Penn State Football: How Bill O'Brien Has Saved Football in Happy Valley

Barry LeonardAnalyst IIIMay 23, 2013

Nov 17, 2012; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Bill O'Brien leads his team on to the field prior to the game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Beaver Stadium.  Penn State defeated Indiana 45-22.  Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Penn State Nittany Lions began last season under a cloud of controversy that had some, like Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, calling for the entire program to be shut down. Despite the negativity, the Nittany Lions persevered and found success under new head coach Bill O'Brien.

An 0-2 start had some questioning if Penn State would even win a game last year. Not only did O'Brien's squad win a game, they won a total of eight, surpassing expectations and creating a positive culture while dealing with difficult circumstances.

O'Brien came to Penn State facing a situation unlike that of any other college football coach. 

After the Sandusky scandal became public news, things spiraled for the Nittany Lions. Legendary head coach Joe Paterno was forced out and then passed away less than two months later.

The naming of O'Brien as Paterno's successor was a move that was very unpopular among some famous alumni, including linebacker LaVar Arrington. Some felt that he was the wrong man to take over since he had no prior connection to the university.

With a divide over the new coach and the once-proud school mired in turmoil, things were already off to a difficult start in 2012.

Then, it got even worse in July when the NCAA handed down sanctions that prohibited Penn State from competing in a bowl game for four years. The school also faced scholarship restrictions.

On top of everything, players were allowed to transfer before the start of the season. Key starters such as running back Silas Redd and wide receiver Justin Brown decided to bolt for new schools.

Just as the Penn State program seemed destined for failure last year, O'Brien and his team had other plans. A new commitment to honor and a will to succeed resulted in a magical 8-4 2012 season.  

Even more important is the fact that the sanctions have not kept top recruits away from the Nittany Lions.

O'Brien proved in 2013 that he's a masterful recruiter, bringing in a solid crop of freshmen who don't mind the fact that a bowl game won't be in the cards for the next three years.

Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is the star of the class, and has the potential to set Penn State up for success for years to come. ranked the Nittany Lions 30th in 2013 recruiting and currently has them ranked 13th for 2014.

Even after a successful first year, both on and off the field, O'Brien hasn't won everyone over. David Jones of recently wrote about those who are still against O'Brien's hiring because of their admiration for Paterno.

Despite all of the challenges, O'Brien has done a wonderful job and has Penn State steered in the right direction going forward.

While it could have been easy for the program to collapse in the face of adversity, that didn't happen. The Nittany Lions are led by a leader who's proven he's the right man to rebuild the image, pride and prestige of Penn State Football.