New Look, New Definitions Of Success For Penn State
AP SPORTS WRITER
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) – Winning still means everything to Penn State linebacker Mike Mauti, but success this season won’t be defined by titles or a bowl.
It’s a view he holds in part by necessity after the NCAA imposed strict sanctions on the program for the child sex abuse scandal involving retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
After a stormy offseason unlike any other team has seen, the Nittany Lions have goals in mind other than championship banners and trophies.
“I’m not really a believer in moral victories,” Mauti, a standout linebacker and senior leader, said Thursday. “At the same time, when all is said and done, I don’t think we’re going to get judged on wins and losses.”
Among the NCAA penalties are a four-year postseason ban and significant scholarship cuts.
The Nittany Lions undoubtedly still want to win every game. But they’re using other motivating factors like playing for each other and the fans who have rallied behind the squad, as well as bringing more awareness to the problem of child abuse.
But the sanctions remain a sensitive topic in Happy Valley. Several school trustees have told the NCAA that they intend to appeal the penalties, as have several former players.
“I respect everybody’s individual decision to do what they have to do, what they think is right. That is their individual opinion or their group’s opinion, and I respect that. I would never step into the middle of that,” coach Bill O’Brien said when asked about the appeal notices.
“That’s not what I want to do. I’m here to be the football coach.”
From nearly the day he was hired in January to replace fired Hall of Famer Joe Paterno, O’Brien has espoused a message of respecting traditions at Penn State but moving the program forward:
Past the stinging results of former FBI director Louis Freeh’s internal investigation into the scandal, which concluded that Paterno and three other school officials concealed allegations against Sandusky. Paterno died in January, and his family and the officials have vehemently denied that any coverup took place.
Past the discontent around Happy Valley over the sanctions handed down by the NCAA as a result of Freeh’s findings.
Past the attention over the exodus of nine players in light of the harsh penalties.
“Now we all have to come together and realize we’re in the position we’re in. We have to. We have to stop arguing about it, and we’ve got to move forward,” said O’Brien, who later made sure to make clear this was his personal opinion.
The uniform changes announced this week are an example of the transition. Penn State is still keeping its standard blue and white color scheme, but will add names to the backs of the jerseys for the first time to recognize players who stuck with the program in crisis.
A blue ribbon will also be added to show support for victims of child abuse.
“But again, at the end of the day ... the most important patch on the uniform is the blue patch and blue ribbon that will signify putting an end to child abuse,” O’Brien said.
It’s the product on the field that O’Brien has been starting to hone in on this opening week of camp. There’s a new offense to install modeled off the scheme run with the New England Patriots, where he was offensive coordinator.
Quarterback Matt McGloin said he’s getting more comfortable with the playbook by the day. How far he progresses, and how a revamped receiving corps clicks with McGloin may go a long way toward determining Penn State’s success this year.
Just don’t ask O’Brien how important winning is to him.
“Winning – I mean, I respect the question, but winning is hugely important,” he told a reporter. “Now does that mean we’re going to win every game? No. But we’ve got to learn from the loss and come out a better team the next week. But we’re going to go out there and try to win every week.”
The practice field is the sanctuary for players to get away from the nearly constant drumbeat of off-field issues.
And there’s even a distinct new tone in practice, too. The roughly 10-minute stretching segment in the middle of Thursday’s open practice was set to the pace of O’Brien’s music selection from his iPod. The bass reverberated across the field as the sports hip-hop anthem “All I Do Is Win” echoed from the speakers.
Realistically, Penn State could have been in line this season for as many as nine wins, maybe 10, had everything broken the Nittany Lions’ way. That’s with the offense settling into O’Brien’s passing attack and tailback Silas Redd rushing the ball.
Redd, though, bolted for Southern California last week. And leading receiver Justin Brown followed Redd out of Happy Valley to Oklahoma earlier this week, leaving Penn State without two of its most important offensive players.
Defensive line coach Larry Johnson, a holdover assistant from the Paterno regime, equated simply playing football to success.
“Obviously we want to win. That will be a part of it,” Johnson said. “But every day we’re here in uniform, get a chance to practice and move forward ... we count that day as a success.”