Penn State was reported to have all but hired its head coach, with “a source” saying the deal was set pending contractual terms. This was news to said head coach’s agent, who denied any contact had taken place and stressed his interest in an NFL jobs. This raises a number of questions.
Who is running this coaching search? Penn State has an apparent leadership vacuum, a culture of secrecy and seems to be ditheringin the face of a crisis. This pattern seems familiar. The university has yet to hire a permanent athletic director for reasons unknown (Tim Curley returning?) and subsequently has no clear direction. Penn State seems to be eschewing safe, obvious candidates (established college head coaches) and pursuing mostly NFL figures. Names are errantly leaking to the media. Sources themselves seem to be unclear how close they are to the situation or what the situation is.
Why Bill O’Brien? Bill O’Brien is a hot commodity, in the NFL, but college football is littered with examples showing NFL play-calling and college football head coaching require distinct skill-sets. The Penn State job is an almost unprecedentedly delicate situation where the non-football aspects will be incredibly important.
O’Brien does have college experience, but that’s not necessarily a credit to him. He was offensive coordinator at Duke in 2005 and 2006. Duke won ZERO games against FBS teams during those two seasons. His offense was shut-out at home against FCS Richmond. He ended up with the Patriots, because the only job available was “offensive assistant” without portfolio. He was later promoted to wide receivers coach.
The former Brown man also presents a practical problem. The Patriots are the No. 1 seed in the AFC. A Super Bowl run could prevent him taking the job until mid-February. This would make it virtually impossible to assemble a quality staff, let alone recruit before signing day.
Penn State can ill afford to take risks publicity-wise. Even purely looking at football, their biggest division rival just hired two-time BCS champion Urban Meyer. Penn State is going to counter that with a short-term NFL assistant who has little track record of college success and no head coaching experience? Mike Martz was a risible NFL to college coaching prospect, and he has five and a half years of head coaching experience and took a team to a Super Bowl.
How Desirable is The Penn State Job? The Sandusky scandal raises the difficulty level. The present regime is branded with a scarlet P, but, viewing this soberly, the scandal should not be catastrophic longterm for the next football coach. We live in a sports world where Kobe Bryant is a revered NBA figure and Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Vick are starting NFL quarterbacks. On field success expunges even the most heinous of scandals, especially when a new coach and his players had no direct involvement. This is still Penn State. The program has prestige. Only Texas and Notre Dame outstrip it in revenue. There are college coaches with Penn State ties. There had to be some interest in this job. Are candidates fleeing, and if so, why? Is Penn State forcing candidates to flee? Is Penn State not looking in the right places?
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