Reflections on Penn State, Bill O'Brien
Penn State fans and alums couldn't have expected Bill O'Brien to stay in Happy Valley forever. With his background as an NFL offensive coordinator, it stood to reason that Coach O'Brien would get some head coaching experience (especially in an adverse situation) and then have the pick of NFL jobs a few years out, which is what is happening. He has done an excellent job navigating in tricky waters in State College, moving the program forward after the sad, disastrous Sandusky affair while honoring tradition and making the most out of a lack of a full compliment of scholarships. All of that added more lustre to an already gold-plated resume, and it's no surprise both that the NFL has come a-calling and that O'Brien is listening very much and probably will exit PSU.
Rather than be dejected or resentful, Nittany Lion fans and alums should be happy that their program has rebounded rather quickly and that they made the right selection when they chose O'Brien. Sure, they will miss him, but this is a great school (despite the recent tragedy) and a vaunted program, and a lot of coaches will want this job, even if the Texas job is open and the Longhorn locomotive will pull out all the stops to land their coach of choice in the Lone Star State.
But the Penn State job is very appealing too, and should draw some very big names. Among them, I would think, would be the following:
1. James Franklin, head coach at Vanderbilt, and a hot name right now. Franklin is a Pennsylvania native, went to a high school outside Philadelphia, a Division II football school and has risen fast in the coaching ranks. He's done a good job at a competitively disadvantaged SEC school, where academics and ethics matter very much, and that should augur well for him should he and Penn State be interested in one another. It would seem like a no-brainer for Franklin -- there is a ceiling with what one can do at Vanderbilt, and the Penn State job is a rare plum that doesn't show up on the horizon very often.
2. Al Golden, head coach at Miami. Golden is a New Jersey native, Penn State alum, coached there, did a marvelous job at Temple, turning around an almost-dead program, and has done a good job at Miami, turning around the program after the Nevin Shapiro booster scandal. He's dealt with adversity, and while he might be happy at the U, he also could be happy at Linebacker U. Again, this could be a rare opportunity, and this time around it would seem that the Penn State administration would be looking for someone who might stay for a very long time.
By the way, I think that my numbering is interchangeable. Because he's an alum, Golden would seem to be the first choice.
There are others, of course, who could be intriguing/interested -- coordinators at Notre Dame or Stanford, for sure, because of Penn State's objectives (even if the school misfired badly on the Sandusky matter). I think that Titans coach Mike Munchak, a Penn State alum, would be interested, as would recently terminated Bucs coach Greg Schiano. I don't think that the former has sufficient college experience to be a serious candidate, and the latter has some explaining to do regarding some tactics in Tampa Bay and how he might have lost the locker room early in the season. That said, the NFL pundits did offer that Schiano coached the team well and got the most out of his players, and given his success at Rutgers, it would be a mistake to write him off just yet.
This will be a much-watched process, for sure, and Penn State would be wise to think creatively the way it did to land O'Brien to land its next head coach. Whatever they do, I also would recommend that the new head coach give serious thought to landing Princeton's offensive coordinator James Perry as their offensive coordinator. While the "Princeton Offense" has serious brand recognition in college basketball, Perry and head coach Bob Surace created their own version of The Greatest Show on Turf in the Ivies this year, tying for a title when the pre-season polls predicted them to finish fifth. Just another "out of the box" thought, but one worth some serious consideration.