The Greenville News
GREENSBORO, N.C. (Greenville Online)- Leave it to a Marine to tell it like it is, straight, with no chaser.
At the ACC Kickoff on Monday afternoon, five hours or so after the NCAA announced its scorched earth sanctions on Penn State in the wake of an alleged administrative cover-up of child sex crimes by a former member of the football staff, North Carolina State football coach Tom O'Brien was asked for his reaction.
He looked down for a split second, pulled his head up and made the most salient statement of the day.
"You don't discipline from the bottom, you discipline from the top if you want people to sit up and take notice," said O'Brien, a former major in the Marine Corps Reserve. "That's just basic leadership, not that the NCAA knows anything about it."
Somebody mentioned that statement would soon find its way to Twitterland, and O'Brien smiled. He already knew the weight of his words.
O'Brien's comments went through a dozen or so of us gathered around his table like a surge of unvarnished truth over the NCAA decision to cripple, yet keep alive the Penn State football program even while it had nothing to say about the people at the top of the University - the Board of Trustees and administrators who allegedly covered up the crimes.
Those people at the very top of the Penn State scandal were left untouched by the NCAA, which could have recommended their removal but chose instead another path - fining the school, banning the team from bowl games for four years and severely restricting the number of recruits the Nittany Lions can maintain during the next four years.
"I don't think you can kill (the football program at) Penn State," O'Brien said. "I think you can do that at SMU (as in the death penalty when the NCAA eliminated football for a season at the Dallas school), but programs that have won national championships, programs as big as them that have been around as long as Penn State? You can cripple them, but I don't think you can kill them."
Thanks, Coach. The O'Brien statement cut directly to the issue and echoed through the resort hotel where the ACC is staging its annual event. Perhaps it was his military background that caused O'Brien to be so openly analytical, but whatever it was, none of his colleagues rose to his level in their responses to the biggest college football news in decades.
Clemson's Dabo Swinney, in Day 81 without being able to announce publicly a penalty for the arrest of star wide receiver Sammy Watkins in May, offered a comment similar to most ACC coaches.
"It's a real tragedy from all angles," Swinney said. "Your heart goes out to all the people who were hurt.
"It's sad," he said, "that the players who had nothing to do with this ended up being caught up in all of it. Just not a good day, obviously."
An ACC administrator briefed the coaches in attendance on the broad outlines of the recruiting situation at Penn State before they had a group picture taken. In its ruling, the NCAA, acting without conducting its own investigation or taking the issue of penalties through the usual channels, announced other schools were free to vulture their way through the Nittany Lions roster and try to recruit players out of what's left of the football program.
Swinney said he knew nothing about the roster and probably wouldn't go looking for players to pull out of Penn State to Clemson. Virginia coach Mike London and Boston College coach Frank Spaziani each said they had recruited some PSU players and might want to re-recruit some.
Miami coach Al Golden, a former Penn State player who played for coach Joe Paterno, has his own NCAA issues with recent reports of potential infractions involving boosters. Golden offered very little when asked about the NCAA sanctions.
"The last 72 hours for me, my wife, my family and anyone with the Golden name have been difficult," he said. "We have run the gamut of emotions."
Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher didn't offer anything other than, "It's never been done before, right? It's a very harsh penalty, there's only been one other worse in the NCAA, right?"
Clearly, most coaches preferred to not reveal their thinking on the dismantling of the Penn State football program and what it might mean in the near and long-term future.
"It remains to be seen what's going to happen," offered Spaziani. "You know, we're in a society these days where the culture demands immediate answers. People are looking for instant decisions. This is the way we live today.
"This is what we get, these kind of decisions in this kind of culture we're in," he said.
If Spaziani thinks the NCAA overreached, he chose not to come right out and say that. For anyone sitting around him, though, his feelings were clear.
Spaziani didn't have to come right out and make the kind of statement that needed to be made by a major college football coach in the backwash of this NCAA decision essentially to implode the Penn State program.
Thanks to Tom O'Brien, that job had already been accomplished.