When people talk about sports, the line is often brought up that it’s just a game. However, I tend to disagree with this statement.
Especially when I think about football in the state of Pennsylvania. Football is not only a game here, it is a part of our culture. It’s not something we do just to pass the time, it’s a way of life. If it were just a game, you wouldn’t see people out and about on Saturdays representing the Pitt blue and gold or the navy and white of Penn State.
The two teams have given the state of Pennsylvania a total of 11 national titles — nine for Pitt and two for Penn State — six conference titles — four for Penn State and two for Pitt. However, between the two teams, the last national title came 28 years ago in 1986 when Penn State took down Miami (Fl) in the Fiesta Bowl. Recently, these teams have fallen on hard times with Pitt just squeaking into the Armed Forces Bowl this season, and Penn State also just barely squeaking into the Pinstripe Bowl.
The hardships have not only come with the player’s performance on the field. Both teams have not had a steady head coach in recent times. Pitt has gone through four head coaches since the team lost to Alex Smith and the Utah Utes in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. All signs point to Pitt having to go back to the head coaching search with the rumors of Paul Chryst to the University of Wisconsin swirling. Penn State has gone through three head coaches since the team lost in the Rose Bowl to USC in 2008.
With all these head coaching changes between the two teams, the question arises; are these desirable head coaching jobs? Even with the rich history of the two programs, I feel that at the moment, the answer is no.
Here is why: first off, the things that affect both teams in recruiting big name head coaches is the ability to draw big name recruits to the school. The main thing you have to do to get big name recruits is win. Both of these teams have not done this in recent times.
The second thing that hurts the recruiting pitch is the weather that the teams play in. Let’s face it, northeast weather is miserable at best. Why would big time recruits want to come up here and play in the cold when they can go down south and play against the best players in the country where the coldest it gets is 70 degrees in the end of November? Big time coaches want to coach big time players. It is much tougher to get big time player to come north rather than them going south.
Not convinced yet? Let me give you one problem with each job that I feel hinders the appeal of each job.
First off, Pitt’s biggest mistake was moving from an on-campus stadium to Heinz Field on the North Shore. This move has killed attendance at Pitt Football games ever since they have made the move in 2001.
It was very apparent in the 2014 season. Heinz Field’s max capacity for a football game is 65,500. In the 2014 season, Pitt topped out at 48,895 people for the Iowa game and bottomed out at 32,549 when they took on Syracuse. Overall, they averaged 41,314 people at its games this season.
How is a coach suppose to make a Pitt football game day look better than that of a SEC school with 24,000 empty seats in the stadium? Now, I know these attendance problems have a lot to do with the struggles of the team, but the difficulty that the move across town made for students to get to the game made the Pitt game day a lot less appealing than most schools that have their games on campus.
As I said before, big time coaches want to coach big time players. I feel that this disadvantage proves to be devastating for the Pitt program to get big time players to come put the script on their helmet.
Now, when you think of Penn State football, who do you think of? Let me answer that for you, you think of Joe Paterno. And for that simple fact, Penn State’s head coaching position is not one of the top commodities in the country.
No matter what you do as a head coach there, you will be compared to a coach that has won 409 games. Let’s be honest, that is completely unfair. But, it is the truth. There is no escaping the shadow of Joe Paterno when you enter State College.
Both Bill O’Brien and James Franklin have attempted to surface from under that shadow. O’Brien did well on the field, however, he jumped at his first chance at an NFL job. The shadow, in this case the NCAA sanctions, were just too much. Franklin struggled at times this season, but with a 6-6 record, he led Penn State to their first bowl game since 2011.
Is there a possibility that both of these jobs can become more appealing as time goes on? The answer to that is yes. However, at the moment, I see coaches taking these jobs as stepping stones to better jobs.