April 21, 2012; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Bill O'Brien on the sidelines during the spring game at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Christy-US PRESSWIRE
The Nittany Lions' new leader has impressed many with recruiting success in the face of unprecedented turmoil. It's important, however, to keep his early results in proper context.
New Penn State coach Bill O'Brien hasn't coached a game yet, but he has already endeared himself to his new fan base by racking up recruiting victory after recruiting victory this offseason. The Nittany Lions' 2013 class, headlined by big-name prospects including Fork Union, Va. quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Camp Hill tight end Adam Breneman and Belle Vernon offensive lineman Dorian Johnson, has earned a lofty No. 15 ranking from Rivals.com, with plenty of room yet to grow.
By any measure, O'Brien has done a better job selling the program to recruits than most thought possible in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, and for that reason, he's earning a lot of praise.
But let's not get carried away.
Seeing what BOB is able to do under these circumstances really makes you realize how much old staff was hurting PSU in terms of recruiting.
Whoa. It's not as if Joe Paterno left the cupboards bare for O'Brien, unless you want to factor in the scandal-ravaged class of 2012, which Rivals ranked No. 51 after some high-profile de-commitments in the wake of the late coach's firing in November.
Paterno's last five full classes, as rated by Rivals.com:
O'Brien might be out-performing the average, but not by a whole lot. And that's before we factor in the contributions defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr. and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, holdovers from the Paterno regime, have had in piecing this 2013 class together. Johnson was the primary recruiter for commits Breneman, Andrew Nelson, Zach Bradshaw, while Vanderlinden has been the lead with Brandon Bell, Will Fuller, Zayd Issah and Greg Webb.
The prospects clearly think the world of the two coaches.
Nelson told The Daily Collegian's Tim Gilbert of Johnson:
"I know him from camp last year where me and him had a great time," Nelson said. "Me and him developed a relationship before I developed a relationship with any of the other coaches…he’s just such a great guy, and even though he’s not my position coach, just having him on the staff is something I couldn’t turn down."
And Bell's high school coach, Chuck Smith, told the Collegian's Dan Norton of Vanderlinden:
"Knowing his resume and what he’s done since he’s been there and who he’s coached, I think that really played a big part in Brandon’s decision making," Chuck Smith, Bell’s high school coach, said. "Once Vanderlinden came down to see him the first time, I guarantee you Brandon went on the Internet to research the guy."
To be fair, the recruits have almost unanimously had good things to say abut O'Brien, too, but the contributions these two coaches have had cannot and should not be understated. Without them, there's a very good chance Penn State wouldn't be ranked where it is.
For that reason, it's probably best if we stop the "new staff is better than the old staff at recruiting" train before it gets too far out of the station and creates unrealistic standards for this program under its first new leader in five decades.
The truth of the matter is the new staff has some huge, huge links to the old one. New coaches -- including running backs coach Charle London, strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald, defensive coordinator Ted Roof and O'Brien himself -- certainly bring some refreshing new tactics to the table, but their success seems about as tied to Johnson and Vanderlinden's success as the old staff's was.
Time could certainly prove O'Brien's staff to be better on the trail than Paterno's was toward the end, but the guess here is that any success O'Brien has in recruiting moving forward will be far more tied to on-field victories than some revolutionary tactics in luring prospects to Happy Valley.
And no one won more than Joe Paterno.