Penn State Football: Pat Fitzgerald Would Be Right Choice to Replace Joe Paterno

Mike ChiariFeatured ColumnistDecember 7, 2011

EVANSTON, IL - OCTOBER 23: Head coach Pat Fitzgerald of the Northwestern Wildcats encourages his team takes on the Michigan State Spartans at Ryan Field on October 23, 2010 in Evanston, Illinois. Michigan State defeated Northwestern 35-27.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With the Penn State Nittany Lions' nightmare season about ready to end with a game against Houston in the TicketCity Bowl, the focus will soon turn to the program's search for a new head coach. There may be no better candidate than current Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald.

For many Penn State fans, the legendary Joe Paterno is the only head coach they have ever known, that is until Tom Bradley took over as interim head man several weeks ago. Paterno ultimately paid the price for what has been perceived as inaction when prompted on an alleged sexual assault incident between former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and a young boy in a Penn State locker-room shower.

While the new head coach will need to work from a football standpoint, he will also need to have the capability to move beyond the Sandusky scandal, which will likely have a terrible and long-lasting effect on the football program and the university as a whole.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Penn State officials are very interested in Fitzgerald as a candidate to become the team's next head coach. While a source close to Fitzgerald didn't think Fitzgerald would be interested, the source said it "wouldn't rule it out" either.

When it comes down to it, Penn State needs a coach that is far removed from the Sandusky scandal and Fitzgerald certainly fits the bill in that regard. At this point, he is almost like the anti-Paterno. He is very young at 37 years of age and he is an extremely energetic and motivating force.

It won't be a particularly easy task to convince prospective recruits to come to Penn State at this point. Fitzgerald seems to be a very persuasive man, however, and his enthusiasm alone would do a lot of good for a wayward program that is looking for new direction.

Even before the Sandusky incident came to light, Penn State had grown stagnant from a football perspective. While the Nittany Lions haven't really been serious contenders for the national championship in quite some time, keeping Paterno was the safe thing to do.

Now that the entire foundation has crumbled, however, there is no reason to make a safe hire. Penn State needs a splashy hire, and while Fitzgerald may not seem to fit that description right now, his hard-nosed and exciting style of coaching will breathe new life into the program.

Fitzgerald is a Big Ten guy through and through as he has played and coached at Northwestern, so he knows what it takes to get the job done. There may be more established candidates out there, but Penn State needs a coach capable of working past the Sandusky scandal, and I think Fitzgerald is just the guy to do it.