Joe Paterno: 10 Coaches Who Can Replace Him at Penn State and What It May Cost.

Bill CiracoContributor IINovember 9, 2011

Joe Paterno: 10 Coaches Who Can Replace Him at Penn State and What It May Cost.

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    Update (11/14/11):

    When I published this piece on November 9th my attempt was to highlight the names of coaches who I believed were eminently qualified to take on the now multiple challenges at Penn State.  There were of course the obvious candidates.  Names like Urban Meyer, Al Golden and Greg Schiano.  But what value add would I be providing by including them?  I think little.  My premise was that Penn State would need to go outside the Penn State family for a replacement for Paterno.

    Penn State is (or perhaps was) a marquee coaching position in college football.  But the Sandusky scandal has sullied the equation.  Why would a coach leave Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri or even Wake Forest to step into this mess?  Especially when Kirk Ferentz ($3.78mm total comp), Jim Grobe ($2.94mm), Gary Pinkel ($2.55mm) and Bret Bielema ($2.5mm) get paid this much.

    Now consider that Joe Paterno was making approximately $500,000 in salary and roughly the same amount in related ancillary income for a total of nearly $1.1mm dollars.

    So in lieu of this scandal how is Penn State supposed to justify throwing $2.5mm (or more) at a football coach?  It just doesn't seem politically feasible right now whether or not it is a good investment.  Public perception will trump dollars and sense for the near term.

    There are two choices among my list that I think would be fantastic leaders for Penn State at a time like this.  Pete Thamel of the New York Times also mentions these two coaches in his piece dated November 13th (print edition on November 14th.)

    Dennis Dodd of jumps on my bandwagon as well with a piece today highlighting our shared belief that Penn State will be all but precluded from going after a "trophy" coach like Urban Meyer.

    It is with these candidates that the future of Penn State football lays.


    Original slideshow intro (11/09/11)

    Over the past 10 years, there have been numerous calls for Joe Paterno's resignation.  Most of those have fallen on deaf ears.  That has all changed this week with the revelations in the Sandusky child-sex investigation.

    Like many of you, I believe that JoePa is a good and decent human being.  But all human beings are subject to failings.  That is what makes us human. 

    Joe Paterno is not super human, he is just human.

    Personally, as a human, as a father, as a fellow Brown University alumnus and, lastly, as a former player and fan of college football, I am at a loss for words to describe the sadness and sickness I feel over the allegations involving Penn State's former Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky. 

    I can not help but think that Joe Paterno (Brown, class of 1950) has let all of us down.  More importantly, he has let several young boys down.  Unfortunately, I think his actions would have been characterized by more follow up and vigilance on his part were it his own son or grandson that was the victim of that alleged predator.  Our youths are our collective past innocence and future glory personified.  We should, as adults, protect them with zeal.  Sadly, JoePa didn't. 

    For a coach that expects 110 percent from his players, we should expect the same from him, sadly those boys didn't get it.  What an ignominious end to an, until now, respectful and honorable career. 

    For the Penn State community and for their fans, the conversation will soon selfishly move to the topic of who shall succeed Paterno as the leader of the Nittany Lions.  Penn State will be mistaken if they don't understand that they need to wipe the slate clean.  They don't need the latest flash in the pan, the latest hot coach.  They need a leader that Joe Paterno turned out not to be.  There are several coaches that fit that bill, and here are my thoughts on who they might be.

    As always your thoughts and comments are very important to me.  I look forward to hearing them.  Please use the "comment" button at the bottom of the piece.

Troy Calhoun, Air Force Academy Falcons

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    Why Troy Calhoun you may ask?  Simply said Penn State needs to "Aim High."  If the University Board of Trustees wants to enhance discipline, respect and add some offensive lighting, Calhoun would be an excellent pick.

    Calhoun stepped into the legendary shoes of Fisher DeBerry at Air Force and has produced.  The Falcon's record during his tenure is 39-22 which is quite an accomplishment given the hurdles involved in recruiting athletes to the service academies.  In 2007 Calhoun was named MWC Coach of the year (not bad considering the company of Gary Patterson, Kyle Whittingham and Bronco Mendenhall in that conference.)

    His four years of NFL coaching experience (Denver assistant, OC Houston Texans) will garner immediate respect with players and recruits.  His five years as the OC at Ohio University have him familiar with the key Pennsylvania/Ohio recruiting territory. 

    Despite his home at the Air Force Academy, Calhoun is a ground game genius who would be a good fit in the Big Ten in general, and an even better one at Penn State right now.

    A first-class coach for a program that needs to be first class not just now, but always.

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern University Wildcats

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    Pat Fitzgerald was able to lead his Northwestern Wildcats to victory over Nebraska in Lincoln.  Something Tom Bradley was unable to do for the Nittany Lions at home in Happy Valley.

    What better marriage could there be than between one of the all-time greatest Big Ten linebackers and "Linebacker U"?

    A Bednarik and Nagurski award winner, Fitzgerald has the right mentality for Penn State, and he is a proven motivator as shown by his success at Northwestern, which is perennially one of the most difficult coaching assignments in the Big Ten.

    Fitzgerald is a winner and a competitor.  He is also enshrined as a player in the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, IN. 

    With a 39 - 34 record as a head coach at Northwestern, some will speculate that he is not a good enough coach.  However an over .534 career winning percentage with the Wildcats is worth at least .150 more percentage points at Penn State.

    One might suspect that he would respond to an opportunity to see if he can be among the best of the best as his competitive juices get the best of him. 

    Coach Fitz recently signed a contract extension that takes him through 2020 at an average of approximately $1.8mm over the term of the contract.  This probably puts him around $1.4mm currently.  Certainly a number Penn State could improve upon significantly without causing too much uproar.

    It would be tough to leave his Alma mater, but Northwestern grads do it all the time to run companies all over the country.  Why would Coach Fitz be any different?

    Penn State should note that, in 2009, he was named to the AFCA's Ethics Committee.  A reassuring measure when considering the implications at Penn State.

Chris Petersen, Boise State Broncos

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    A one point loss may have knocked the Bronco's out of BCS contention but it may not knock coach Chris Petersen out of the Penn State rumor mill.

    Admittedly, Petersen would probably fall into the "hot" coach category, but Petersen has had numerous chances to leave Boise State—and he has repeatedly chosen not to.  Most recently, he spurned overtures from Stanford to replace Jim Harbaugh.  And he was reported to be high on the list to replace Pete Carroll at USC but was rumored to have not been swayed by the opportunity to coach the Trojans.

    Why?  Simply because Petersen cares very much about his family and their well being.  He has a son with a brain tumor and that has kept him a humble and thankful man.  Life for him in Boise is very manageable and, with the cost of living there, the $1.7 million he will make this year goes a very long way (probably as long as $4 million would at USC.)

    Say what you want about the Broncos schedule, you still need to go out and execute, otherwise, you pull a Nebraska vs. Northwestern (home loss on November 5th.)

    Petersen will stay in Boise, he is not looking to jump into the emotional cauldron that Penn State will be.  Besides Boise State has it's eyes on a vastly revamped Big East Conference that could look like this (new Big East) and it's BCS AQ spot.

Gary Patterson, TCU Horned Frogs

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    Coach Patterson is one of the most successful coaches of the past 10 years, so this alone would qualify him for the "hot" coach designation.  But, much like Chris Petersen of Boise State, he is not a carpetbagger, having previously turned down a $2 million offer to coach in the Big 10 at Minnesota.

    A one point victory over Coach Pete is not going to push Coach Patterson any higher up the list at Penn State as he should already be bumping against the top.

    Coach Patterson's defensively-minded philosophy would fit in well in Happy Valley, as the fans are used to 9-6 game scores.

    If they ask him, he will leave TCU, as he has accomplished virtually everything there (won a BCS Bowl game, got TCU into the Big 12).  His next goal may be to win a national championship at Penn State, something that may not be possible at TCU playing in the Big 12—no matter how good he is.

David Cutcliffe, Duke Blue Devils

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    Coach Cutcliffe probably won't be on most Paterno-replacement radars, but he should be.  The tutor who helped mold Peyton Manning, Heath Shuler, Eli Manning and three other NFL quarterbacks, is among the best offensive-minds in the college ranks.  Offense is sorely needed Penn State, especially at quarterback.

    With nearly two decades of service at Tennessee, Cutcliffe was an odds on favorite to fill the hole when Lane Kiffin abruptly left to go to USC.  Cutcliffe preemptively announced that, while he has family and friends in Knoxville and was flattered, he had made commitment to Duke and that was where he was going to stay.

    If Penn State comes calling, he might be willing to leave, having sown the seeds of turnaround in a moribund Duke program.

Paul Rhoads, Iowa State Cyclones

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    One of the best younger coaches in the game plies his craft in the relative obscurity of Ames, Iowa.  A former defensive coordinator, Rhoads would fit nicely in with the defense-first mentality at Penn State.  Additionally, from 2000 through 2007, Rhoads was the D.C. at the University of Pittsburgh, so he knows Pennsylvania football.

    Born and raised in Iowa, what red blooded American boy wouldn't want to coach in the Big Ten?  If Kirk Ferentz isn't going anywhere soon, Penn State could be an attractive alternative.  Just think what he could do with Penn State talent.

Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

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    A proven winner, accustomed to Naval discipline and a great recruiter (especially strong in talent rich Georgia),  Johnson is also an offensive mastermind, and offense has been sorely lacking in State College.

    Johnson is a proven coach and winner, and I don't think he would shy away from the tumult at Penn State—or the challenge of succeeding Paterno.

Kyle Wittingham, University of Utah Utes

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    Urban Meyer without the baggage?  Whittingham led his Utes to a Sugar Bowl-stomping of Alabama, quite an accomplishment for a coach of the Utes.  A proven recruiter, motivator and coach, Whittingham would be an excellent coach to lead the Nittany Lions in the post-Paterno era. 

    Saturday's surprising 31 - 6 stomping of a surging UCLA shows why Whittingham deserves consideration.  He consistently wins games that folks think he shouldn't.  A quality like that will come in handy in Happy Valley in the near future.

    With little East Coast history, he would be a fresh new face in Happy Valley, allowing for the last Paterno chapter to be closed and relegated to history.

Mike Sherman, Texas A&M Aggies

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    One of the classiest coaches in the game.  Coach Sherman has a long list of coaching experience at both the college and pro level (five years as head coach of the Green Bay Packers.)

    Born in Massachusetts, Sherman has roots in the Northeast and might welcome an opportunity to land in State College.  With his resume and accomplishments, he won't be a shrinking violet in filling the void left by Paterno.

Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    The "riverboat gambler" is probably a little too Southern for Penn State tastes, but he is a great coach and a great teacher of coaches (Gene Chizik, Paul Rhoads, Will Muschamp and Bobby Petrino).  Since many view the role of Paterno's immediate replacement as a transitional role whose focus will be on shoring up this once storied program, Tuberville could be just the man for the job.

    Tech's recent blanking by a less than potent Oklahoma State Cowboy's defense is not indicative of the offensive coaching genius of Tuberville.  We can all agree that Penn State could use a little offense.

    This Bear Bryant and Walter Camp award winner would be a bold choice for the Nittany Lions.  Seeing as how he volunteered to step into the Texas Tech/Mike Leach inferno, he should have no problem jumping into Paterno's shoes.

    The boldest of all choices for Penn State.

Five Other Coaches That Penn State Should Interview but Won't.

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    These five are excellent coaches and should make the short list, but will likely not get the call.  Too bad for Nittany Lion fans.  These guys would have no problem picking up Paterno's pieces:

    1. Mike Leach
    2. George O'Leary
    3. Dennis Franchione
    4. Ralph Friedgen
    5. Frank Beamer  (recipient of the inaugural Joe Paterno Award in 2010.)



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