The brand of Penn State football and the university itself was jeopardized by the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.
Any evaluation of Bill O'Brien's two years as football coach at the university, his decision to leave and the hiring that will take place in the future must be viewed in that context.
O'Brien inherited a football program wallowing in a shameful scandal and neutered by unprecedented sanctions from the NCAA. Under those circumstances, he kept Penn State competitive, he did things right and never complained about the hand he was dealt. We wish him well in his new job as Houston Texans head coach.
There is an old-guard faction who believe in everything the late Joe Paterno did at Penn State during a legendary coaching career. It has been reported they have unjustifiably undermined and criticized O'Brien during these past two years and especially the past few days. Are they interested in what is best for Penn State or are they only interested in protecting one man's tarnished legacy? They tend to forget that, for all the good Coach Paterno did, he was too passive regarding the Sandusky scandal and it almost cost the university its legacy. It did cost Paterno his legacy in our view.
The tone of O'Brien's tenure makes it possible to build a new PSU football legacy.
But for that new legacy to be established, the Paterno shadow needs to be removed.
Hiring the new coach from outside the football family will go far to show the NCAA and the nation that Penn State is not returning to business as usual. This could lead to continued reductions in sanctions.
To step back now would also send a bad signal to new recruits.
The university will not be able to hire the coach it needs if that prospective coach is looking at the impossible task of following the Paterno plan to the letter or suffering slings and arrows.
We respect so much of what Coach Paterno did, particularly the way he married academics and football excellence. But that can be duplicated by a new coach doing things in the way he sees fit, without regard of how the Paterno family or those living through it feel about the methodology.
That's the type of coach the school needs to find.
The Penn State administration must stay strong and resist the temptation to replace Coach O'Brien with anyone affiliated with the Paterno years. At this critical time, the university cannot go backwards by hiring someone from the past.
Now more than ever, Penn State must continue to move forward.