STATE COLLEGE - Every single Penn State football player could stuff a college syllabus for a course on radical change management with just their life experiences in the past year.
Three different head coaches, including the death of one who was the most iconic figure in the game, plus the unprecedented Jerry Sandusky saga and the NCAA's unprecedented sanctions in response that led to mid-summer roster defections will do that.
Perhaps the most important goals and objectives from such a class, other than recognizing that each changing situation is unique and that much change can lie beyond anyone's control, is that the changing never really stops.
There's still a lot for the players and those rooting them on in the stands and on TV to get used to. But one concept that will always bother the near 100,000 in attendance Saturday at Beaver Stadium is losing to a MAC team. The same goes for the high school recruits this program hopes to impress as it deals with scholarship limitations and no bowls for the next four years.
But that's what happened in the first game of the Bill O'Brien era when the Ohio Bobcats left 24-14 victors. Paterno's teams occasionally stunk in September - a 1983 home loss to Cincinnati and a 2000 loss to Toledo come to mind - and sometimes they improved considerably. Other times, such as the 2000 team that finished 5-7, they did not.
Paterno overcame seasons like 2000 and even endured more like it. But O'Brien doesn't have that luxury unless he wants to be a coach riding out a contract extended through the end of the decade thanks to the sanctions.
No, O'Brien needs a winning product he can sell fans and recruits. When the scholarship limitations drop to 65, he needs as many of those 65 players to be as good as possible. And those players must make fans want to keep supporting them and help an athletic program dealing with a $60 million fine from the NCAA.
"I thought it was a great atmosphere," said O'Brien. "It was a good crowd, and I hope they keep coming and supporting this team."
Saturday's result wasn't what anyone had in mind. Suddenly a non-conference schedule that heads to Virginia next weekend and then returns home with Navy and Temple doesn't seem quite as manageable anymore.
After the game, O'Brien didn't want much to do with making one loss bigger than it was, repeatedly telling reporters he needed to study the film and putting the blame on himself at least six times.
But keeping his players believing that over time may prove difficult. While tailback Derek Day said it was an emotional day but that as a team they tried "not to get into any of that," receiver Shawney Kersey said it was most disappointing to lose in front of fans who'd stuck by the program.
"We had a lot of fan support and we wanted to win for them, for the alumni, and ourselves," said Kersey. "It's just upsetting, but we have to come back Tuesday in practice."
Linebacker Michael Mauti, at the forefront of player unity during last month's transfers, tried to rally his team in the fourth quarter. Guard John Urschel said Mauti told everyone it was "make or break" time, but afterward Mauti didn't want to let this loss break the season.
"You don't like to lose, just like any other team," said Mauti. "We just didn't play well enough to win."
Mauti went on to say that, like his coach, he needed to study film to see what technical aspects needed improvement.
Improvement would be good. It's the kind of change this team needs right now.
Brigandi is sports editor at The Sun-Gazette. He may be reached at email@example.com.