Penn State's Joe Paterno Successor: Why Isn't John Hufnagel's Phone Ringing?

Roger SagerCorrespondent IApril 12, 2017

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning talks with offensive coordinator John Hufnagel during an NFC wildcard game January 8, 2006 at the Meadowlands. The Panthers defeated the Giants 23 - 0.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

As one of the most curious collections of people ever assembled to find a new head football coach for a major university receives letters, online petitions and phone messages from people who have never so much as bothered writing their congressman or dropping anything in the company suggestion box, every imaginable name is surfacing as a potential candidate for Penn State's next coach.

The job of filling the position, not to mention the position itself, is daunting.

In a situation that could only be described as unprecedented in the annals of college football, it is safe to say that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to please the majority of the Penn State Nation with the selection of the next head football coach. 

Where could you find someone who embodies the great football tradition established over the past half-century who has NO ties to any of the recent occurrences?  

Where could you find someone that has enjoyed success at every stop of his coaching career? 

Where could you find a coach who was on staff for the ultimate achievement in one league and the head coach for the ultimate achievement in another? 

Where could you find a man whose accomplishments at Penn State still fill the record books 40 years after he set them? 

Has anyone tried Calgary?    

John Hufnagel is a name that may not be well known to a lot of this readership, but his accomplishments, first as a player at Penn State and later as a coach in the professional ranks, should put his resume on the top of any pile of candidates for the job.

Penn State football has been turned upside down in the past six weeks.  Could Hufnagel right the ship?
Penn State football has been turned upside down in the past six weeks. Could Hufnagel right the ship?Kirk Irwin/Getty Images



Here's a brief look at his playing and coaching career:

In an era where eastern college football received little respect, Hufnagel quarterbacked Penn State to one of its most satisfying victories, a 30-6 dismantling of a University of Texas team (in the Cotton Bowl) that two years earlier had been declared "national champion" by President Richard Nixon despite the fact that Penn State was on a 29-game unbeaten streak at the time. 

After achieving All-American honors, Hufnagel was drafted by the Denver Broncos, where he played for three seasons before taking his talents north of the border to the CFL's Calgary Stampeders.

In his last active season as a quarterback in the CFL (1987), he served as a player-coach for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Hufnagel returned to Calgary as the offensive coordinator from 1990-1996.  Future NFL stars Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia blossomed under his tutelage.

In 1999, Hufnagel brought his coaching talents to the NFL, where over the next seven seasons he worked as quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator with some of the league's best talent, including both Manning brothers and Tom Brady during the Patriots' 2003 Super Bowl championship run.

Could Penn State convince Hufnagel to change horses from the Calgary Stampeders to his alma mater?
Could Penn State convince Hufnagel to change horses from the Calgary Stampeders to his alma mater?



At the end of 2007, Hufnagel returned to Calgary as their head coach and general manager.  In his first season back, he guided the Stampeders to the Grey Cup championship and was named the CFL Coach of the Year.

There are a number of positive reasons to consider calling John Hufnagel:

Hiring any college coach would require a vetting process that would still leave Penn State administrators afraid to sleep at night.  Jon Hufnagel would be trying the college game for the first time in his coaching career, so there would be no fear of an NCAA investigation into possible past violations.   

He is someone the faithful could clutch to their bosom as one of their own without fear of controversy over whether he was complicit in any aspect of the Sandusky affair

His abilities as a recruiter may be untested, but his ties to the NFL, his associations with the game's best-known quarterbacks and his championships on both sides of the border figure to open doors and have potential recruits and their parents listening to what he has to say.

So, the question is: Would John Hufnagel be interested in becoming head coach at Penn State?

With the right contract, the answer just might be yes.


This recruiting season is well-nigh lost.  To be fair, it might take a couple of years before enticing high school kids to want to be part of a rejuvenation of Penn State football.  Hufnagel is 60.  He's probably not going to want to do this for as long as the last guy.  Offer him a seven-year contract with the understanding that, if successful, he may stay on or he may groom an assistant for a seamless changeover (much like Penn State fans envisioned with Paterno to Bradley).

For a former Penn State All-American, the opportunity to return to his alma mater and help rebuild one of the most storied programs in college football history might simply be irresistible.

Hey, selection committee, I've got his number.  You want it?