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Giger: With O'Brien hiring to his credit, PSU acting AD Joyner deserves job on permanent basis

November 30, 2012
By Cory Giger (cgiger@altoonamirror.com) , The Altoona Mirror

Dave Joyner hasn't just acted like an athletic director over the past year, since taking over for Tim Curley, he's done very good work and deserves to have the job on a permanent basis.

Joyner hired Bill O'Brien. If you know nothing else about Joyner's work at Penn State, that alone should merit removing the "acting" part from his AD title.

Rightly or wrongly, we judge athletic directors so heavily on football hires that, regardless of the many other responsibilities they have, there's a notion that if they screw up with the football coach, then they deserve to go, too.

Article Photos

The Associated Press
Acting athletic director Dave Joyner (left) and Penn?State President Rodney Erickson pose with Bill O’Brien at his introductory press conference on Jan. 7.

OK, so if one hits a grand slam with the football coach hire, as Joyner did with O'Brien, shouldn't the AD deserve tremendous praise?

Interestingly enough, Joyner hasn't really received that kind of widespread praise. Oh, he would have been ripped to shreds had O'Brien crashed and burned, as many expected the coach would when the hiring was first announced in January, but Joyner instead hit the jackpot when his search committee found a needle-in-a-haystack coach like O'Brien.

"He turned out to be exactly the guy we thought he was," Joyner told the Mirror on Thursday.

Joyner has done several other good things in his year as AD, and we'll get to those in a bit.

Most importantly, it's easy now to praise the O'Brien hiring after what we've seen from him the past 11 months and during PSU's surprising 8-4 season, but let's not forget that Joyner put his neck on the line by selecting a virtual unknown. The decision was heavily criticized by fans, media and former Nittany Lion players when the news broke late on a Thursday night and all day Friday in early January.

"When people started talking about Bill was going to be the next head coach, my emails were going crazy," Joyner said. "Boom, boom, boom, boom, what are you doing, blah, blah, blah. Hundreds and hundreds of them."

Then came O'Brien's introductory press conference on Saturday, Jan. 7, when he was terrific from the second he opened his mouth and instantly won over doubters.

"That questioning of, 'What were you thinking?' almost from the minute he finished his press conference, they stopped," Joyner said.

Joyner recalled this exchange from the press conference: "Somebody said to me, 'What did you see in him that made you hire him?' And I turned around and pointed to the stage and said, 'You just saw it.'"

Some of the people who had blasted Joyner in emails quickly started singing a different tune.

"I had a few [emails] back from people who were questioning me saying things like, 'Oh, now I get it. I see what you saw,'" Joyner said.

Joyner's hire was so good that people have been wondering if O'Brien would get offered a better job and leave Penn State after only one season. Who would have thought that back in January?

Joyner didn't hesitate when asked if O'Brien will be at PSU for the 2013 season.

"Absolutely, yes," he said.

Fairly or not, some people won't just look at the O'Brien hiring as enough proof that Joyner deserves the full-time AD job. But that's hardly all he accomplished. Consider:

n He gave women's basketball coach Coquese Washington a five-year extension worth about $3.5 million, that coming on the heels of her briefly flirting with leaving PSU for Michigan. Washington is a superb coach whose Lady Lions are ranked No. 6 in the country, and locking her up was a great move.

n Five Penn State coaches during the fall were named Big Ten Coach of the Year: O'Brien, Erica Walsh (women's soccer), Russ Rose (women's volleyball), Bob Warming (men's soccer) and Char Morett (women's field hockey). That shows success throughout the entire athletic department, and while Joyner hired only one of those coaches, his department is providing the resources those coaches need to do their jobs well.

"We certainly are an athletic department that's energized ... and I enjoy helping make that happen," Joyner said.

n He was part of the decision that led to Nittany Lion Club dues being lowered next year for more than 10,000 seats as part of Beaver Stadium's STEP program. More drastic measures need to be taken coming off a disappointing year of attendance, but at least one small step has been taken so far.

n It was Joyner's idea to put the 2012 sign up on the stadium facade to honor this year's football team. That might seem small, but it shows good understanding on his part about what the team meant to the university and its fans.

Joyner isn't a college administrator by trade, so there probably are certain parts of the job he doesn't like or maybe doesn't do particularly well. And he did inherit some very good coaches, including the ones mentioned above, along with wrestling's Cael Sanderson and men's basketball's Patrick Chambers, who were hired by Curley.

Still, Joyner has helped create or at least continue a winning environment within the athletic department, so he deserves at least some credit.

"I enjoy working with this group of coaches, and I enjoy working with people in athletics," he said. "I enjoy leading, helping people accomplish what they're capable of. I enjoy setting the stage so that they can be successful."

Joyner's current fate is tied to interim Penn State President Rodney Erickson, who plans to step down when his contract expires at the end of June 2014. Erickson has told Joyner he wants him to stay on as acting AD until then, but there are no guarantees the next president will retain him.

One potential problem for Joyner is that Erickson is a lightning rod for controversy after accepting the strict NCAA sanctions. Some university officials who can't wait for Erickson to leave may or may not feel the same way about Joyner, who is a member of the Board of Trustees, and we all know that group has drawn heavy criticism for its handling of the Sandusky scandal and for firing Joe Paterno. (Correction: Joyner is not currently on the Board of Trustees. He suspended his membership when he took the acting AD position.)

It's tough to say how many allies Joyner has among the university higher-ups, regardless of the fact that he made an enormously significant hire that helped so many people start to turn the page after the scandal.

Under normal circumstances, Joyner hiring O'Brien would virtually guarantee him the full-time AD job. But these obviously aren't normal circumstances.

Joyner said he has a great working relationship with O'Brien -- "I understand him very well, and he understands me very well," Joyner said -- and the acting AD would like for that to continue for a long time.

Just without the acting part.

Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.

 
 
 

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