An upcoming book by John U. Bacon titled “Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football” reveals details of what unfolded inside Penn State’s facilities shortly after the NCAA imposed harsh sanctions against the Nittany Lions.
The Wall Street Journal released an excerpt from the book on Thursday.
Bacon, who had unfettered access to the Nittany Lions in addition to the Ohio State, Michigan and Northwestern programs, spotlights a meeting between key players and coaches who spearheaded the efforts to keep the 2012 team intact after the NCAA leveled its transfer waiver last July.
Then, on July 23, the NCAA declared all Penn State players free to transfer without losing a year of eligibility in addition to other sanctions. The waiver expired on August 5 but Penn State lost a handful of players to the waiver, including standout running back Silas Redd, wideout Justin Brown and kicker Anthony Fera.
The majority of the team stayed but not after a dark few days that carried somber undertones, Bacon writes.
It is known that captains Michael Zordich and Michael Mauti led the resistance to the transfer waiver. They met with O’Brien and strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald inside the team’s weight room where the compiled a list of who they heard was transferring.
The situation looked bleak and O’Brien wanted to set a deadline of August 1 but Mauti and Zordich opposed the idea because most Penn State players didn’t know O’Brien well enough to make a rational decision yet, Bacon reports.
The foursome worked the phones from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. calling all their teammates. A day later O’Brien invited every member of Penn State’s Letterman’s Club to campus to address the current team. Nearly 500 showed up.
Franco Harris, Todd Blackledge, Jack Ham and Matt Millen spoke, with Millen closing the session. Players responded to Millen’s address with a standing ovation lasting for “a solid minute.”
Bacon quotes Fitzgerald, who said, “If someone doesn’t want to stay after that, they weren’t Penn State guys in the first place.”
In addition, the excerpts reveal that previous unnamed staff members privately joked that “the less (Joe Paterno) got involved, the better things usually went.”
Bacon writes: Paterno “often confused the situation, got players’ names wrong or just yelled at them by their numbers” and rarely attended team meetings.
A spokesman who responded on behalf of Jay Paterno for the book called the characterizations “inaccurate, saying Joe Paterno scripted every practice to the minute, led every team meeting and had direct play-calling input on game-winning or clinching drives in five close games during the (2011) season.”