Penn State must find a replacement for legendary head coach Joe Paterno.
Penn State announced on Tuesday that a formal search committee had been formed to find a replacement for former head coach Joe Paterno.
Whoever winds up taking the position will be undertaking an extremely daunting task, to say the least.
Not only will he face the challenge of replacing the winningest coach in college football history and a pillar in the Penn State community—obviously a daunting task under normal circumstances—but he must also face the fallout from one of the most shocking scandals in recent sports history.
The search committee must find a replacement who is not only a good football coach, but is also adept at handling the media. He must not only be a good recruiter, but must also have the charisma to develop relationships with the existing players, as Penn State's roster is loaded with young talent.
Above all, given the intense climate of modern college football, he must win...a lot.
Rival Ohio State made a splash this week with the hiring of Urban Meyer, who had been rumored to fancy replacing Joe Paterno in recent months, before the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke.
This move has made the Penn State search committee's task that much harder. Not only must they be successful in locating a suitable replacement, but they must also succeed in hiring a coach with a name that will make equally as large a splash as Meyer in order to keep pace with their rival to the West.
Here is a breakdown of the coaches that Penn State's search committee must give at least some consideration to in their quest to replace a legend.
Tom Bradley deserves consideration for his unwavering loyalty towards the program and school.
Tom Bradley has served as Penn State's defensive coordinator for 12 years and was tabbed to lead the Nittany Lions through the rest of this season in the wake of Paterno's dismissal. A member of the coaching staff for over 30 years after playing for Paterno in college, "Scrap," as he is called in Happy Valley, bleeds blue and white.
If the search committee is looking for stability in a tumultuous time, Bradley may be the safest bet.
It has been known for years that Paterno had become more of a figurehead for the program than a coach with full control over the day-to-day football activities, so there would be little to no transition in the schemes and philosophies the Nittany Lions run and abide by. Bradley would also likely retain most of the current staff, provided they wanted to stay, meaning there would be little adjustment for the players from a coaching personnel standpoint.
In terms of his team's performance, Bradley has a track record that indicates the program would continue to enjoy at least moderate success under his stewardship. Bradley's defenses have been the only consistent aspect of the Penn State program over the last decade.
Without the success the Nittany Lions have been able to sustain on the defensive side of the ball, Penn State surely would be without the two Big Ten championships the team has earned since 2005—and definitely would not have even been in contention for another this season for as long as they were.
The biggest obstacle that may keep Bradley from landing his dream job is the rumor that a majority of Penn State's Board of Trustees wants to completely turn the football program over and erase any connection to its sordid past. Such sentiment seems harsh, as it would cause a lot of collateral damage to players and coaches who had nothing to do with the scandal that rocked Happy Valley.
Having said that, it is also not without merit. Severing ties with the past may help to speed up what will be a long and difficult healing process for the university community.
Bradley is a class act and a good coach to boot. He will get his chance somewhere in the near future if it is not at Penn State.
Current Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen is an intriguing possibility.
Already, the rumor mill is buzzing with word that the coach at the top of Penn State's list is current Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen.
Mullen served as Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at the University of Florida, where he helped to guide the Gators to two national titles and masterminded an offense that was nearly unstoppable behind Tim Tebow.
Mullen also served as quarterbacks coach under Meyer at his previous stops, Utah and Bowling Green, and is credited with developing stars such as Alex Smith (Utah) and Josh Harris (Bowling Green).
Mullen is a Pennsylvania native, born in Drexel Hill, just outside of Philadelphia. He attended Ursinus College, a Division III school located in suburban Philadelphia, where he was an all-conference tight end in the early '90s.
His upward-trending, successful coaching record, along with his Pennsylvania ties, no doubt make him an attractive candidate to Penn State.
Coming from the SEC, Mullen is most definitely prepared to handle the pressure of guiding a powerhouse program like Penn State. The recruiting contacts he has developed in the South could help to bring talent to Happy Valley from areas in which the Nittany Lions have struggled to gain footing; Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama are all areas in which conference rivals Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin have had success recruiting in recent years—but Penn State has not.
Given his youth and potential, not to mention his familiarity with Meyer, it's no small wonder that Mullen's name has been rumored to be at or near the top of Penn State's list.
Pat Fitzgerald, currently head coach at Northwestern, has the background and coaching ability to make him an interesting target for Penn State's search committee.
Current Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald has also been mentioned in the rumor mill. Fitzgerald, who did recently sign a 10-year contract extension with his alma mater after reportedly being a top candidate for Michigan's head coaching vacancy last year, has been outspoken in his admiration of the Penn State program in recent years.
Fitzgerald has accomplished what many once considered to be impossible and turned Northwestern into a perennial bowl-bound team. His innovative offense has kept the Wildcats competitive in the Big Ten despite Northwestern's status as the smallest school in the conference, by far. Young and enthusiastic, Fitzgerald would infuse new life into a program that needs just that.
Having played at Northwestern under current Penn State linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, Fitzgerald does have some familiarity with the program beyond his experiences coaching against Penn State in the Big Ten. He has also proven himself capable of recruiting in Pennsylvania, as current Wildcats starting quarterback Dan Persa is from eastern Pennsylvania.
Unlike those previously mentioned, however, it would likely take more than a simple offer to convince Fitzgerald to leave his current post. He has publicly stated that he has no desire to leave Evanston, but one wonders if Fitzgerald is beginning to see the glass ceiling that hovers over Northwestern football.
The opportunity to take a crack at the biggest of big-time college football, at a school that boasts the second largest stadium in the country in addition to a well-respected academic reputation, may very well be enticing enough to lure Fitzgerald away.
Jim Tressel has an excellent record, however he may prove to be too controversial a hire for Penn State at this time.
First and foremost, the obvious needs to be stated. Given the circumstances surrounding Tressel's departure from Ohio State, he is the longest of long shots to replace Joe Paterno. Having said that, the Penn State search committee would be selling themselves short if they didn't at least explore the possibility of pursuing Tressel.
First, consider the success that Tressel had at Ohio State. His team won at least a share of every Big Ten title from 2004 through last year. He won one national title and made it to the title game twice more. His teams were models of consistency and excellence. Without a doubt, he is the most accomplished coach available at this time.
Speaking to the situation surrounding his departure from Ohio State, in light of the scandal at Penn State, a new perspective has evolved toward just how "egregious" his players' crimes, and his reaction to them, really were. Tressel committed no crime and, outside of the archaic, draconian laws that govern college athletics, neither did his players.
By all accounts, Tressel sought to be a role model for his players, going out of his way to help those especially at risk of falling off the path toward a wholesome life.
By at least considering Tressel, the Penn State search committee would be making a statement that in the end, college athletics are about opportunity and the betterment of one's self. To continue to exile a coach who exuded those values, over at most a couple thousand dollars' worth of tattoos, seems all too petty now.
Going beyond the scandals at Penn State and Syracuse and looking at things from a national perspective, in an era when schools are allowed to break up century-old rivalries and flee to richer TV deals in bigger conferences—leaving their former fellow conference members to pick up the pieces—all in the name of money, can we look ourselves in the mirror and continue to brand Tressel a pariah for doing what he did?
Current Boise State head coach Chris Petersen has amassed an incredible record in six years at the helm in Boise.
Boise State head coach Chris Petersen is an intriguing candidate that Penn State's search committee must consider.
Petersen's Broncos have become perennial contenders to threaten the BCS establishment. In six seasons at the helm in Boise, Petersen has amassed a stunning 71-6 record, which only becomes even more impressive when one takes a closer look and finds that half of those losses came in one season, 2007.
It was Petersen who lifted Boise State from dangerous non-automatic qualifier-status to "BCS buster" status in his first season after taking over for predecessor Dan Hawkins. That year, Petersen led the Broncos to what remains one of the most stunning upsets in BCS history, a 43-42 win over Big 12 Champion Oklahoma at the Fiesta Bowl.
Petersen almost single-handedly transformed Boise State's program from a respectable non-BCS conference foe into the most sought after commodity in today's realignment madness. He's an aggressive signal-caller and absolute master at putting his players in positions and situations that maximize their respective strengths.
The fact that Petersen has been able to attain sustainable success in such a difficult situation from a recruiting standpoint bodes well for his ability to transition to a school such as Penn State, where recruiting top talent becomes much easier.
Hiring Petersen would also represent a complete break from the Paterno era, a fact that could boost his profile in the eyes of the search committee if they do decide that such a break is necessary for the long term health of the university.
Given his experience as a cold weather coach, the stunning level of success he has achieved in Boise and his readily apparent ability to recruit and manage his team's roster, Petersen is a highly viable candidate who deserves consideration.
The biggest obstacle standing in the way of Penn State landing Petersen is the fact that he does seem content with his current position. One must wonder, however, if the opportunity to coach one of the most storied programs in the country comes knocking, will he sit tight in Boise?
Head coach Kevin Sumlin has led a stunning reclaimation project at the University of Houston, where he has his Cougars on the verge of the first BCS bowl bid in the history of any school from Conference-USA.
One of the feel-good stories of the 2011 season has been the success of the Houston Cougars, who, led by head coach Kevin Sumlin, stand just one win away from landing the first BCS bowl bid for any team in Conference USA history.
Sumlin is the architect of one of college football's most electrifying offenses, as his Cougars, led by Heisman candidate Case Keenum, average an astonishing 53 points a game. This is not a case of a system taking advantage of a weak conference either. Sumlin's last job was as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma under head coach Bob Stoops, where Sumlin ran an offense that was also among the nation's best, averaging 44 points in his final year as play-caller.
Despite his reputation as a gun-slinging coach from Oklahoma and Texas, Sumlin's football background is actually rooted in the Big Ten. He was a star linebacker at Purdue University in the early '80s, and he cut his coaching teeth at both Minnesota and Purdue before moving onto the Big 12.
Sumlin has managed to re-spark interest in Houston Cougars football in his short time—just 4 years—on campus. Houston, once a member of the now dissolved, highly competitive Southwest Conference, was once a perennial contender in the college football landscape. NCAA sanctions were levied against the school as the result of major recruiting violations in the late '80s and early '90s and, when the Southwest Conference dissolved and some members merged with the Big 8 Conference to form the Big 12, Houston was left out in the cold.
From 1995 until just recently, Houston had become little more than an afterthought. That Sumlin was able to turn this program around so quickly speaks volumes about his coaching and recruiting ability.
The biggest concern faced by schools looking to hire Sumlin, and there are several, is whether or not he can build a defense that is at least half as effective as his offense.
Will Penn State, known as Linebacker U. for their ferocious defenses throughout the years, take a gamble on such an obviously offensive-minded coach? If his first stint as a college head coach is any indication, it would behoove the search committee to at least try.
Dan Mullen seems to be the safest option on the table for the Penn State seach committee.
Despite the fact that he has already officially signed on with the Buckeyes (a 6-year, $24 million deal), Urban Meyer looms large over State College. Penn State must feel the pressure to match their rivals in terms of making a high-impact signing that could change the course of the team.
Of all those listed in this breakdown, and out of any other candidate who has been mentioned on message boards and in rumor mills, Dan Mullen seems to make the most sense for the program going forward. His hire would represent a new beginning for a school and program desperate to shed ties with its sordid past.
Mullen's Pennsylvania ties make him a viable force on the recruiting front in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. There is also the added bonus of his existing recruiting ties in the South, a region where Penn State has struggled to compete with conference rivals Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin—all of whom have been able to lure players from the talent-rich region.
Also, given Mullen's association with Urban Meyer, the matchups between the two would bring an interesting subplot to an already heated rivalry. Penn State fans worried that Ohio State will become an unbeatable, dominant force under Meyer will rest easier knowing that if there is someone who can derail Meyer, it's Mullen, who led Mississippi State to an upset over Florida in 2010.
All of the candidates mentioned have their merits, some stronger than others, which is why Penn State must take all of them into consideration. In the end, a simple fact remains...Penn State must not screw this up.