Penn State was in chaos last year in the hours and days after NCAA president Mark Emmert announced heavy sanctions against the football program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Coaches from other schools made their way to State College and camped themselves outside players' windows to get them to transfer.
Some of the older players on the team feared a mass exodus, according to a new book, "Fourth and Long," written by John U. Bacon.
"One kid was telling me he was going and started listing a ton of guys in the freshman and sophomore classes who were going to leave, too," defensive end Pete Massaro says in the book. "I was freaking out. Next thing he said to me was, 'Penn State football is dead.'
"I thought it was the end of Penn State football."
Bacon also provides a behind-the-scenes look at Michigan, Northwestern and Ohio State during the 2012 season, but his account of how Penn State's program survived the year carries the most weight.
Granted unprecedented access at Penn State, Bacon clearly has great fondness and admiration for coach Bill O'Brien and his staff, and 2012 seniors like Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich and how they worked to keep the program intact.
Bacon doesn't mince words about Emmert, Penn State president Rodney Erickson, athletic director Dave Joyner and former assistant coach Jay Paterno.
"Mark Emmert, in his press conference announcing Penn State's sanctions, promised that football would never again come ahead of education," Bacon writes. "While critics questioned his sincerity, few questioned his logic. They should."
Then Bacon points out that Penn State's graduation rate consistently had ranked second in the Big Ten only behind Northwestern under Joe Paterno and that African-American players usually graduated at or above the team's average under him.
"Joe Paterno clearly had his blind spots," Bacon writes, "but how to run a clean program was not among them."
But he doesn't spare Paterno from criticism. Bacon writes that Paterno became a figurehead after he suffered leg injuries when a Wisconsin player barreled into him on the sideline during a 2006 game.
"In his last year, Paterno was hardly coaching at all," Bacon writes. "He no longer ran the team meetings, the offensive meetings or the position meetings, rarely even attending those staples of a college football program.
"Paterno was surely not the first coach to linger longer than he should have."
Bacon is much harsher on Jay Paterno, the former quarterbacks coach. He details a heated episode during a 2011 game when Rob Bolden, Jay's favorite at quarterback over Matt McGloin, was struggling.
According to Bacon, safety Drew Astorino picked up a headset to yell at Jay in the press box and demand in salty language that he replace Bolden. Jay stormed into the defensive side of the locker room at halftime and called the defensive players expletives, which prompted tackle Devon Still to climb over chairs to get at him before assistant coach Larry Johnson stopped him.
"That dude was an example of everything a coach should not be," Mauti says of Jay Paterno.
Bacon also is critical of Erickson and Joyner, writing that last year's seniors didn't want them on the field during games because they declined to publicly support them after the Sandusky scandal broke.
According to Bacon, Joyner and his wife filed for bankruptcy in 2006 and lost their home after a failed investment in a chain of gyms. He writes that billionaire Ira Lubert, who served with Joyner on Penn State's Board of Trustees before he lobbied to become athletic director, arranged for the Joyners to stay at one of his homes in State College and Hershey.
But Bacon has great respect for O'Brien, his assistants and his players for how they responded to the NCAA sanctions and put together an 8-4 season.
He describes how O'Brien, Mauti, Zordich and strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald had to re-recruit the team. Johnson says the statement made by Mauti and Zordich on national TV "solidified" the team.
"We're not here to understand the rules," O'Brien said at a team meeting. "We're here to follow them. It's my obligation to tell you that you are free to go anywhere you want with no penalties.
"However, if you stay, you will never forget it."
Later that week in July 2012, Johnson made an impassioned speech to the team.
"Coach O'Brien got us through this," Mauti says, "but Coach Johnson's leadership during this time cannot be overstated."
The book has several factual errors, such as saying the Astorino-Jay Paterno incident came during the Nebraska game in 2011. Bolden never played in that game.
For Nittany Lions fans, though, "Fourth and Long" provides a revealing look at the inside of the Penn State football program during a remarkable year.
"For me, the 2012 season was the best season I've ever had as a coach, at any level," Johnson says. "Maybe the highlight of my life, outside the birth of my kids."
Contact Rich Scarcella: 610-371-5070 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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