How do you replace Joe Paterno? It’s not Penn State’s most pressing issue related to the sex abuse scandal, but, unlike the AD or the president, it must be resolved quickly. The issue was thorny, when it was merely replacing an icon. Now, with the University’s foundation rattled, it’s a true Gordian knot. The only clear route is to cut all ties, to disinfect everything and to start over.
Before considering candidates, we must consider what the fallout from the Sandusky case will mean for Penn State football. Tangibly? Not a great deal. This story goes well beyond NCAA sanctions being relevant. It’s unclear any bylaws were violated. Adding scholarship reductions or a post-season ban would be silly, superfluous and target those who were uninvolved. Penn State will still have a large community of loyal fans and alumni and generate revenue.
Intangibly? The scandal is devastating. All capital built up by Joe Paterno over 46 years is gone. There’s a name, there’s a facade and the laundry looks familiar, but the storied history will no longer be the selling point. Instead of connecting himself with tradition, a new coach must distance himself from it. Public outrage over time will simmer down from its present boil, but it will still take its toll. Two weeks ago the PSU job was a beautiful home that needed the kitchen redone. Now, the new coach must clear the rubble and rebuild up from the foundation.
Hiring a coach under ideal circumstances isn’t easy. No one at Penn State has experience doing it. They haven’t hired a new head coach since 1966. They haven’t hired a coach outside the program since nabbing Rip Engle from Brown in 1950. Michigan blew it in a similar spot in 2007 and the Wolverines had an athletic director, a strong university president and no real pressing issues beyond a couple lean recruiting years. Penn State has no one in a fixed position to control the hiring process. Any prospective coach is going in blind about for whom he’ll be working.
Expect Penn State to exclude the the current staff. Sex-abuse scandal aside, Tom Bradley would have been a decent candidate. He has been the de facto head coach for a while. The trouble is it’s too hard to dissociate the present coaching staff from the scandal, even if they are entirely innocent. The program can’t have a coach embroiled in the circus of trials and lawsuits that will emerge from this. PSU must clean house.
Expect them to target coaches with head-coaching experience at a reasonably high-level program. With so much at stake under such trying circumstances, it’s not the time for a risky hire. That coach must have a winning, but also a clean record. Kirk Ferentz might be a cultural fit, but Penn State can’t hire someone best known for not addressing his program’s off-the-field issues.
With those considerations in mind, here are three potential targets.
Urban Meyer: If Meyer is interested, Penn State should approach him with checkbook in hand. They may have balked at a $5 million salary before. Now? Do they have a choice? Meyer would be worth it. His football track-record is impeccable. He has two BCS titles. He has won at a major program, Florida (also at Utah and Bowling Green). He has extensive recruiting experience in the Midwest with Ohio State and Notre Dame. His power-spread offense would not be a radical adjustment for PSU.
Off-the-field, he would be perfect. He’s a respectable figure. He has a forged identity independent of the university. He’s already going to be a hall-of-fame coach. He will be “Urban Meyer” entering a recruit’s living room, not “representative of the child sex abuse place.” Meyer’s health is a concern. So are arrests that occurred under his watch at Florida. Though, the latter issue is overstated. Problems exist everywhere. As Penn State is well aware, it’s how a coach handles them that is critical.
Al Golden: If Meyer is not interested, Al Golden might be Penn State’s next phone call. The Miami coach has proven he can coach and recruit. He has also dealt with a turnover and scandal-laden season quite decently in Miami. He has a connection with Penn State as an alum, but, barring one season spent in State College as an assistant, he has built his coaching credentials outside the university. He doesn’t carry the taint of being part of the Paterno clan.
Penn State might want Golden, but would Golden want Penn State? Miami has issues. They are staring at potentially crippling sanctions from the Nevin Shapiro scandal. Before the scandal, PSU would have been a get out of jail free card for Golden. Now, it’s potentially a more complex and difficult situation than he would leave behind in Miami. Golden would face a touch decision, does he have more loyalty to his present players or to his alma-mater? If Miami rewards his loyalty with a long, lucrative contract extension to weather the storm, he might not leave.
Greg Schiano: Once grossly overrated, Schiano is now underrated. He is an excellent program builder. He inherited a Rutgers program that had been to one bowl game in 1978 and won eleven games combined the previous five years. This season, he will bring the Scarlet Knights to their sixth bowl game in seven seasons. He’s a proven defensive coordinator. His recruiting inroads were a factor in Penn State’s decline. He runs an exemplary program.
Like Golden, Schiano has Penn State connections but not damning ones. He was a GA and later a DB coach under Sandusky from 1991 to 1995, before he could have been linked to any coverup. He turned down Miami in 2006 and Michigan in 2007, with the speculation suggesting it was the Penn State job he really wanted. He has done what he can at Rutgers. Schiano is not the best game day coach, but he’s more than capable of managing Penn State and keeping them competitive. He might not be Penn State’s first choice, but he might be the most likely of the three to accept the job.
Beyond that… the prospects get leaner. Mark D’Antonio may get a call. Though, one questions why he would leave being a god at Michigan State to take over a program in turmoil, unless it was Ohio State. Dan Mullen grew up a Penn State fan…
[Photo via Getty]