Living in Pennsylvania, I’m among the minority—not a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers or Penn State Nittany Lions. In fact, I actively root against both football teams, especially when my teams (the Oakland Raiders, Michigan Wolverines) struggle as they have lately.
But there is a common thread between Penn State and the Steelers that may explain their consistent success over a long period of time: loyalty to their coach(es).
At Penn State, Joe Paterno is Nittany Lions football. The legendary coach has been roaming the sidelines (and, more recently, the press box) as head coach since 1966. To put that into perspective, the first Super Bowl was still months away.
In the decades at Penn State, JoePa has led the Lions to two national championships and five unbeaten seasons. Turning 82 this Sunday, Paterno just signed a three-year contract extension at Penn State. While other coaching positions turn over more than a restless child, Penn State has known just one coach since Lyndon Johnson was President. In fact, when President-elect Obama is sworn in to the White House in January, he’ll become the ninth President to hold office during Paterno’s tenure as head coach.
Ironically, Paterno passed up a 1969 offer to become coach of the Steelers. Who did Pittsburgh hire instead? Chuck Noll.
All Noll did was lead the Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in his 22 years with Pittsburgh. Upon Noll’s retirement, Bill Cowher took over for the Steelers, leading them to a victory in Super Bowl XL before stepping down in January 2007. With the subsequent hiring of Mike Tomlin, the Steelers were on just their third coach since the NFL-AFL merger. To put that into perspectivem the Raiders have had five coaches in the past six years.
Surely, there are other problems to point at, but the success of Penn State and the Steelers deserves some recognition. Maybe they’re onto something. In this era of what-have-you-done for me NOW, a little patience and loyalty goes a long way.
So, instead of always throwing the coach under the bus right away, give him a chance. This means you, Michigan, with you Rich Rodriguez. And you, Al Davis, with whomever you hire next after Tom Cable’s interim run is up.
Success doesn’t come overnight. But ask fans of the Steelers and Penn State if they’re happy with their coach and leadership, and you’re bound to get a resounding yes. Chalk one up for loyalty.
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