Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Penn State's big loss to N.Y. Jets -- and it's not the QB

Most Penn State fans do not know his name, but they probably appreciate his work and know a bit more about their favorite varsity sports teams because of his dedication and talent.

For the past eight years Penn State alumnus Tony Mancuso has worked for the university’s athletic department. He helped grow the online presence for athletics and largely drove the use of video.

His feature stories and multimedia work provided behind-the-scenes access to big moments for the most high-profile teams and offered glimpses at the interesting and passionate personalities who drove all of Penn State’s 31 varsity sports teams.

Honestly, Mancuso was a behind-the-scenes force himself -- taking an opportunity for what was ostensibly a content creation and writing job and making it bigger and better. He was a member of the team, but he made the team better.

He experimented and taught himself video skills to complement his strong writing. He became the go-to man for compelling online content as Penn State worked to tell its own story and deliver information directly to fans. He was invariably a good-news guy, which coaches and student-athletes appreciated and which had to make his always busy, tug-me-in-every-possible-direction position enjoyable.

By his own count, Mancuso covered Penn State events in 26 states and two countries. There were games, practices, Coaches Caravans, other special events and so much more.

Mancuso also managed a group of student writers that regularly populated the Nittany Lion All-Sports Blog, which can be found at GoPSUsports.com online. When he started, there were five student writers and that group grew to a dozen the past few years.

Plus, Mancuso, at a time when the athletic department was enduring terrible turmoil, seemed to be in the right place at the right time.

He was almost always right there beside Bill O’Brien when the football coach made his rounds locally, regionally and nationally. He did much of the same when James Franklin took control of the program.

The resulting content was compelling and honest (at least as honest as possible for program- or team-created content).

It was not just football (103 consecutive games). Mancuso was everywhere, covering regular season and postseason competitions in every varsity sport. There were also national championships in fencing, men’s gymnastics, women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and wrestling, as well as almost every single success for the athletic program along the way.

He was not everywhere, it just seemed that way.

His genuine, inquisitive nature made his interviews with everyone from freshmen standouts to athletic directors (there were at three during his time on the job) interesting. Sure, he was the in-house guy, but he was savvy enough to bring some fandom and perspective to the position for it to work really well.

His presence also coincided with an explosion of the use of the internet and videos to connect fans to teams. Not surprisingly, interest in Penn State was reflected in online visitors. The blog on GoPSUsports.com attracted a few thousand visitors in 2010. The past three years, there have been more than 1 million visits each year.

Mancuso would deflect praise, and he did not develop the Penn State sports website alonre, nor did he hold any sort of major editorial control. That’s just a disclaimer, though.

His drive, personality and talent made the blog worth visiting. His use of video made the big-budget, big-time department personal. His work also made some of Penn State’s icier people at least a little personable.

He did quality work that benefited the program overall, and that fans should appreciate. And if they did not notice his work already, they might notice his absence going forward.

Mancuso recently accepted a digital media position with the New York Jets. His last day of work at Penn State was Friday.

With the Jets, he’ll make decisions about what appears online and how it’s used, which videos accompany stories, how information gets used on social media and much more. He earned the opportunity, based on his Penn State track record and after participating in eight-week-long hiring process that included 16 (yes, 16) interviews.

At Penn State, his loss will be significant. Too often the university finds ways to create layers, allowing a couple of people to do the job that one person could typically handle.

Mancuso is not typical, though. Finding one person to replace him will not be easy. In fact, it’s probably unfair to his eventual successor to expect them to meet the standard he established.

For the sake of fans, hopefully someone can at least come close. But it will not be easy.

When news of Mancuso’s move made it to me, two things came to mind. First, good for him (and Christian Hackenberg who will have a familiar face around). Second, Mancuso seemed to typify a saying by one of my favorite Penn Staters, men’s volleyball coach Mark Pavlik. With consistency, Pavlik talks about Penn Staters as ordinary people who do extraordinary things. That’s Mancuso.

As he departs, Penn State loses a good person and fans lose a valuable member of the media who provided important connections to their favorite teams.