With the Labor Day holiday weekend, we bring you Tuesday with Murray this week. Week two of the Murray Scholars.
This week we'd like to introduce you to Emily Kaplan from Penn State University, the winner of this years "Judges Award" having received the top score of all applicants.
Of course it wouldn't be Mondays With Murray without a Jim Murray column so we're bringing you a 1986 column titled "College Recruiting: Hypocrisy at Hapsburg State" where Jim discusses the practice of college recruiting for football.
EMILY KAPLAN'S WINNING ESSAY
Bill O'Brien is a bit uncomfortable with the number of couches and sheer size of the spacious corner office formerly occupied by Joe Paterno.
Yet O'Brien's touches are all over the kingdom that is Penn State football.
The corner room on the second floor of the Lasch Football Building features large framed pictures of O'Brien, the former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, posing with quarterback Tom Brady and coaching alongside Bill Belichick. On the coffee table is a white oaktag poster that reads "Billieve," signed by hundreds of Penn State students as a welcome present.
Above his cluttered desk is a helmet enclosed in glass, the traditional white logo-free helmet with a single blue stripe, the link between a shaken institution's past and its future.
The circumstances surrounding O'Brien's emergence as Penn State's head coach last January still seem almost unfathomable. His predecessor was the iconic Paterno, whose "Success with Honor" legacy -- as well as Penn State's virtuous reputation -- was severely damaged in November by allegations of a child sex abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
But three months into O'Brien's tenure, an overwhelming sentiment has emerged within the campus community: If anyone could be prepared for the unenviable job of succeeding JoePa, it's this 42-year-old Massachusetts native.
John Nichols, a member of Penn State's six-member search committee, began to make that discovery early in the process as he leafed through stacks of applications.
Nichols, a professor emeritus and former chair of the university faculty senate, was on a long flight to interview another candidate. He came across a manila folder with a color printout of O'Brien's biography from the Patriots' website.
Nichols was struck by the candidate's collegiate background. A graduate of Brown, just like Paterno, O'Brien had been an assistant at Georgia Tech and Duke.
"Those are schools most people see and don't think football," Nichols said. "I consider them outstanding academic institutions, and I was intrigued. So I pulled the file aside."
After reviewing O'Brien's resume and conducting several rounds of Skype and phone interviews, the search committee finally met O'Brien in person. He arrived with five pages of notes, single-spaced, in what Nichols described as tiny font.
"He had his whole strategy right there, down to the names of his assistant coaches and their biographies," Nichols said.
The search committee was under pressure to hire someone with Penn State ties, evidence to measure a candidate's commitment to the program. Paterno had been head coach for 46 seasons and had arrived as an assistant in 1950, three years before Penn State had advanced from a college to a university.
Intense scrutiny from the Sandusky scandal had created daily questions of leadership and the need for transparency. Numerous news media reports described the period as the darkest in the university's history. The coach whose 409 victories became the most in major-college history was gone, and the committee was considering an anonymous assistant who had never been a head coach and who was best known for a sideline screaming match with Brady last season.
"I wouldn't know Bill O'Brien if he walked into this room right now," said Sports Illustrated senior writer and NBC Sports analyst Peter King.
"I don't really listen to what people are saying," said O'Brien, a sturdy, former college defensive end and linebacker often seen in a baseball hat, track pants and a plain, gray Penn State sweatshirt. "I had faith in what I wanted to do."
O'Brien reads seven books at a time. His current list includes "Unbroken," by Laura Hillenbrand, and "The Long Shadow of Coach Paul 'Bear' Bryant," by Dr. Gaylon McCollough. O'Brien seems to have an answer for everything.
"He's very knowledgeable," starting center Matt Stankiewitch said. "Everything he says, you want to listen to."
O'Brien has insisted he will maintain Penn State's traditions, especially the absence of names on the back of jerseys. But he has already made significant changes. He overhauled the strength and conditioning program, adding free weights and loud, up-beat music to the weight room. He opened up parts of spring practices to the media and addressed a regional meeting of sports editors.
"We even changed the date on him and he was fine with that," said Harrisburg Patriot-News Sports Editor Paul Vigna, who organized the mid-Atlantic meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors. "He was more than accommodating."
At the end of April, O'Brien jumped aboard, the "Coaches Caravan," a nine-day, 18 stop tour to meet fans from Connecticut through Virginia. Twelve coaches are part of the trip. One of them is making all 18 stops.
O'Brien does this partly because he's still unknown, not unlike a new politician trying to make his case.
He is also making a statement. This is his program now.
"Every decision is mine," O'Brien said as he sat on a black leather couch in his office. The pictures of Patriots are on the walls in order to impress recruits. He said they will eventually be replaced by Penn State mementos.
O'Brien's piercing blue eyes twinkle when he talks about his family. His wife, Colleen, and their sons - nine-year-old Jack and six-year-old Michael -- have been frequent visitors at practice. O'Brien also lights up as he describes the process of molding young men into better football players and stronger students. His playbook is so intricate that his star running back, Silas Redd, studies it over lunch and his tight end, Gary Gilliam, uses flash cards to help him grasp what many have described as a new language.
It's a white binder with more than 150 plays, 17 for the first day of spring practice alone.
On the front is a quote: "Never be afraid of failure. Be afraid of being unprepared." Bill O'Brien hardly seems afraid.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 1986, SPORTS Copyright 1986/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
College Recruiting: Hypocrisy Reigns at Hapsburg State
Some years ago, at a clinic in Santa Barbara, the great football coach, Bear Bryant, was holding forth on the arts and mysteries of recruiting. The hour was late and the bourbon flowing, and Bear was moved to drawl: "Well, if you got some boys who are good students and have some ability, you send them to Cal or Stanford. But if you have some whiskey-drinking, women-chasing, pool-playing studs who are ath-a-letes, why, you just send them down to ol' Bear to win a championship with!" Never was the coach's credo more succinctly put. The message was clear: College football is not monastic. It's not even academic. Football players were the mercenaries of our society. They were at the university but not of it. They led lives as backward as racehorses. Their every need was taken care of. They were told when to go to bed, when to get up, what to eat, how to think. Then, they were led out onto the field and expected to perform like the robots they had become. It was exploitative in the extreme. In ol' Bear's case, he even housed them in separatist dormitories. As if contact with the scholastic community of the school would contaminate them. In a way, their life styles always reminded me of that of cavalry officers in the old Hapsburg Empire. They were spoiled, catered to, revered. They had these fancy uniforms and looked beautiful in their plumed hats and epaulets. They were indulged in their alcoholic or sexual peccadilloes. They were Europe's loafer class. They were held in reserve for wars. What they did between them was tolerated, winked at. What is different in today's replay is that our society is shocked when the modern version of these cadets prove to be less than vicar-like in their behavior. College presidents who want victorious teams are less likely to be like the emperors of old and say, "Boys will be boys," than they are to cluck reprovingly when their modern warrior class blows off steam in an antisocial, the law-be-damned way. Tracy Dodds, of this paper's staff, traced the primrose path trod by one university, Nevada Las Vegas, in its quest of the big time in football, when it set out on the road-to-beating-Wisconsin. This road led, as is so often the case, through a police blotter. Some of the best varsity runs were not with a football but with stolen stereos or snatched purses. The University of Miami football team, No. 1 in your hearts and No. 1 in all the polls, has been alluded to in the public prints as the real "Miami Vice" by more than one chronicler. This is a team of whom a colleague, Edwin Pope of the Miami Herald, once wrote:
Q. What is the first thing a Miami player hears when he gets into a three-piece suit? A. Will the defendant please rise? Of whom Sorts Illustrated's Rick Reilly wrote, "Miami may be the only squad in America that has its team picture taken from the front and from the side." This is our national champion team in more than one sense. It is mystifying why college presidents should be so aghast at what they have wrought. They give a coach a contract for a quarter of a million, or income in that bracket, charge him with producing a winning team - and then are shocked when he picks up that team in pool halls or longshore shape-ups instead of seminaries. Not all coaches are of the Bear Bryant school of recruiting - and not all players are second-story men at heart. But whose is the hypocrisy? The coach who knows that his charter is to win or else - else being to lose a millionaire's style of living if he loses to State; the football player who is taught to play the game at the homicidal level since grade school, or the academician, who wants a winning team at all costs - all costs being the enrollment of even a small percentage of semi-thugs to represent the university? College professors are charged with inflecting a moral code of ethics on their classrooms and are expected to turn out not only learned, but also upright members of society. But college professors are tenured. And their effectiveness is not measured each Saturday afternoon. If one of the school's football coaches knew that his job was safe for a lifetime, no matter how many passes his receivers dropped or how many tackles the secondary missed, he might not be so temped to suit up a guy whose last job was biting the heads off chickens or busting heads in a dance hall brawl. Frank Merriwell is dead, the way the game is played today. You get football players the same places Jesse James got his gang. The question is, are the nation's best teams the nation's best teams because they are scofflaws and hell-raisers? Or are the scofflaws and hell-raisers in the spotlight simply because they are on the nation's best teams? Either way, until they start getting teams from the student body again, we won't know. Until football coaches can be assured they're not more than one blocked punt from going into selling insurance, they will not shrink at suiting up quasi-sociopaths or the Abominable Snowman if he can blitz. The defendants who should rise are the institutions themselves. The late Bear Bryant did not invent his attitude. The Bear was always good at reading defenses. And figuring what the university really wanted from him. He knew he wasn't going to get it recruiting a backfield of Rover Boys but one of Broadway Joes.
* Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times
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