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Smeltzer: Dr. Patrick Kraft Won his First Penn State Press Conference

Penn State president-elect Neeli Bendapudi hands Penn State hat to incoming athletic director Dr. Patrick Kraft

It’s not often that a head coach or administrator “loses” an introductory press conference, but incoming Penn State Athletic Director Dr. Patrick Kraft won his first Penn State presser in a landslide.

A person can “win” a press conference simply by knowing the right things to say.  Kraft had his share of cliche, optimistic statements, such as “we’re here to win”, that aren’t different from what’s said at any introductory presser.

But it wasn’t what Kraft told the reporters assembled in Beaver Stadium’s press room that impressed me. After all, words are only words.

It was Kraft’s passion and confidence made those words carry water.

Kraft didn’t come across as a typical administrator.

Those in his position with his credentials often come across as either robotic or condescending. Kraft didn’t.

Not that Kraft’s intelligence and credibility weren’t evident. As expected, he was well-spoken and professional. At the same time, Kraft, more so than many ADs, came across as somebody the average fan can relate to and talk football with over a beverage.

He showed off a sense of humor, joking about how he got lost in the hotel he was staying at earlier than morning, and a knack for storytelling, telling the gathered reporters about his time playing against Penn State in Beaver Stadium with Indiana in the late-90s.

To be clear, none of this would mean anything if Kraft weren’t qualified.

“Talk is cheap,” Penn State president-elect Neeli Bendapudi said before introducing Kraft. “Everyone says the right words. So we wanted a demonstrated record of someone who acts with  the highest integrity.”

Kraft checks the boxes there, too.

He started as a walk-on football player at Indiana, then became “Dr. Kraft” by earning a P.h.D. in sports management.

He’s been an athletic director since 2015 and, in that time, has continuingly climbed the latter.

His first AD job was at Temple. While in Philly, he oversaw a football program that won the American Athletic Conference in 2016, a men’s basketball program that won a conference title in 2015-16 and a women’s basketball program that broke a six-year NCAA tournament drought in 2017.

Then, he moved to the Power Five, accepting the same position at Boston College in 2020. He wasn’t in Boston long, but while there, Kraft hired Earl Grant as the school’s basketball coach, locked up $15 million to build a basketball facility and signed long-term apparel deals with Adidas and New Balance.

He also oversaw BC’s celebrated hockey program— a 13-time national champion— and got to work with Jerry York, the Mike Krzyzewski of college hockey, who retired earlier this month as the winningest coach in the history of the sport.

Now, he’ll come to “Hockey Valley” and the beautiful Pegula Ice Arena, where Guy Gadowsky’s program has made great strides since becoming DI in 2012 but has yet to make it to a Frozen Four.

“College hockey is an amazing sport,” Kraft told reporters. “I love it. I love it. I told Guy (Gadowsky,) we’re going to get to the Frozen Four. This is a strong area for hockey, and I have to help (Gadowsky) get there.”

What stuck out the most to me about Kraft was his honesty.

On a human level, it was hard not to like the guy when he almost broke down in tears when thanking his family, hard not to like him when he stressed the importance of the mental health of student-athletes and hard not to like him when he gave honest answers to questions regarding NIL and the College Football Playoff.

Kraft has a hard job ahead of him. Maybe the most challenging part about it is this.

No matter what the other 30 programs do; if Cael Sanderson’s wrestling team wins 10 more national titles, if the men’s and women’s basketball teams  become NCAA tournament staples and if Kraft helps Gadowsky bring “Hockey Valley” a national championship, Kraft’s time at Penn State, for probably too many fans, will be determined by what the football team does. Kraft surely understands this, and I believe he’s up to the challenge.

Time will tell if Kraft’s time at Penn State is a success, a failure or something in between. But he nailed his first press conference, and Penn State fans should be impressed and excited.

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