In the wake of Bill O’Brien’s decision to depart Happy Valley for the NFL, a number of viable coaching candidates have been suggested for the opening at Penn State.
Other names, like Mike Munchak and Larry Johnson Sr., have been tossed around because of their strong ties to the university.
Munchak played offensive line at Penn State before going on to a successful playing and coaching career with the Oilers/Titans organization for over three decades in total.
Johnson Sr.’s been coaching defensive linemen at Penn State for nearly two decades and has been instrumental in the development of several NFL-caliber players. He was named the interim head coach after O’Brien departed and will surely receive strong support from fans and alumni alike.
However, it’s another former Nittany Lion who I think should be afforded the opportunity to lead his alma mater: Al Golden.
Golden played tight end at Penn State from 1987-91, and his playing days are best remembered for a game-tying touchdown catch against top-ranked Notre Dame. It should also be noted that Golden received the 1991 Ridge Riley award for “displaying excellence in scholarship, sportsmanship, friendship and leadership.”
One thing that should endear Golden to fans of “Linebacker U” is his experience coaching the position. In fact, Golden even returned to Penn State to coach linebackers during the 2000 season.
Unfortunately for Golden, he was a year too late to coach the likes of LaVar Arrington and Brandon Short. Nonetheless, he was able to get solid seasons out of Aaron Gatten (a career backup to that point) and Shamar Finney (career-high three interceptions).
From there, Golden took on the defensive-coordinator spot at the University of Virginia and proved to be worthy of the added responsibility. At the start of his tenure the Cavaliers defense ranked outside of the top 100, and over four seasons Golden turned it into a top 20 unit.
Because of this remarkable turnaround Golden was afforded the opportunity to prove he could lead a team with the Temple Owls. It took a while, but in 2009 Golden was eventually able to author another remarkable turnaround and coach the Owls to their best record in three decades.
In 2010, Golden opted to leave Temple to take one of the more high-profile jobs in college football as coach of the Miami Hurricanes. As if that weren’t pressure enough, Golden also had to contend with the 2011 scandal regarding booster Nevin Shapiro.
In the wake of that, Golden had to make the tough decision to opt out of bowl eligibility in 2011 and 2012 with NCAA sanctions pending. The move proved to be fruitful, as the Hurricanes weren’t docked any further bowl eligibility when sanctions were assessed.
Perhaps coincidentally, Golden coached the Hurricanes to their best record under him this season and advanced to the Russell Athletic Bowl.
What all this says to me is Golden doesn’t fear a challenge. He’s headed squads with miserable histories and others treading murky waters. And yet, he’s always shown the resolve to field competitive outfits.
If he's hired, leading Penn State would arguably be Golden’s biggest test to date. Nonetheless, with the resiliency he’s shown, it’d be foolhardy to bet against him.