Tarman did his share to build PSU
Jim Tarman’s passing last Sunday brought a wave of testimonials from many in the Penn State family.
One in particular jumped out at me.
After leaving Penn State in the late 1960s following a stint as assistant sports director under Tarman, Ernie Accorsi launched what has become an incredible NFL career.
He started in publicity, then worked himself into a general manager role with the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns and New York Giants — which advanced to the Super Bowl on his watch and inducted him into their Ring of Honor in 2016.
Since retiring, he’s become the league’s top consultant, having contributed to coaching searches with Carolina, Chicago, Detroit and now the Giants again.
Accorsi was Tarman’s top pupil, and he never stopped appreciating him.
“I owe everything to Jim,” Accorsi said in the release issued by Penn State. “I never would have made it in this league (NFL) without him. He was a teacher. He taught me organization and how to be an executive. No detail was too small. He had such integrity. He had all these ideas; I did the same things he did when I went to the (Baltimore) Colts. Jim was the best.”
Shortly after Penn State moved from Beaver Field (capacity 30,000), the Nittany Lions were beginning to dream and gain a national reputation, helped by unbeaten seasons in 1968-69.
Winning is the biggest reason Beaver Stadium was able to expand seven times and swell to its current capacity of 106,572.
The other, though, was a grass-roots effort that is far different than today’s Twittersphere.
It involved building personal relationships — led by Joe Paterno but facilitated by the likes of Tarman and Fran Fisher, John Morris and Dave Baker, Bud Meredith and Budd Thalman.
Fisher and Tarman were the radio broadcast duo and also teamed with Paterno on “TV Quarterbacks,” a statewide television show that brought the Nittany Lions into your living room.
Fisher was Johnny Carson, and Tarman was Ed McMahon. Paterno played himself, and it’s safe to say at least half of the adult season ticket base that still fills the stadium fondly remembers the program.
“Today, everybody has a coach’s show, but in those days there weren’t that many around,” Baker, a PSU pillar and the athletic department’s longest-tenured employee, said the other day. “It wasn’t (ESPN) SportsCenter-polished, but Fran and Jim were celebrities when people met them. It was a way to get the highlights into people’s homes.”
The other significant step in reaching the fans was through the media — specifically the newspapers.
Tarman and Paterno would haul a suitcase of liquor up the back steps at the old Warwick Hotel in Philadelphia to host and schmooze the Philly media.
“The relationship Jim had with Joe in those early years made a big impression and difference,” Accorsi said.
Under Tarman, Penn State put out features on its athletes, especially its football players, to hometown newspapers.
“It was a different landscape,” said Baker, who was hired by Tarman to keep statistics while a student at State College Area High School. “There were papers that couldn’t cover the team all the time, and we wrote press releases and provided additional coverage. That required a lot of personal friendships and individual attention. Jim was a real people person, and he and (wife) Louise were wonderful ambassadors for Penn State.”
Before the media grew more competitive (pre-Watergate), and each side trusted the other at least a little, Penn State gathered writers for a couple drinks and snacks on Friday nights during the season, which built camaraderie on the beat and comfortability with Paterno.
Sports information directors would go to the road site a couple days early to advance the game and bond with and jab their counterparts.
“In those days, that’s what you had to do,” Baker said. “Jim and Beano (Cook) were great together, and Budd Thalman was the SID at Navy (before coming to PSU). Those were real characters.”
Tarman’s contributions also included his promotion of Penn State’s women’s sports program and its transition into the Big Ten in 1990.
“It was a fight in those days because we didn’t get all the sports integrated immediately,” Baker said.
Tarman, 89, struggled with dementia and spent his last dozen years in an assisted living facility, the progression of the condition having moved well beyond the ability to comprehend the Sandusky scandal.
That’s the only silver lining to such a horrible disease for, as Baker said, “It would have broken his heart.”
In court documents filed when Penn State sought insurance compensation for payment to Sandusky’s victims, Tarman was alleged to have been made aware of at least one allegation against Sandusky, which the Tarman family attorney denied.
“Ignoring allegations of child sexual abuse would be entirely inconsistent with the man his family knew,” attorney Laurel Brandstetter told PennLive in 2016. “Throughout his career, Mr. Tarman was widely regarded as a highly principled person who could be counted on to do the right thing.”
A plaque in Tarman’s honor hangs at the media entry to the Beaver Stadium press box.
Said Thalman, his colleague and friend: “Jim Tarman was an outstanding administrator, exceptional publicist and one of the more important figures in the annals of Penn State sports.”
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.