We can discuss the brand or image of the football programs across the US all we want. Mascots and schools and killer weight rooms and locker facilities however are merely trappings. They don’t win games nor define a program. Men do that.
In my limited interactions with Head PSU Coach Bruce Barnum I have gone from seeing him as an assistant to the Head Coach who took a loosing program on the edge of collapse to the surprise sports story of 2015. The Vikings went from 3-9 in the Big Sky to 9-3 and hosted a Division 1 Playoff Game for the first time in 2 Decades. How did this man who reminds me of a Dock worker ready for a Beer after a 15 hour shift do it?
Simple. He just did it.
For 5 years as the Offensive Coordinator he built a powerhouse offense. But he was quiet from my view at recruiting events and campus visits- almost as if he was the man in the room with the most to say but unable to do so. The Viks had recruited very well these past few years and with the addition of QB Alex Kuresa he walked into the Interim Head Coaches job with only a 1 year contract and threw down the gauntlet. His message was that of a tough but fair father figure- it was time to grind it out and take no prisoners. The win over Washington State last season wowed fans and pundits alike early on. It was clear that Barnum did not want a 1 year gig- and was not going to wait around to see what happened. He and his Staff, who we must say are an exceptional bunch, were as they say “All-In”.
I am an alumni but have had very little to do with the Vikings since the raucous days of the Pokey Allen era where the Viks were feared and the stadium overflowed on many occasions. Despite helping as much as I could when much heralded Jerry Glanville came in I knew that he was not the right guy. Being an ex-NFL Coach is no precedent for the makings of a great college coach. And as I watched Nigel Burton try and lead the team I heard grumblings- many of the kids themselves intimated he was not a guy they felt was the right fit at that time.
GRAB OVER 300 Pics from the #BARNYBALL Skills Camp This Week and Enjoy
Turns out the guy the Viks needed was right there in the building. So now the Park Blocks at PSU are buzzing with Viking Fever, at least to some degree, and believe me PSU is no football school. You are more likely to see a student activist burning the American Flag on campus then you are to see anything as traditional as football being celebrated. It is in my mind the hardest place in the Big Sky to pull off what Barnum and the Vikings have done- they have made college football relevant in a town like Portland where those sort of things are just not cool.
Facing year two Barnum and the boys are deeply invested into the recruiting process. They have made some great offers and after the skills camp yesterday they went after a few Oregon kids including Newberg’s Anthony Adams (who we have as a top 10 in State kid) and Central Catholic’s Malik Thirdgill; a powerhouse Tight End who looked awesome at the #BARNYBALL Skill Camp. Today the linemen get after it and more offers will no doubt be made.
People make teams and organizations great and it is easier to fall then to rise. What Barnum did last year to make PSU Football relevant may have been a quirk but I’m not in that Camp. I think they have a bright future ahead. I now put Barnum in an elite class of Head Men like Eastern Washington’s Beau Baldwin and the UW’s Chris Petersen. Exceptional men make exceptional Coaches that effect programs and make athletes want to play for them.
Maybe the greatest moment of the PSU Camp yesterday was seeing a lone offensive linemen work out with PSU Coach AC Patterson. The kid was an unknown to me but my gosh was he good. Down I went to watch and find out more about 6’6″-280 pound John Ojukwu of Boise High in Boise. To see him there told me PSU had found a real diamond in the rough because big John looks like a Pac 12 guy.
The surprise came when John told me he had been offered by Boise State but had visited PSU and was there to see if the Vikings might be interested in him. He was right- they offered him but his interest from afar in the Vikings is more telling then anything about the point I am trying to make.
Men – take that back – people make anything and any organization in life. Right now PSU is enjoying that very fact.