Potential Successors to Joe Paterno
Even if you're the most diehard Penn State alum, you have to concede that Joe Paterno cannot coach forever. Sure, he recently signed a four-year extension, and, yes, in "The Chronicle of Higher Education" his university's president sang his praises endlessly, I am told. Still, the I have written about the denouement of Coach Paterno's career here , and now it's time to build the candidate pool for the Penn State head football coaching job. Coach Paternos' record in the past 7 years is 45-37 (I had to count the results game-by-game from the rundowns of individual seasons, as nowhere on the Penn State football website, which is very good by the way, is there a media guide breakdown of the team's record on a year-to-year basis. Then again, many teams' websites don't offer these stats; you have to get them from the media guide, and they usually don't put the media guide's content on the website). That's a great record if you're Temple, and a mediocre one if you have the tradition that Penn State does.
Of course, I cannot predict what Penn State will look for in its next head coach. For example, must the candidate have ties to the school already? One the one hand, JoePa was an assistant at Penn State before getting tapped for the head coaching job. On the other hand, the Penn State football family doesn't run as deep as, say, either the Duke or North Carolina basketball families, and, therefore, the pool would be shallow if one of the required criteria for a candidate would be a Penn State coaching connection. It's hard to believe that the Penn State football family doesn't run deeper, because a) Joe Paterno has been at Penn State for a very long time and b) there are more assistant coaches in football than in basketball. I suppose that part of the reason is that two of his long-time coordinators had their head coaching opportunities elsewhere (John Sandusky and Fran Ganter) but passed on them. Had Sandusky and Ganter taken their big-time opportunities, they could have minted addditional coordinators and head coaches, and the family, as it were, would be larger.
Without Penn State connections as a pre-requisite, you then have to wonder about the type of experience Penn State would be looking for? Would they require that the candidate pool contain only sitting head coaches? What about coordinators at top schools? And what about assistant coaches in the NFL? Does the type of school these coaches coach at or went to matter? For example, Penn State has a unique perch in college football. It does offer a quality education, but it's not on the same level academically overall as a Stanford, Vanderbilt, Duke, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Tulane, Cal-Berkeley, UVa or Michigan. Then again, its football, when fully optimized, is above almost everyone's (okay, so today it's below Michigan and perhaps Notre Dame, but with the right coach that could change). Would that disqualify, say, Pat Hill from Fresno State, who has done wonders with a mid-level DI program? Conversely, if Pat Hill would be in the running because of his success at Fresno, would that success translate to State College? Would he be able to build the recruiting connections in Pennsylvania that he obviously has built in California? Or, is he recruiting a different type of kid in California from the type he'd be recruiting in Pennsylvania? Finally, does the head coach matter as much as hiring a good roster of assistants with recruiting connections, when it comes to overall recruiting?
Given that the Penn State tradition is about as good as it gets, I think that I would focus on a pool that includes a) coordinators from the most successful programs currently (remember, Bob Stoops left the University of Miami for Oklahoma, and Mark Richt left Florida State for Georgia) and b) up-and-coming coaches. I have omitted sitting head coaches at most if not all Top 25 programs, because I doubt that Bob Stoops would leave Oklahoma for Penn State, and I doubt that Jim Tressel would leave Ohio State for Penn State. I could be wrong (Bear Bryant left Maryland for Kentucky, left Kentucky for Texas A&M, and then left A&M for Alabama). And my guess is that conferences have an unwritten rule that you don't raid your competitors and take their head coaches away.
So, based upon that criteria, who is available?
Current College Assistants
1. The most prominent name out there among current assistant coaches at the Division I level is Norm Chow, the offensive coordinator at USC and developer of quarterbacks extraordinaire at both BYU, where he was an assistant coach for almost two decades and at USC. Currently, Cal's head coach Jeff Tedford probably gets more hype as a developer of quarterbacks, probably owing to two factors -- that he's a head coach and that less is expect of Cal prospects than USC prospects. Chow has a great track record, and he's the offensive brain behind an explosive offense. He's also 58 years old, and while no employer is permitted to discriminate on the basis of age, you wonder whether Penn State would want to hire a 59 year-old rookie head coach. Chow's record has to put him in the pool.
2. A less well-known name is Ed Orgeron, who coaches the defensive line at USC and also has the titles assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator. The 43 year-old Orgeron has coached defensive linemen at Syracuse and Miami as well, and among the players he has helped develop are Cortez Kennedy, Russell Maryland, Warren Sapp and Kenechi Udeze. He doesn't have the title defensive coordinator, which means either he hasn't earned it yet or career defensive coordinator and head coach Pete Carroll still likes to think of himself as the defensive coordinator for the Trojans. Orgeron probably will get some head coaching looks at some point, if for no other reason than he's in the inner circle at USC, but it's probably the case that he hasn't accomplished enough to go from this spot to the Penn State head coaching position.
3. The Oklahoma Sooners have three coordinators, including offensive Coordinator Chuck Long and co-defensive coordinators Brent Venables and Bo Pelini. Long, 43, the former Iowa and Detroit Lions QB, has helped develop, among others, Jason White, Nate Hybl and Josh Heupel. The Sooners haven't been bashful about moving the ball and putting points on the ball, and Long has been one of the architects of their success (his predecessor at offensive coordinator, Mark Mangino, is now head coach at Kansas). Pelini, 36, is an Ohio State alum, has been an assistant in the NFL, and was the defensive coordinator (and acting head coach for a short while) at Nebraska last year. Venables, 33, has been at OU for 5 years (like Long). He is a Kansas State alum who started his coaching career at his alma mater, and he also coaches linebackers at Oklahoma. Long played QB for Iowa and has a Big 10 connection. Pelini is intriguing because he's an Ohio State alum, but while Norm Chow's age might hurt him because he's too old, Pelini's might hurt him because he's too young.
4. Jimbo Fisher, 39, is the offensive coordinator at LSU, in his fifth year in the position. Prior to that he had spent 5 years as the QBs coach at Auburn. A QB mentor would be a good thing for Penn State, which, despite its historical success, has not had an outstanding record of developing first-rate quarterbacks. Given how important the QB position has become, a good QB mentor would be a great thing. Of course, you probably cannot name a former Auburn or LSU QB who has made serious inroads in the NFL. That fact doesn't help Fisher's candidacy for this job. In addition, Fisher's geographical focus has been southern in nature, and query whether he'd translate well in Happy Valley and whether the LSU program has enforced the same academic standards as the Penn State family has come to expect (I seriously tend to doubt it). And don't underestimate PSU's graduation rate (up there with the Dukes and Notre Dames of the world) for a moment. 33 year-old defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is in his third year working for a defensive master, Nick Saban. And the Bayou Bengals' record on defense speaks for itself. Given LSU's national prominence, you'd have to expect both of these coordinators will get serious looks for head coaching positions at the Division I level. I'm not sure that State College, Pennsylvania will be one of their destinations.5. Ed Werner, 45, is the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of Miami. He's in his second season as the offensive coordinator, and in his fourth with Miami. Like many assistant coaches, he's been somewhat of a gypsy, with stints here, there, and everywhere, including Cornell, James Madison, UNLV and Louisiana Tech. I'm sure the comment "it's the journey" applies especially to career assistants. Werner certainly is part of a high-profile program, and, if the Hurricanes' success continues, he may get the opportunity to step up to the big time. Randy Shannon, 38, is the defensive coordinator of the Miami Hurricanes, a job that he has held since 2001 (before that he was a position coach with the Miami Dolphins for a few years). Miami has always been known for its defense, and last year the team as a whole had 6 players drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. Clearly, either of these coordinators would have the cache to recruit players who aim to get to the next level. The question, again, for those in Happy Valley is whether a Miami assistant would pass muster in ever conservative State College. I doubt it. Miami has been Penn State's version of "The Evil Empire" over the past 20 years.
4. Michigan's Jim Hermann is in his early 40's, has been at Michigan for 16 years (he's a Michigan alum, Class of 1983), and has been the Wolverines' defensive coordinator for the past 8 years. On the one hand, he's been a lifer at Michigan, on the other hand, it's Michigan that he's been at, the point being that he's been at an elite program -- forever. While you could argue that, like Fran Ganter at Penn State, he might be a stale candidate because he hasn't ventured elsewhere, he has advanced in job responsibility during his coaching career. And he's only in his early 40's. He's definitely worth a look. As is the Wolverines' offensive coordinator, Terry Malone, who has been at Michigan for 8 years, the last 3 as offensive coordinator. Malone is a 1983 graduate of College of the Holy Cross, has spent some time back east, and has a prestigious position with a very sound football program and has helped produce some great players. Again, he's in his early 40's, and he's also worth a look.
5. Finally, this tour will stop in Columbus, Ohio, where the Buckeyes' have two coordinators who could well be saying "Goodbye, Columbus" if the right head coaching jobs open up. Jim Bollman, who is in his late 40's, has done a great job with the OSU offense and offensive line. He's been there for 3 years, and also has coached under Nick Saban and has worked with Buckeyes' head coach Jim Tressel for years (the two were at Youngstown State together). He seems ready for a high-level head coaching job. Mark Snyder is the Buckeye's defensive coordinator, and, well, the Buckeyes' defense has been formidable too. He's in his late 30's, has been at Ohio State for several years, and should be on some short lists in years to come.
I could go on and on with college assistants, but I'm still not sure that Penn State would hire a coordinator from just any program. We can't forget that the Nittany Lions have been among the elite programs during the past quarter century, and the faithful might not be patient for a college coordinator, no matter how up-and-coming he may be. Especially a college coordinator. That said, when you'll read on, you'll see that some college coordinators will make my list of semi-finalists.
Now I'll turn briefly to NFL coordinators, as some of them might welcome a return to the college ranks. (I won't speculate on the fate of Steve Spurrier, although I believe that the erstwhile Washington Redskins' coach and one-time Florida Gators' mentor would be out of place anywhere but the SEC. My guess is that once the next opening comes up in the SEC, Spurrier's name will be at the top of the list. And, if I'm a sitting SEC head coach with a second-division team, it wouldn't help my house-building plans knowing that Spurrier is available. Especially if the local golfing is pretty good.
NFL Coordinators and Assistants
This is a hard group to figure. Most have to be opting for NFL head coaching jobs or, if they're not coordinators, more senior NFL assistant coaching jobs. The reason: I searched nfl.com, and most of the coordinators are rather far removed from the college ranks. That means that they can't possibly have a good feel for what goes on in an 18 year-old's head today or they have a good sense as to how recruiting works. At least that's my opinion.
That said, I'd look to the Tennessee Titans for a few possibilities -- offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, of whom color commentators always have spoken favorably (and who has college experience at Duke, Rice and Air Force, all of whom made graduating players a top priority), and offensive line coach Mike Munchak, an NFL Hall of Famer and, importantly, a Penn State alumnus from the years when they were in the conversation as to who were the contenders for the national title.
An intriguing possibility would have to be 51 year-old John Hufnagle, a former Penn State QB who is the offensive coordinator of the New York Giants, who was the QB coach for the New England Patriots last season and who also has worked with Peyton Manning and Mark Brunell. On the one hand, the Giants haven't proven much on offense under Hufnagle's tenure. On the other hand, he'll get a full season to show what his planning and coaching abilities are. If the Giants surprise or improve (as it isn't clear when Coach Paterno will step down, if ever), Hufnagle could vault onto the short list, especially because he can develop quarterbacks, a skill sorely needed in Happy Valley. The Penn State administration would have no choice but to include him.
Another intriguing possibility is Philadelphia Eagles' offensive coordinator Brad Childress, who spent a long time at Wisconsin before moving to the NFL. He's been the architect of underrated offenses in Philadelphia, and this year the Eagles' offense should improve with the addition of Terrell Owens, the expanded role of Brian Westbrook at tailback and the continued emergence of L.J. Smith at tight end. Of course, if the Eagles' win the Super Bowl, Childress would have to be a candidate for an NFL vacancy or two (he has interviewed for a few NFL head coaching jobs in the past). While he does not have any Penn State ties, his profile in the southeastern Pennsylvania area is quite large, and that might be enough to sell his candidacy to the Penn State fan base.
Current College Head Coaches
My view is that Penn State probably will not settle for anyone less than a sitting head coach or a member of the Penn State family. Want a Stoops disciple? A Bobby Bowden disciple? Bob Stoops' original main guys are gone -- to Kansas (Mark Mangino) and Arizona (Mike Stoops), and Bowden's biggest disciples of recent vintage are gone too, to Georgia (Mark Richt) and North Carolina State (Chuck Amato). Penn State would be a step up for Mangino, who's only 40 years old, and Amato, who is about 57 years old (and unlikely to get the job because a) he's at his alma mater and unlikely to leave and, he's 57). Mike Stoops just got to Arizona, Richt, only 44, is in a great position at Georgia, and Mangino has not accomplished enough at Kansas to make him an attractive candidate in State College.
So who are the "hot" sitting head coaches? Better yet, who are the "hot" sitting head coaches who may be willing to move?
Rich Rodriguez's West Virginia Mountaineers, Jeff Tedford's Cal Golden Bears, Urban Meyer's Utah Utes, Pat Hill's Fresno State Bulldogs, Dan Hawkins' Boise State Broncos, and Louisville's Bobby Petrino (who's 41), and Memphis's Tommy West all have teams in the Top 25 (or thereabouts). Those facts alone make all of those head coaches worth a look, at least if you're the recruiter who's putting together candidate pool.
Rodriguez has a top-10 team on his hands, and his record going into this year is 20-17. Tedford also might have a top-10 team on his hands this year, his Bears were the only team to beat USC last year, and his career record in Berzerkly is 7-5 going into this season (he was offensive coordinator at Oregon before that, and while there the Ducks won 75% of their games) and he's mentored Kyle Boller, Joey Harrington and Akili Smith into first-round draft picks. Urban Meyer's career record as a head coach is 27-8, and last year in his first year at Utah his team was 10-2 and went to the Liberty Bowl. He is definitely a coach on the rise and worth watching (he's also worked at Ohio State, so he has some familiarity with the Big 10). Pat Hill is 55-35 in 7 seasons at Fresno State, he's worked in the NFL and at times has looked like a member of ZZ Top. At 53, it may be that Hill's too much of a West Coast guy to make the transition to Happy Valley. Hawkins, 42, is 19-5 in two years as a head coach, and he led his team to the Humanitarian Bowl last year. He might not have enough experience for the selection committee at Penn State. Petrino, who spent time with the Jacksonville Jaguars as Tom Coughlin's offensive coordinator and then at Auburn as QB coach, was 9-4 last year in his first season at Lousville. Again, that might not give him enough experience to warrant serious consideration. Tommy West's record as a head coach is 52-54, and this is his third head coaching job, as he's been the head man at UT-Chattanooga, Clemson and now at Memphis, where his three-year record going into this season is 17-19. It wouldn't appear that West's pedigree is good enough for Penn State.
And, even then, there is the big issue of the cultural fit. For example, outside the top 25 schools, from which those coaches emanate (and I'd bet that not all of those schools will remain in the Top 25 by season's end), you'd have to look pretty much to head coaches at the BCS Conferences. Those conferences are: ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Southeastern and Pacific-10.
Given Penn State's high standards (silly them, like Notre Dame they really do want to graduate their players), the pool shrinks markedly. For example, I'll write off the entire SEC except for Vanderbilt, but Vandy's Bobby Johnson hasn't exactly worked miracles in Nashville. Yes, that's the rub, the next coach also has to be successful. So then let's look at the Big East, or, rather, what's left of it. Given the defections, you'd have to look only to West Virginia and lame ducks Virginia Tech and Boston College. I listed Rich Rodriguez abot, but I'm not sure that Frank Beamer would leave or that Penn State would want him. He has a great track record, though, and would be worth a look. As for Boston College, well, at 48-36 going into this season, I'm not sure that Tom O'Brien's record would get a serious look in State College. That and the fact that he's in his mid-1950's. It's true that schools cannot discriminate in their hiring practices on the basis of age, but it would be surprising for Penn State to hire someone with a record like O'Brien's. It would seem that O'Brien would be content to ride out his days in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.
Scratch the Big 10. I don't think it would be considered good practice to raid an intra-conference competitor for a head coach. I don't think there's a rule on it, but I doubt anyone would do it. Which is too bad for the Nittany Lions, because Joe Tiller of Purdue and Kirk Ferentz of Iowa otherwise would look mighty attractive to the selection committee.
In the Big 12, Bob Stoops at Oklahoma isn't going anywhere, and neither is Bill Snyder at Kansas State, who wouldn't be a candidate anyway for reasons I can't quite put my finger on except to say it would be an issue of fit. I'm not sure about Oklahoma State's Les Miles and I would write off Nebraska's Bill Callahan a) because he just got to Lincoln and b) because he probably shouldn't have gotten the job in the first place. As for the rest, I don't think there is enough of a pedigree/track record anywhere to draw the attention of the search committee. Sorry, Dennis Franchione, but you've packed your suitcase one time too many to get a serious look.
The ACC and Pac-10 are more intriguing. As for the former, the problem is that the top academic school in that conference, Duke, has a plum awful football team. If NCAA's Division I football had "relegation" to a lower division the way they do it in English soccer, Duke would be a perennial candidate for relegation to Division I-AA. (As would Navy, Army, Temple and several others). North Carolina offers a nice mix of athletics and academics, but John Bunting probably won't escape the Athletic Department's version of The Turk this year. Al Groh is entrenched at UVA, and that's probably his last job before he retires from his alma mater (normally I'd say that an up-and-coming UVA head coach would be a prime candidate for the applicant pool in Happy Valley). Ralph Friedgen has a good gig at his alma mater, Maryland, so he's not going anywhere. Neither is Bobby Bowden at Florida State or Larry Coker at Miami, although I have mentioned their assistants above. That leaves Tommy Bowden at Clemson (and if Jay Paterno isn't getting the Penn State job, then I doubt there'd be a way for Tommy Bowden, the son of one of Paterno's main rivals, to get it, even if he really wanted it), Jim Grobe at Wake Forest and Chuck Amato at N.C. State. Grobe is 51, has been a head coach at Ohio U. and Wake (he was 18-18 going into the season), and has done a good job at a school that doesn't spend the funds on football the way its competition does. Amato probably isn't leaving Raleigh unless he's pushed.
As for the Pac-10, you're not springing Pete Carroll from USC, and Mike Stoops just got to Arizona. We've mentioned Jeff Tedford from Cal before, and I'll nix Stanford's Buddy Teevens because he was a curious choice at "The Farm" to begin with, not having had much success at Tulane after having been successful at his alma mater, Dartmouth, and he hasn't been that successful at Stanford. Mike Bellotti at Oregon is most intriguing (he has a 75-34 record in 9 years in Corvallis, is in his early 50's, is a proven recruiter and has turned out many pro players), and Dirk Koetter at Arizona State, which routed #16 Iowa on Saturday 44-7, might draw a look too. Koetter is 43, has been at ASU for 4 years, was head coach at Boise State before that, and going into season his overall record is 43-30. Then again, Arizona Sate is a far different place from Penn State.
I'd eliminate Keith Gilbertson at Washington (who's a proven offensive mind, but who struggled mightily when he was head coach at Cal and has done an unspectacular job in Seattle thus far, having gotten the head coaching job after Rick Neuheisel spent a bit too much on an NCAA Tourney hoops pool), Karl Dorrell at UCLA (he's an alum, it's a good job, and he still has something to prove there; Freddie Mitchell of the Phila. Eagles recently said that it's harder for UCLA to compete against the likes of UCLA because the admissions standards are higher), Bill Doba at Washington State (he's 64) and Mike Riley at Oregon State. Dorrell is out because he's relatively new at his alma mater, and he hasn't done a whole lot there yet. Riley is out only because he left Corvallis for the Chargers, did not succeed there, and then returned to a place that he had turned around. I doubt he'd leave his comfort zone, and I doubt that PSU would be interested. Not a great cultural fit there. The others are intriguing, although a problem is whether the recruiting connections forged out west could translate into Pennsylvania. Getting kids from L.A. to venture to State College is a hard sell.
Why go any further?
The point isn't to to through the 117 DI schools, all of their head coaches, and the coordinators of, say, the Top 20 schools. I'm sure someone has identified all of those candidates, but I'm trying to pick a pool here and not start a search firm for coaches.
So here's my pool:
1. Jeff Tedford, head coach, University of California at Berkeley.
Pros: Hottest young offensive mind today.
Cons: No East Coast connections.
2. Mike Bellotti, head coach, University of Oregon.
Pros: Has put up the numbers for nine years, developed some outstanding players. He was once Tedford's boss.
Cons: No East Coast connections.
3. Rich Rodriguez, head coach, West Virginia University.
Pros: Has a good track record for the Mountaineers and has built a solid program.
Cons: Will Penn State really tip its hat to a school that's been in its shadow and hire their head man?
4. John Hufnagle, offensive coordinator, New York Giants.
Pros: Offensive coordinator, Penn State hero, Penn State alum.
Cons: Somewhat of an NFL gypsy, not talked about as a "star" coordinator yet.
5. Mike Munchak, offensive line coach, Tennessee Titans.
Pros: Penn State alum.
Cons: Not that experienced as a coach.
6. Brad Childress, offensive coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles.
Pros: Offensive coordinator for very successful team, high profile in Eastern PA, innovative within the West Coast offense and solid developer of players. Has experience coaching in the Big 10.
Cons: The West Coast Offense can be provincial and inflexible. But that's nitpicking. Childress's first head coaching job could be in the NFL if the Eagles keep up their winning ways.
7. Chuck Long, offensive coordinator, University of Oklahoma.
Pros: His offenses are juggernauts, he's developed okay talents into great QBs, and he was a great Big 10 player, so he knows the league.
Cons: Only question is whether Oklahoma's standards re: player graduation rates are similar enough to PSU's to make Long a good fit.
8. Norm Chow, offensive coordinator, University of Southern California.
Pros: Best offensive coordinator in the college game, bar none. A magician with quarterbacks, great developer of them. Outstanding offensive mind.
Cons: Not much connection to the East Coast, and, at 58, is he too old to get a good look?
9. Urban Meyer, head coach, University of Utah.
Pros: Successful at Bowling Green and now at Utah, viewed widely as a great talent and coach on the rise.
Cons: Does he have enough of an East Coast connection to resonate with the Nittany Lions?
10. Jim Hermann, defensive coordinator, University of Michigan.
Pros: Big 10 veteran, has built solid defenses. Knows the league very well.
Cons: Will his work translate anywhere else? Has he been at one school for too long?
I think that's a pretty strong pool, and I think with this hire I'd look for an offensive-minded coach. The reason: Penn State hasn't innovated a whole lot on offense in the past decade, and they need to bring some new ideas on the offensive side of the ball. Defense may win championships, but you do have to outscore your opponents. And Penn State has not done a good job of that for Penn State. In addition, Penn State hasn't turned out that many great professional players on offense in recent years, and that fact probably has hurt it in recruiting.
As for the choice, it's a hard one. And it's hard for the candidates, too. After all, you didn't want to be the first coach to succeed John Wooden at UCLA or Woody Hayes at Ohio State, and you might not want to be Joe Paterno's successor at Penn State. The pressure will be great, the expectations high. But this is a quality pool, and the Nittany Lions should take the time to find the right choice.
That said, I'd probably narrow down the choice, if it were me, to Tedford, Bellotti, Chow and Meyer, although Childress is intriguing. All have outstanding credentials, and I don't think that anyone could criticize Penn State for inking any of these candidates. But that's just my opinion, and, by way of full disclosure, I have no connections to Penn State and am not a Penn State fan (I don't dislike the Nittany Lions, either).
So that's my take on it.
Who would you choose?