Looking For The Exit?

On New Year’s Eve, Penn State lost their head coach to the NFL.

Bill O’Brien, who took on the enormous task of manning a wounded Lions program two years ago, left the college game for the NFL. He will now lead the Houston Texans, another franchise that needs rebuilding (but that’s another story for another time).

When O’Brien arrived at Penn State, many believed that the once-heralded team in Happy Valley was at death’s door. NCAA sanctions and a devastated reputation left the entire school in shambles, and it was going to be at least a decade before they could begin the recovery process.

The critics were wrong.

O’Brien turned PSU around in quick order. A 7-5 record in 2013 was unexpected, and so were two victories over two giants of the Big Ten. Wins over Michigan and Wisconsin, both ranked at the time, highlighted the 2013 season and took away the pain of their 63-14 destruction at the hands of Ohio State.

But now O’Brien is off to greener pastures and Penn State fans are feeling betrayed again.

I share no love for Penn State fans, having watched their willful ignorance over Joe Paterno’s enabling behavior during the crimes of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. They threw Sandusky to the wolves as they should have, but repeatedly buried their heads in the sand when shown undeniable proof that Paterno was complicit in allowing the unmentionable crimes to continue unabated.

But with O’Brien’s departure, I feel their pain. Their head coach made promises to Penn State, and he has now broken them by leaving before the end of his contract.

If a player at Penn State decided to leave for a different school after two years, he’d likely be forced to sit out for a full year before he could take the field again. (Yes, I’m aware there are situations that allow a player to avoid being put on a shelf for a year, but that is the exception rather than the rule).

Should a coach of an NCAA program not be held to the same standards as the players he recruits? If a coach convinces a player to attend his university, should both men be asked to stay for the same length of time or face minor penalties?

When Bill O’Brien sat in the home of a recruit in January of 2012 and told him that he would be a part of the rebirth at Penn State, there was no mention that the coach might be gone by the end of the player’s sophomore year at PSU.

That player will not have an easy time changing schools, now that his coach has abandoned him. The NCAA has rules that will make his life difficult if he wishes to transfer to a different school (it goes well beyond sitting out a year and deep into bureaucracy). Even if he is skilled enough to succeed at the next level, laws forbid him from jumping to the NFL until he is three years removed from his high school football years.

That being said, is it time to place rules on college coaches that leave their programs before their contracts expire? Should coaches have to sit out a year before they can take on another job within the college ranks?

Obviously, the NCAA cannot mandate rules in the NFL for such situation – unless Roger Goodell behaves like he did towards Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor, having doled out suspensions for both men when they entered the NFL. But within the NCAA, can the same rules be applied to coaches and players?

Yes, the NCAA rule book is already a mess and it should be tightened up immediately. I propose that the rules for coaches are included in the next set of changes.

Some proposals;

  • If a coach leaves his NCAA program before his first recruiting class leaves, he must wait one year before he can take over his new program. After he has remained with a program for four years, he is now free to leave for a new university. However, the university he has left will receive two additional scholarships for a period of two years (at the expense of his new school). For example, when Darrell Hazell left Kent State for Purdue after two seasons, Kent State would have been given 87 scholarships for the next two years, while Purdue is reduced to 83.
  • No coach may leave his program for another position until the season is completed. This includes bowl games. If another school hires a coach away from his team before the conclusion of the season, that school will not be permitted to participate in post-season play the following season. This penalty is applied regardless of the length of tenure at the coach’s previous university. Let the coach finish his season before you lure him away. Example – Notre Dame did not need to take Brian Kelly away from Cincinnati before the Sugar Bowl. They could have waited until January 7th to hire their new man. Under these rules, Notre Dame would have faced a mandatory one-year bowl ban for raiding Cincinnati’s staff before the end of the season.
  • To help with post-season hiring, the signing date for recruits shall be moved back four weeks. Universities are currently under pressure to get a new coach fast so the recruiting process is not harmed. Shift the NLOID back and relieve the pressure on schools and coaches to speed up the hiring process.
  • If a coach leaves his program for another league, he shall donate ten percent of his new contract to his prior university’s scholarship fund for two seasons. This donation shall not be affected by a coach’s buyout clause of his contract. For example, O’Brien’s contact at PSU called for a 6.5 million dollar buyout. Penn State shall still receive this amount, in addition to ten percent of his Texans contact for two seasons.The ten percent amount shall be derived from the entirety of the contact, including performance clauses and signing bonuses.
  • These rules shall not apply to assistant coaches.

Are the penalties steep? Perhaps they are, but the cost of inaction is even steeper to the aptly-named “stepping-stone” schools.

As a fan of The Ohio State University, my school has been the beneficiary far more often than the victim in these situations (sorry Xavier, but thanks for Coach Matta). However, my own fortunes do not cloud what I see as a ‘haves/have-nots’ scheme.

The time has arrived to protect the integrity of college football on a grander scale. History shows that the greatest coaches of all-time feature men that stayed with their teams for a long time (Bear Bryant, Woody Hayes, Frank Beamer, Joe Paterno). Yes, there are exceptions to that rule, but loyalty is a true virtue. That virtue should be stressed as much as possible, and here is where it begins.