother, Torin Dorn, Henry Melton, Ethan Albright, Cullen Loeffler and countless others learned, Mack Brown possessed a coach's greatest gift: The ability to see what we cannot.Full Story >>
After days of dancing back and forth, with everyone from Penn State's fans to the trustees wondering if head football coach Bill O’Brien was going to stay or go, he finally ended the suspense: O'Brien announced he would be leaving State College after two seasons to coach the NFL's Houston Texans.
At first glance, it's an old story: An NFL offensive coordinator gets a chance to lead a legendary college program, then jumps back to the NFL when he's offered the opportunity to become a head coach. But after conducting hundreds of interviews inside Penn State's program to write my latest book Fourth and Long, and several articles, I can tell you it’s not that simple. Or, rather, it's almost that simple -- but it's not what you think.
Dig a little deeper, and you'll see O'Brien's decision -- made at the eleventh hour, after much hand-wringing -- was based as much on the appeal of the Texans' offer as it was the lack of leadership presented by Penn State.
Probably no one felt this more acutely than the players on the 2012 team, Penn State's first after the dismissal and death of Joe Paterno.
"Who was stepping up and taking it?" 2012 senior Michael Zordich asked me. "We were. They never stood up for us. Not the president, not the AD. They were silent. Silent. Thanks. Who was standing up for us? O'Brien -- and that's it."
Trustee Anthony Lubrano, who was elected to the board as an alumnus in the summer of 2012, understands Zordich's frustration. "From 1995 to 2011, until they accepted Graham Spanier’s resignation and fired Joe Paterno, those two were clearly the face of Penn State," he told me. "Since their respective departures, no one has replaced them, and we've struggled to overcome that. New logos and slogans haven't helped, either."
Penn State's problems start with its outdated 30-member Board of Trustees. While other universities elect or appoint their trustees, Penn State uses a bizarre hybrid to fill its Board. This includes the state secretaries of education, agriculture, conservation and natural resources; six appointees by the governor, nine elected by alumni, and six elected by Pennsylvania agricultural societies. It harkens back to the school's founding as a land-grant college. Six additional trustees are selected by a committee representing business and industry.
Although the six business appointees, led by BNY Mellon president Karen Peetz, comprise only one-fifth of the board, they tend to have the most influence, and the nine elected alumni much less.
Consider three key decisions that were driven by just a handful of business appointees:
-- On July 12, 2012, within hours of receiving the damning Freeh Report -- which accused Penn State’s leaders of a "total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims” - a few business appointees officially accepted the report on behalf of Penn State. That decision, in turn, prompted the NCAA to accept the report in lieu of its own investigation, resulting in severe sanctions.
-- Failing badly to select a permanent president in November 2013 (more on that later).
-- Creating the $4.25 million per year salary for new football coach James Franklin, in early 2014.
The nine elected alumni trustees, in contrast, could count only one representative on one of those committees.
After NCAA President Mark Emmert delivered his famous quote about the "culture problem" with Penn State's football program, in July of 2012, Lubrano, who had just been elected to the board as an alumnus, responded, "We do have a 'culture' problem. But it lies in the board of trustees."
The Sandusky scandal has taken its toll on Penn State, as you'd expect. But right when the football team, at least, seemed poised to emerge from the crisis, the issues with Penn State's leadership have persisted, manifest in their struggles to select a permanent president and to provide crucial support for a football program still in flux.
This brings us to the position of Athletic Director. After longtime AD Tim Curley stepped down in 2011, the process of replacing him has been similarly bumpy and unorthodox. The board quickly named one of its own, David Joyner, as the "Acting Director of Athletics."
Joyner had been an all-American offensive lineman at Penn State in 1971, and went on to become an orthopedic surgeon. He was elected to PennState's Board of Trustees in 2003, 2006, and 2009, taking one of the nine seats reserved for alums, voted on by alums.
Nonetheless, Joyner was an odd choice for athletic director. That Joyner had no experience working in an athletic department was a weakness Michigan, Notre Dame and Oregon had also overlooked in their searches, in favor of business experience. But what business experience Joyner had was not a ringing endorsement for his candidacy. In 2002, he founded a company which operated a chain of gyms called C-5 Fitness. In 2006, the company filed for bankruptcy.
“Some companies do go bankrupt, no matter what you do,” Joyner said to PennLive.com. "I'm certainly not a venture capitalist, but I’m told that successful venture capitalists fail 85 percent of the time."
Messages to the Penn State Athletic Communications office to speak with Dr. Joyner (left in picture, with O'Brien and interim president Rod Erickson) for this story were not returned.
After Joyner took the job, trustee Ira Lubert, a real estate millionaire, arranged for the Joyners to stay in one of his homes in State College, and another in Hershey. Two months later, Penn State named Joyner the permanent athletic director.
The board's decision to hire a fellow trustee attracted the attention of the Pennsylvania auditor general, who released a report in November 2012, stating it created "reasonable public perceptions of insider influence and conflicting interests.”
Penn State dismissed the AG’s concerns, but the players did not. After the 2011 team finished 9-3, without a permanent president, athletic director or head coach, the team captains called a players-only meeting to decide whether to accept the bid to the lowly TicketCity Bowl in Dallas. After a civil discussion, they decided if they represented Penn State's values, they had to go.
All seemed settled -- until Dr. Joyner addressed the team after their vote. According to over a dozen players present, he accused them of being "a bunch of children” for declining the bowl invitation, which prompted Gerald Hodges to stand up and demand Dr. Joyner show more respect. The two started walking toward each other, creating a commotion loud enough for assistant coach Larry Johnson Sr., waiting outside, to come into the room, hold Hodges, and literally escort him out.
Finally, when captain Devon Still told Joyner, "We already decided. We’re gonna go,” Joyner calmed down, and told the team they had their full support, but the players never bought it. After Joyner hired O'Brien, the players asked O'Brien to keep Joyner away from the team -- essentially banning him from their sideline, their locker room and their team meetings -- and Joyner obliged, not appearing before the team again until the 2012 senior banquet.
When Dr. Joyner courted Bill O'Brien after the 2011 season, he asked him to FedEx his resume and cover letter, then lost the envelope in the department mailroom for eight days until O'Brien called to make sure they'd received it. O’Brien was smart enough to ask about the possibility of the NCAA punishing the football program, but naïve enough to believe Joyner when he assured O’Brien the NCAA would steer clear.
On July 23, 2012, the NCAA leveled historically severe sanctions against the school for the Jerry Sandusky scandal, leaving Penn State’s football program to face a slow version of the death penalty. But O'Brien and a special class of seniors not only kept the team alive, they thrived, knocking off ranked teams en route to an 8-4 record.
Two days after Penn State finished the triumphant 2012 season by beating eventual Big Ten champion Wisconsin, I sat with Bill and Colleen O'Brien at their breakfast table. "We like it here,” Bill said. "She likes it here, and the kids do, too. We love this team, the families. I love the values here, and I believe in them."
But as he was talking, his cell phone buzzed so often it almost fell off the edge of the table.
It wasn't friends or well-wishers calling, but athletic directors from Boston College, Tennessee, and Arkansas, and the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns and San Diego Chargers. They all wanted to know one thing: What would it take to get O'Brien to jump?
The Monday after the football season ends, college and pro alike, is traditionally the day when the athletic director, the general manager, or the owner calls in the head coach to assess the season just past and to plan for the seasons ahead. But not at Penn State. At least, not in 2012.
While O’Brien's phone was blowing up, Dave Joyner was on a hunting trip. It was the opening day of Pennsylvania's deer season. When I asked O'Brien about this, he shrugged it off, but then-senior linebacker Mike Mauti did not.
"That enrages me," Mauti told me, in December 2012. "Let's lay it out there: He's the reason we did all this. They hire anyone else, this doesn't happen -- and who knows where the program is? He's it. If O-B leaves ... it's because they didn't do their jobs and do what's right."
Nonetheless, O’Brien declined the overtures from other athletic directors and the NFL, and stayed put in State College. In the spring of 2013, Penn State bumped O’Brien's pay to $3.2 million. To keep up with the never-ending arms race that is modern college football, O’Brien also received assurances from Joyner that he would increase the budget for assistant coaches' salaries, recruiting and facilities face-lifts -- the very things rivals Michigan and Ohio State already have.
O'Brien's players followed up their inspirational 2012 season with an equally surprising 7-5 record this year. After the NCAA greatly reduced Penn State's sanctions, and recruiting picked up accordingly, the program's future suddenly looked much brighter.
But the school’s leadership, from the Board of Trustees to the athletic director, continued to stumble. After the Board set a meeting for November 1, 2013, to name SUNY Upstate Medical University president David Smith to replace interim president Rod Erickson, it canceled the meeting when Smith told one of the committee members he had received roughly $35,000 of unapproved income from a company that did business with the SUNY system. However, in a November 1 letter, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher informed Smith they had discovered the total was actually $349,295. Smith resigned, but there is a flap about his continuing to draw a paycheck from New York state.
After Penn State's 2013 season, according to insiders familiar with the situation, Joyner failed to follow through on his promises to boost O'Brien's budget for assistant coaches' salaries, recruiting and facilities. At the 2013 senior banquet, one witness said, the tension between the two men was "palpable. You couldn't ignore it." After the event, Dr. Joyner waited more than a week to respond to O'Brien's requests to follow up on his promises. (When I asked O’Brien about these accounts, he did not deny their accuracy.)
Given this, when the NFL's siren song resumed, O’Brien was ready to listen. The Houston Texans offered him the most appealing package: A great contract, a loaded roster, and strong, supportive leadership.
O'Brien based his decision partly on his long-held desire to become a head coach in the NFL, and the Texans' attractive offer. But it wasn't simply about money. It wasn't State College, the Penn State fans or the players, either.
When I reached him last week, he said, "I want to be clear: I love the Penn State fans and always will. They were incredibly supportive, and the players were great. I love those guys. I just felt that this was the best move for me and my family."
Joyner responded to O'Brien's departure faster than he'd responded to O’Brien's phone calls. He lured former Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin to State College for $4.25 million a year -- a third more than O'Brien received his second season. Joyner was also willing to overlook the fact that four of Franklin's players were charged in June for raping an unconscious 21-year old woman in a dormitory, and a fifth player who pled guilty to covering it up.
It is hard not to conclude the Texans wanted O'Brien more than Joyner did, and that Joyner was more eager to hire Franklin than keep O'Brien.
Reached this week, Mauti said of O’Brien's departure, "It doesn't shock me one bit, unfortunately. It didn't take a genius to see it coming. You always try to leave your program better than you found it. That’s what O-B did. He gave us all he had, and that's why I’ll always respect him. I wish him nothing but the best."
O’Brien's career as an NFL head coach has just started. At Penn State, however, instead of basking in the incredible good fortune of finding the right guy during a desperate time, the same school that needed only two head coaches for 62 seasons is now welcoming its second coach in two years.
The years ahead will tell us who made the best decisions. But it’s a safe bet that Penn State University will not return to its former heights until it finally addresses its fundamental problem: the lack of strong leadership.Full Story >>
On an otherwise forgettable game day, one in which Louisville crushed the FIU Golden Panthers, two huge Cardinals fans had a tailgate to remember.
While wearing Louisville football jerseys, Vonnie Evans and Jeff Miller got married Saturday morning at the Fairgrounds outside Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The ceremony included a Louisville-themed cake, and the couple rode off on a decorated scooter cooler.
As Jonathan Lintner of USA Today writes, this is the second marriage for both Evans and Miller, and they wanted to find a way to celebrate with family and friends while also ensuring that no one missed the Louisville game.
In an indication of just how devoted Evans and Miller are to Louisville, some family members said they weren't surprised to hear about the tailgate wedding plans.
"On that side, we're all kind of crazy and kind of out there," John Schneider, Evans' nephew, told USA Today. "That's why I wasn't really surprised to hear they want to do something like this. They know we're all football fans, and I've made comments in the past about people missing games because of weddings. I'm like, 'I'm never getting married in the fall because of football.'"
The best part about this no-frills ceremony? The happy couple planned the event in two weeks.
Their best gift, of course, was Louisville's 72-0 drubbing of FIU.Full Story >>
As if Saturday's defeat of Notre Dame in front of a record crowd at Michigan Stadium wasn't punishment enough, the Wolverines rubbed salt in the wound as the Fighting Irish walked off the field.
Michigan's PA system blasted the "Chicken Dance" moments after the Wolverines sealed the 41-30 victory. The tune was a reference to coach Brady Hoke's comments that Notre Dame is "chickening out" of the teams' series. The Fighting Irish have opted out of the series, making next year's game in South Bend the last for the foreseeable future.
Here's how the song sounded at Michigan Stadium:
Note to future opponents of Michigan: Don't mess with Brady Hoke.Full Story >>
We've seen several amazing displays of lawn loyalty in recent weeks, but one Ohio man's backyard design may be the best yet.
The lawn designed by Florida fan Jason Ioppolo isn't only awesome and unique, it can be utilized by his young sons.
— Jason Ioppolo (@JEye40) August 31, 2013
This isn't the first time Ioppolo has fashioned his backyard into a miniature football field. He recently posted this picture to his Twitter account:
My backyard football field for our 7/8 yr old Bengals flag team was a hit! The kids (and parents) loved it. pic.twitter.com/2FGcl0VfMc
— Jason Ioppolo (@JEye40) July 30, 2013
(H/T to For The Win)Full Story >>
ThePostGame recently caught up with former Ohio State quarterback and current ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit. Herbstreit discussed the offseason, the upcoming playoff system and Allstate's Ultimate Road Trip Sweepstakes.
ThePostgame: It seems like forever ago that Notre Dame and Alabama were playing in Miami. How excited are you for this season to get underway?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: I can’t wait. And if you think back to that night, you build up for 30 or 40 days about what you’re hoping the game might be, and then literally within the first two series it’s like “Oh, boy.”
So a little bit of a letdown that night in Miami. But you’re right, it’s been a long offseason with a lot of stories away from the field. It’s just going to be nice to see the ball in the air and have a chance to watch some college football this weekend.
TPG: Can you remember another offseason with this much off-the-field action?
HERBSTREIT: You’ve got to remember I went to Ohio State, so that Jim Tressel/Terrelle Pryor offseason was pretty big too. It seems like the last two or three years there’s just been a lot of craziness that seems to take away from what’s going on actually out on the field.
TPG: Tell us a little bit about the Ultimate Road Trip Sweepstakes and what that entails for a few lucky fans.
HERBSTREIT: It’s pretty cool. This is about as good of a getaway as you can be a part of it you’re a college football fan. I’ve teamed up with Allstate, and this is an opportunity for one lucky winner and three of his friends. You have from now until Nov. 30 to enter, going to the website Allstatecfb.com.
You can enter once a week all the way up to Nov. 30. The drawing will be in early December. And if they draw your name, you and three friends will head to New Orleans to go to the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl. I’ll meet you down there and we’ll watch the game at the Superdome.
And then you and your friends will be headed to the national championship out in Pasadena and have a VIP road trip experience. That’s a pretty good deal.
So you take in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and then you’re going to the national championship. And when you get home you’re going to have a brand new SUV. Not a bad deal to take 60 seconds once a week to put your name in to find out if you can win.
TPG: Which two teams do you think fans will be seeing in the national championship game in Pasadena?
HERBSTREIT: I think as we sit here and look at all of this on paper, I still think Alabama has proven to be able to avoid complacency in the past. I think that’s never something you’re over, I think it’s always a challenge, especially with kids today with the sense of entitlement that they have when they come to college. I’m anxious to see what kind of hunger and desire that Alabama plays with.
I have Alabama playing Georgia in the SEC championship game and Alabama advancing to the national title. And I think Ohio State, their schedule will allow them to make a pretty good run. I think their offense will be dynamic and I think their defense will be given enough games early to grow up. I think Alabama will play Ohio State in the national title.
TPG: It’s been so hard for a team to repeat as national champion over the past few decades, yet Alabama has won three of the past four national championships. What is Nick Saban doing that has been so effective?
HERBSTREIT: I think there’s a few things. The first thing is he is relentless in his efforts to recruit players. I don’t know if people really understand how involved he is in recruiting, and how competitive he is in recruiting. So it allows him to have a very high caliber athlete on his roster at every position. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is he doesn’t allow them to focus on their individual goals. If they focus on their individual goals, they won’t be there long. He gets them to buy in to the importance of competing and trying to win an SEC championship. And I think he feels that if they can do that, they’re going to eventually get to the national championship.
And then the other thing he does is he might be the best defensive coach in football. That includes the NFL. You’d have to put him up there as far as the masterminds of defense in the modern game with some of the best in the nation at any level. If you think about his teams in three of the last four years that they’ve won the national championship, go back to 2009, they gave up like 11 points-per-game. A couple years ago, with the dominating group, they gave up eight points-per-game. And then last year they only gave up 10 points-per-game.
If you can consistently play defense to that level in this era where everybody wants to talk about tempo and spread offenses and points, well Nick Saban’s figured out a way to keep defense in a pretty important role. It’s taken them to three of the last four national championships.
TPG: Looking ahead to the playoff, how do you think it might affect the regular season. Whether it’s scheduling, resting players or anything else.
HERBSTREIT: I think it’s big. I think having a selection committee instead of what I think is an antiquated system with the current coaches poll, the Harris poll and the computers.
I don’t think there’s a whole lot of wiggle room. My hope for the selection committee is they will reward teams for going out and playing some heavyweight non conference teams. Or even within your own conference, when you play good teams you should be rewarded by a selection committee. And you should move up accordingly. Or if you lose a close game, you shouldn’t drop six spots because you lost to a really good team on the road by three points.
I think that’s a real challenge for the selection committee. Don’t just vote based on the way we have the last 50 years in college football. Really study this, watch the games, appreciate the atmosphere and the opponent that each team is playing. And then adjust your poll based on what you’re seeing.
Take Georgia-Clemson, for example. Say Georgia, on the road, plays Clemson and they end up losing, for argument’s sake, on a last second field goal. They played great, but they lost, and the atmosphere had something to do with it. I’m one of those guys who in week one will move Georgia up or keep them where they are in a poll. I have a hard time penalizing a team who is willing to go to Death Valley and play a good opponent, and if they lost a close one, how do you penalize them when everyone else is playing Sam Houston State? I think you should reward teams for playing heavyweight opponents.
That way you get more and more teams willing to take a chance and play those kind of games. The winner there, if it happens, are the fans and more importantly, the players, who want to play in those type of games.
TPG: We’d be remiss if we didn’t ask you about the Cincinnati Reds. Assuming that Cincinnati makes the playoffs, do you think they can make any noise?
HERBSTREIT: (laughs) I’m a little concerned with our bats right now. We’re just not hitting the ball and not scoring runs the way you’d like to see a team in August who's heating up and getting ready for the postseason.
I’m hoping that Ryan Ludwick continues to kind of get more comfortable, it’s almost like he’s still in spring training because he’s been out so long. I hope Johnny Cueto can come back. Because if you get into a one game playoff with the Wild Card, they do have Mat Latos, but it’d be nice to have Johnny Cueto healthy and ready to go for the postseason.
I’m a junkie. I follow them every single day, they’re getting close. It's going to be an interesting series with the Cardinals. And the Pirates are also playing great baseball. The Cardinals are kind of the Alabama of the National League Central, they just find ways to win when it matters. You have to give the advantage to the Cardinals in my opinion.Full Story >>
As you watch the marquee college football matchup of this weekend, Georgia at Clemson, on HD from the comforts of your couch, take a moment to be thankful that you didn't spend upwards of 160 hours waiting in line to get tickets to the game.
This week Clemson football's Instagram account posted a few videos of students waiting in line for tickets. And their loyalty is remarkable. According to the narrator of the video below, the students waited for just about one week to score tickets:
It's no Duke-UNC basketball wait, but then again, Clemson-Georgia isn't exactly Duke-UNC. Waiting 164 hours for a non-conference game requires some serious dedication.
(H/T to For The Win)Full Story >>