Penn State football: Assistant coach Herb Hand brings experience with child-abuse programs to community healing from Sandusky scandal

For the CDTJanuary 30, 2014 

Herb Hand already has plans for what little free time he might have after his daily role as Penn State’s new run game coordinator and offensive line coach is fulfilled.

He’s yet to nail down specifics, but it seems as though his passion to help young men on the field of battle is rivaled only by his will to assist even younger people with their personal battles.

Hand, 46, has been around the proverbial football block. This is his seventh stop in a coaching profession that spans 24 years, the past four spent at Vanderbilt. It was a stop at a Nashville, Tenn., fundraising event for an organization called “Our Kids” that prompted Hand to think about more than the players on his team or the ones in his house.

Our Kids provides hope, help and healing to children and families affected by child sexual abuse. It provides medical evaluations and point-of-contact counseling, among other services.

“As soon as you hear ‘Our Kids,’ it’s like ‘I want to help this out,’ ” Hand said last week when he was one of nine assistant coaches introduced by new Penn State head coach James Franklin. “I didn’t even know what it was about.”

He soon learned of what he called gut-wrenching situations that children encountered. He helped make people aware of Our Kids by raising money and securing toys for kids who visited the facility. Ultimately, he was named to the Our Kids board of directors.

“I just think that Herb Hand is one of those highly principled, caring people,” said Sue Fort White, executive director of Our Kids. “He just seemed to really, really get the spirit of Our Kids. Child sexual abuse is about being abused, exploited and betrayed. And I think that breaks his heart.”

And now Hand is in State College, a community on the mend from the well-documented Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

“I plan on being very involved with the issue,” Hand said. “It’s something that we have to hit head on. I know that there’s a plan in place.

“I believe in divine intervention and I believe God has a plan for everybody, and maybe my plan is to be here to help heal in this community in a way that I don’t know how yet.”

Hand will have help if he needs it.

“When he made the decision to leave Vanderbilt, he and I had several conversations,” Fort White said. “I said as you get involved with the community up there, as you find your place, if at some point we can be a resource for you in that community, we’d love to do that.”

Hand said news about Jerry Sandusky and Penn State was “a hot topic” in the football coaching community when it first broke in 2011.

“There were a lot of questions, a lot of misinformation,” he said. “It was like you weren’t getting the whole story.

“And there are a lot of emotions that you run through, from anger to disbelief. There’s a whole realm of issues you run through as a coach anytime this happens … anytime.”

National statistics, according to Fort White, show that one in four girls and one in six boys will experience some form of sexual abuse prior to age 18.

“There have been issues in swimming … hockey … the football thing has not just been a Penn State thing,” Hand said.

“It’s been a global problem and it’s about taking advantage of an access that you’re given through trust. As a coach, everything that we do as coaches is based on trust. The player has to trust that I have his best interest at heart.

“Parents are trusting you with building these kids from a young man into a man and helping him and guiding him along the way. There’s a trust there, and that’s what coaching’s about.

“That’s why it is so gut-wrenching, and I know this community’s been through it. And like I said, it’s a global problem.”

Hand interviewed for the head coaching job at Vanderbilt once Franklin committed to Penn State.

Had he gotten the job, he would have maintained his relationship with Our Kids. He called the people involved “a light in a dark situation.”

But when Franklin offered him an opportunity to come north, Hand jumped at it.

“The opportunity to come here to Penn State from purely a professional avenue was a no-brainer,” Hand said. “This is one of the finest institutions in the country and one of the top traditional football programs since the first time they laced up a football. And from a personal standpoint, the opportunity to come into the community and make an impact ... Was that part of my decision-making process when James offered me the job here? I just sat back and said, ‘I’m prepared for this job, not just from the professional standpoint but from a personal level also.’

“I want to impact this community, I want to help this community in any way I can. What does that look like? I don’t know. I’m not here to be a savior or anything, but I want to be able to help.”

Fort White expects nothing less.

“He will walk into that community with respect and with dignity,” she said, “and he just needs to get to know what services have been created out of the pain of recent years and how is the issue of child sexual abuse addressed up there.”

He first must help his family relocate.

“It’s been an unbelievable three weeks,” Hand said. “So there’s a lot of emotion that goes in anytime you have a transition, particularly when you have a family and you’re working through those deals, too.”

Hand’s daughter has a penchant for helping people as well. On the day Hand interviewed for the Vanderbilt job, Bailey Hand, 15, took off on a service project to Haiti.

“She had no Internet access, no way to know if I got the job, if I didn’t get the job, if I had a job, where was my job going to be,” Hand said.

“She had no idea until Sunday. She spent four days in Haiti not really knowing what was going on. She got some Wi-Fi access on Sunday, and we were able to communicate with her.”

Recent talks have centered on football, and Hand couldn’t speak more highly about his new employer.

“Most of the places I’ve worked at, I’ve had to do more with less,” he said. “That’s not a knock on anywhere, but this is a more-with-more place. This place is about having an opportunity to do more with more and that’s exciting.”

Doing more in the community will be something in which the entire staff will participate.

“You’ll see not only our players but our coaches make a difference in people’s lives,” Franklin said. “We came here to graduate players, win games and have a positive impact on this community.”

That sits well with Hand.

He said he listened to 2012 Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey speak recently. Dickey was abused as an 8-year-old, and Hand said Dickey’s courage was remarkable.

“There are thousands and thousands of R.A. Dickeys out there who are not winning the Cy Young but having the same courage every day,” Hand said. “That’s what I want, to keep encouraging people. This doesn’t define you as to who you are as a person. It just defines a situation that you’ve gone through. You look at guys like that and how inspiring they are.

“You want to provide help to people. You want to provide hope that, hey, this is not an end sentence for you. And then you want to provide the healing process and what does that look like.

“I’m not educationally qualified to talk about the healing,” Hand said. “What I want to be able to provide is an avenue, a conduit for awareness. Just saying, hey, man, let’s fix this problem. This is a global issue. And we talk about the protection of kids.

“I’ll do whatever I can. I’m not academically qualified to be a counselor, but anything I can do, I’m willing. I’m here. I want to be a conduit for them.”

Fort White is certain he will be.

“I love the way Herb Hand walks on the Earth,” she said. “He’s just a real man of integrity, a very special person.”

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