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Next call may be one of his last: Joyner needs to get it right

Commentary

January 5, 2014
Neil Rudel (nrudel@altoonamirror.com) , The Altoona Mirror

As we await resolution on what is shaping up as the quickest search in Penn State history, let's examine how the hiring will affect the Nittany Nation's perception and ultimate legacy of Athletic Director Dave Joyner.

Start with the reality that he could hire Vince Lombardi to replace Bill O'Brien, who replaced Lombardi - er, Joe Paterno - and Joyner would still be viewed as guilty by association for his past tenure on the Board of Trustees, who, well, ya know.

If you disagree, click onto the message boards.

But in the words of Lee Corso, "not so fast, my friends."

Joyner's work has included being previously involved with the Cael Sanderson hiring, extending the contract of Coquese Washington, hiring several coaches for the Olympic sports, scheduling a future resumption of the football series with Pitt, sanctioning the "Return to Rec Hall," which was too big for the basketball team, and, in his most visible act, hiring O'Brien.

In O'Brien, Joyner clearly found a strong football coach and a confident leader. How well they connected is not totally clear. Moles say not so well.

O'Brien was frustrated with Penn State's lack of defined leadership - the school botched a presidential hiring in November that didn't help - but BOB may well have been leaving for the NFL anyway.

While Joyner can feel good that he hired a guy who built the bridge over the Nittany Lions' most troubled waters and on whom the NFL has salivated, he can't brag too loudly because his relationship was such that it didn't keep O'Brien for even a third season.

To that end, more than anything else he's done, the hiring Joyner is about to make - maybe as soon as today - will help define his tenure.

Because whether it's Al Golden or James Franklin or Mike Munchak or someone else, if the guy can keep the current team together and verbally committed recruits in the fold, if he can build on the foundation O'Brien's short tenure left and move the Lions into Big Ten title contention and maybe beyond, Joyner will look better.

If that doesn't happen, fans will have another reason to pile on.

It makes sense to pursue someone with PSU or Pennsylvania roots because incentive to stay may be stronger than O'Brien's. That's important since the new hire will not report to President Rod Erickson, who is retiring in June, at which point Penn State will also conduct a national search for its AD.

"It's no secret that President Erickson will be stepping down no later than the end of June this year," Joyner said Thursday. "Transitions occur in programs all over the place at different times, and athletic programs survive and go on and move forward. Penn State's got a great tradition of great presidents and administrators, and I would say to any prospective coach that Penn State will continue with that great tradition no matter who is at the helm and who is head of the university."

Joyner chose not to address his intentions as he outlined the search process.

"Today is about the future of football," he said. "I've said this all along for over two years now. I'm here to serve Penn State as long as they need my services, and that's how I feel today as it was in November of 2011."

The last two years have been a period of challenging and difficult transition, and it says here the university will not be able to begin to fully heal until all of the principals, including Joyner, have moved on.

If hiring the next football coach turns out to be one of his last big decisions, it couldn't hurt his legacy to get it right.

It might even help.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com. You can also follow him on Twitter@neilrudel.

 
 

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