Tambroni Reflects on the Last Year at Penn State
Full disclosure: I'm a Penn State alumnus and that should be noted before an article of this type is posted here. I understand full well the range of emotions generated from news coming out of the school over the past year, from the first reports of abuse by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, to Joe Paterno's firing and death, to the court proceedings that followed and are still ongoing, to the accusations of a cover-up, to the general hit the university took on a national and worldwide level, and to the victims at the center of the situation. And the layers of reactions that have followed each development.
While I graduated a few years ago, and only make it back to campus in State College occasionally, Penn State men's head coach Jeff Tambroni, who left Cornell to become the Nittany Lions' coach two and a half years ago, was on the ground in central Pennsylvania as the heat was turned up and national attention was trained there for all the wrong reasons. I caught up with the third-year PSU coach, and Team USA assistant, to talk about the Big Ten's lacrosse future last week — on the heels of Maryland's addition to the conference — and afterward the conversation turned to Tambroni's tenure with the Lions so far.
"We knew there were going to be a ton of challenges," Tambroni said of arriving at Penn State, "but I don't think anybody could have imagined the challenges that were presented over the last 8-9 months to a year. In a lot of ways, as I look at modern-day Penn State, compared to what it was a year ago, there's a lot more unity on campus. We've cleaned up a lot of things. I'm not going to say it was good or bad before — that's probably unfair for me to say because I don't know what it looked like from an administrative standpoint — but I can tell you the unity of the head coaches, the teams, has just grown significantly; the support of each other as students, as athletes, as coaches, has grown significantly.
"It took a pretty big blow without question, over the last year, and there just wasn't a whole lot of good news coming out. Now that people have kind of plowed through here, we've gotten bits and pieces of good news over the past few months. Our football coach and football team has done a great job of leading the way with positive energy and tremendous resiliency. Who knows what's going to happen? But I'm optimistic that things are going to keep getting better, based on what I've seen."
Tambroni said that being on the recruiting trail added perspective to the Sandusky scandal and fallout.
"When you're in town, you're much more insulated," Tambroni said. "When you walk off campus and you're recruiting and people see your hat or shirt or logo, it became a little bit more distracting and uncomfortable off-campus. But time has passed. It's been a year, but it's going to take a couple more years, I'm sure, before it passes completely and people judge Penn State based on what we've done now — recently."
The negative publicity has affected recruiting, he said, and some competitors have used the scandal to their advantage.
"When it comes to recruiting, people would just decide or choose not to look at Penn State or, based on what's out there, people still have a perception and there are still rumors about what it means to be a part of Penn State in the future. We've had kids talk to us in the last couple of weeks about what they've heard about Penn State; [other people talking about] the possibility of not having a program in a couple years. There's still a lot of people trying to take advantage of what's gone on with little to no fact about our situation, which has been unfortunate."
Penn State finished 9-6 last season, and after a season-ending loss to Drexel in the CAA tournament semifinals, the Lions were on the bubble for an NCAA tournament berth. They were left on the outside looking in.
"Things will work themselves out. At the end of the day, we want kids who want to be part of Penn State, regardless," Tambroni said. "[This] may have shrank the pool of lacrosse players, but there are still enough great lacrosse players and people who I'm confident want to be part of Penn State, and we'll make it work with that group."