Penn State Football: Where Do Nittany Lions Turn If Bill O'Brien Bolts for NFL?
The coaching circus may once again come to State College this offseason as rumors have begun to tie Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien with NFL head coaching vacancies.
O’Brien did the unthinkable by winning eight games this season, and according to SI.com’s Peter King on New Year’s Day, O’Brien is considering a return to the pro level. If he does leave, Penn State will head to the coordinator ranks to hire a long-term solution.
They need a coach that needs Penn State as bad as the Nittany Lions need him. This will be a crucial hire for this team if they do have to go searching once again.
The O’Brien rumors are brewing strong so the Nittany Lions need to look ahead and search for possible replacements. These five guys should be at the top of the call list.
Chad Morris: Offensive Coordinator, Clemson Tigers
Chad Morris has to be the hottest name on the coaching circuit in college football right now. He is an up-and-coming name that has helped deliver one of the most potent offenses in the country at Clemson.
Morris has turned Tajh Boyd into a top-10 draft pick in two seasons and has the Tigers offense near the top in the country in nearly every category.
This is a name that has come up in a number of coaching searches, but for Penn State he would be a solid solution.
The Nittany Lions need a coach that can commit long-term and is looking for a career opportunity. This would be a five-year minimum-type plan for both school and coach.
It would be a tough sale because of his limited time in the college game, but Auburn just hired a coach with only six years of college experience. In today’s game, results matter more than experience.
Bob Diaco: Defensive Coordinator, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Bob Diaco is a fresh name in college football, coming with Brian Kelly from Cincinnati to Notre Dame in 2010.
Diaco has constructed one of the most potent defensive attacks in the country in three seasons, helping the Irish finish undefeated this year. He is a coach that knows the Penn State area and one that has a passion for coaching.
The 39-year-old coach has a lot of potential and has been tied to the open job at Wisconsin. Because he has that type of opportunity, Penn State may not be the right fit. Diaco may not be open to being stuck at the school with an uncertain future for a five-year minimum.
Penn State has a tough program to pull to right now. Hiring a coach would be tough, but Diaco should be one they target. He is young and has proven success. Maybe the right contract would draw him in.
Kirby Smart: Defensive Coordinator, Alabama Crimson Tide
If the Nittany Lions are looking for electric, Kirby Smart is their guy. He is one of the most fiery sideline personalities in college football and it fits his team well.
Smart is a motivator. He believes in his scheme and his players. He would be a great target for the Penn State job.
He is a guy that would bring a strong recruiting mentality and a tough work ethic. A five-year plan could work into a longer contract if Smart found success and liked what he was building at Penn State.
This team isn’t completely down and out, but the struggles will come. Smart will have to weigh the situation as to whether he would be willing to push through a few really bad years.
Smart has been tied to other head coaching vacancies already this year so he may have an offer without the strings that Penn State has dangling from it. For the Nittany Lions, it would still be worth the call.
Dirk Koetter: Offensive Coordinator, Atlanta Flacons
Dirk Koetter is no stranger to the college game. His name bounces around coaching searches frequently and he has spent the majority of his career at the college level.
Koetter has been a great offensive coordinator in the pros and has been there since the 2007 season. It doesn’t look like he is headed back to college, but who knows what the possibilities are. He has already been tied to NFL jobs, but maybe Penn State could do enough to pull him back to college.
This is a longshot, but Penn State should make the call. They witnessed the success with O’Brien fresh from the NFL and Koetter could bring a similar offensive scheme to the team.
Penn State would have to limit his buyout and offer him a ton of money, but the hire would be worth it.
Bringing in an experienced coach with different levels of experience would be a great fit and could keep Penn State at a manageable level for the next few seasons.
Doug Marrone: Head Coach, Syracuse Orange
Doug Marrone is one of the first calls that the Nittany Lions should make. His name is already floating around the Browns and Bills jobs, so if Bill O’Brien were to make the jump, Penn State would have to act fast.
Marrone has been at the collegiate level for a number of years, but he spent six seasons in the NFL. He took over the Syracuse head coaching job in 2009 and has taken the Orange to two bowl games in four seasons, winning both contests.
In the past four years, Marrone has been able to bring Syracuse back into the national college football discussion, winning bowl games and competing in conference.
The Big East is not the top level of college football, but performing well against some tough teams like Louisville was impressive. Marrone would be a great hire to come in and maintain a Penn State team that still has life.
Marrone knows the recruiting area and would be able to continue the recruiting efforts seamlessly.
It may be tough to keep him from the NFL and again, this would be a long-term commitment. Penn State can make it worth the move for Marrone, but whether he is up to the task of a five-year rebuild is tough to see.