Penn State Football: How Bill O'Brien Will Replace Departed Coaches

Tim Tolley@@TimTolley_BRContributor IDecember 20, 2013

Nov 16, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Bill O'Brien looks on prior to the game Purdue Boilermakers at Beaver Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this month, Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien announced that assistant coaches Ron Vanderlinden (linebackers) and Charlie Fisher (quarterbacks) resigned to "pursue other opportunities." Shortly after that, O'Brien hit the road to recruit.

After a successful few weeks on the recruiting trail, college football has now hit what is called the "dead period." According to the NCAA, "during a dead period a college coach may not have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents, and may not watch student-athletes compete or visit their high schools."

Simply put: Bill O'Brien has some time on his hands now; time that he is likely using to weed through coaching candidates.

Bill O'Brien announced in a press release that coaches Charlie Fisher and Ron Vanderlinden resigned to "pursue other opportunities."

— The Daily Collegian (@DailyCollegian) December 3, 2013

Last year when defensive coordinator Ted Roof left for Georgia Tech, O'Brien quickly promoted from within, appointing John Butler to the position. In this case, there doesn't appear to be an easy solution for replacing either of the departed coaches.

In Vanderlinden, O'Brien lost a tenured position coach with head coaching experience. "Vandy" has turned out the likes of NaVorro Bowman, Sean Lee, Dan Connor and Paul Posluszny over the last decade. Few coaches, and probably no other linebacker coach, have the track record that Ron Vanderlinden does.

O'Brien has shown in the past that he likes a mix of coaches with pro and college experience, making it nearly impossible to predict who he'll reach out to in this case. However, he has also shown a tendency to hire coaches who he previously worked with, narrowing down the field.

Patrick Graham has been the defensive line coach for the New England Patriots each of the last two years and was the linebackers coach before that. He spent three years in New England with O'Brien but came from the college ranks before that. After playing at Yale, Graham spent time at Wagner College, Richmond and Notre Dame. 

Professionally, it would be a lateral move, but some coaches prefer the college game.

Bill McGovern is a guy who hails from New Jersey, went to Holy Cross, then coached at UPenn, UMass, Pitt and Boston College before landing as the outside linebackers coach with the Philadelphia Eagles. There aren't any obvious connections to O'Brien, but McGovern could be a guy who decides after one season that he prefers college coaching. He has a strong college resume and likely possesses recruiting relationships all over the northeast.

After a few years of coaching defensive backs with the Eagles, keep an eye on Mike Zordich Sr., who likely got to know O'Brien a bit last year.

Brad Lawing is the defensive line coach at South Carolina, where he spent time with both John Butler and Penn State strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald.

Tracy White was a linebacker with the Patriots from 2010-2012 before moving on to coach linebackers at Fort Dorchester High School this year.

Any of these guys could prove to be a potential candidate.

As difficult as it is to predict the next linebackers coach at Penn State, the net has to be cast even wider when considering Charlie Fisher's replacement.

Over the last two years, O'Brien has done the majority of the quarterbacks coaching for the Nittany Lions, making it seem as though hiring another quarterbacks coach, in the conventional sense, is unnecessary. 

Still, there is an opening on the staff that will be filled.

An offensive coordinator is a possibility, though not a great one. It's difficult to envision O'Brien relinquishing play-calling duties, which would make any incoming OC a coordinator by title only.

A guy like Chris Weinke could make sense for the job. Weinke is currently the head coach at the IMG Academy where he coached All-American quarterback Michael O'Connor. O'Connor will enroll at Penn State in January. Aside from that relationship, Weinke works with college and pro quarterbacks in the offseason and got to know O'Brien some during the recruitment of O'Connor.

QUOTE NOTE: "We run an NFL styled offense and he gets it." -Chris Weinke on #PennState QB pledge Michael O'Connor.

— PlaybookMark (@PlaybookMark) June 9, 2013

As important as all of that, Weinke could be a huge asset in recruiting for any college staff. Sending a Heisman-winning quarterback from Florida State into Florida high schools would be a real coup for a staff trying hard to get into the state.

A special teams coordinator is another possibility. It's rare that a college staff will dedicate one of the positions solely to special teams, but Penn State is a unique situation and has struggled with special teams over the last few years.

Danny Crossman was the special teams coach at Georgia Tech from 1999-2001. He spent time on the same staff as O'Brien as well as current Penn State assistants Stan Hixon and Mac McWhorter. After coaching special teams at Western Kentucky, Michigan State and UCF, Crossman has spent the last decade in the NFL, most recently serving as the special teams coordinator for the Buffalo Bills this season.

There are dozens of potential replacements with ties to O'Brien, Butler and the rest of the staff. We may not know who the next Penn State coaches will be until the NFL season and/or college bowls are completed. Most likely, the replacement coaches are on staffs somewhere else in the country. 

With Penn State's season over and the recruiting cycle coming to a close, there's no real hurry for Penn State to make the hires. Unless of course, you ask the fans who await anxiously for any news to bridge the gap to the 2014 season.



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