WESTMONT — In the wake of devastating sport sanctions, accreditation threats, a talent exodus and an ongoing investigation into one of the most high-profile sex-abuse scandals in American history, there has been little positive news coming out of Penn State over the past few months.
For linebacking legend Jack Ham, who shared his views at the Johnstown Tomahawks golf fundraiser at Sunnehanna Country Club on Monday, theres still hope for the program to rise from the ashes and that hope comes in the form of Nittany Lions football coach Bill OBrien.
Theyve got one heck of a coach up there in Bill OBrien, said Ham, who is the senior vice president of Targe Energy LLC and has been a Nittany Lions radio color-commentator for more than a decade. I think hes enthusiastic and hes a guy that I think Penn State is very fortunate to have as a head coach going forward obviously in some difficult times.
The Penn State football program was hit with major NCAA sanctions, including a $60 million fine, loss of scholarships for the next four years and a four-year ban from competing in bowl games, after a report by former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh found that the university had concealed allegations of child sexual abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
Ham said he doesnt blame players such as Silas Redd or Justin Brown, each of whom transferred to other schools after the sanctions were announced.
I think it was, in fact, an over-reach by the NCAA to put those kind of sanctions on Penn State, especially for players who had nothing to do with that situation, he said.
Ham has been rooted in the Penn State program for decades. An All-American linebacker for coach Joe Paterno in the 1960s, he went on to be the 34th pick in the 1971 NFL draft, and the Hall of Famer helped the Pittsburgh Steelers win four of their six Super Bowl rings.
Although Ham said the NCAAs handling was a harsh condemnation of Penn State culture, he said he believes the university is handling the situation the right way.
Theyre prosecuting people involved in the cover-up, and thats what they should be doing, he said. Im a bottom-line guy. When theres a crime committed and, obviously, there were crimes committed against innocent people, youve got to bring those people to justice.
With perjury trials for suspended Athletic Director Tim Curley and retired senior Vice President Gary Schultz scheduled to start in January, the students and fans caught in the crossfire of the Sandusky scandal could use a figure such as OBrien to lean on, Ham said.
With Bill OBrien as head coach, he said, theyll recover and rebuild.
Justin Denis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org