Some random thoughts while awaiting March Madness:
n Bill O'Brien is quickly putting his stamp on the Penn State football program. In addition to an entire new weight-training regime and retaining just two of the nine fulltime assistants from Joe Paterno's staff, O'Brien has either fired or reassigned Paterno's closest confidants - branding director Guido D'Elia and director of football operations Tommy Venturino. Paterno's secretary, too, has been moved to another department. This is what's known as a fresh start, something that happened every few years at most big-time college sports programs. D'Elia, an Altoona native (it was incorrectly reported that he's from Hollidaysburg) did an excellent job with game-day atmosphere and video choreography (Paterno Memorial Service) while Venturino drove JoePa around in the golf cart and handled travel logistics, among other duties.
n Other noticeable differences in the staff makeup include the designation of an assistant head coach (Stan Hixon) and three fulltime minorities as opposed to just two that Paterno carried for the last eight years of his tenure.
n The early nabbing of stud quarterback prospect Christian Hackenberg gives O'Brien a centerpiece to attract others.
n Is Penn State kidding when it repeatedly makes reference to the fact that the Nittany Lions were "2011 Big Ten Leaders Division co-champions" last year? Both Penn State and Wisconsin were 6-2 overall in the Big Ten and 4-1 within the division. When they went head to head, the Badgers won, 45-7. If that translates into a co-champion, then congrats to PSU.
n Sorry to see that Rhode Island fired Jim Baron on Sunday. Baron, who coached the St. Francis men's basketball team during the last time it was relevant (1989-91), was shown the door after 11 seasons with the Rams. It's difficult to quibble with Rhody's decision in that despite guiding six 20-win seasons and being the Atlantic 10 coach of the year four times, Baron never got the Rams to the NCAA Tournament. And that's what coaches at the Division I level are paid to do. The fact that Baron graduated players and represented Rhody with class - just as he did in previous stops at St. Francis and St. Bonaventure - bought him extra time along the way.
n Patrick Chambers' first season was something to build on in that the Nittany Lions played very hard and were typically tough at home. Things didn't go so well for Ed DeChellis, FYI, as Navy finished 3-26 and lost its last 22. One of the wins came against Penn State Altoona.
n The biggest reason for Pitt's dropoff is Ashton Gibbs' senior year to forget. Gibbs' numbers are down across the board from last season.
n I'm hoping Northwestern - 18-12 overall and 8-10 in the Big Ten with a victory over Michigan State - wins a game or two in the Big Ten tourney and slips into the NCAA field.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com.