If Penn State has taken anything from these last two years, it's that things rarely work out as expected.
So it goes with the Nittany Lions latest coaching search. Al Golden, believed to be one of the leading candidates for the job, broke a long silence Sunday and announced he would be sticking with the Miami Hurricanes.
“There has been much speculation concerning my future at the University of Miami,” Golden said in a statement. “While I am flattered that our progress at The U during an extremely difficult period of time is recognized, I am also appreciative of just what we have here at UM and I am not a candidate for another position.”
Penn State's search committee had traveled to Florida to meet with Golden on Saturday.
Golden's pledge to the Hurricanes came after both the Penn State and Miami affiliates on the Rivals.com network had reported that a deal with Penn State and Golden was all but finalized.
With Golden apparently out of the picture, who does Penn State turn to now?
Lions interim head coach Larry Johnson has already said he will apply for the job. Two other top candidates look to be Vanderbilt coach James Franklin and former Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak.
Both were reportedly scheduled to talk to Penn State on Sunday.
Franklin's season just ended Saturday with a win in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Munchak was fired by the Titans on Saturday after the Scranton native refused to dismiss a large chunk of his coaching staff in exchange for an extension for himself, according to an ESPN report.
With that in mind, here's a closer look at those three candidates vying to be the 16th head coach in Penn State history.
Head coach, Vanderbilt
Alma mater: East Stroudsburg
Coaching record: 25-15 (NCAA)
Resume: Head coach, Vanderbilt (2011-present) … Offensive coordinator, Maryland (2008-10) … Offensive coordinator, Kansas State (2006-07) … Wide receivers, Green Bay Packers (2005) … Wide receivers, Maryland (2000-04) … Wide receivers, Idaho State (1999) … Tight ends, Washington State (1998) … Wide receivers, James Madison (1997) … Defensive backs, East Stroudsburg (1996) … Wide receivers, Kutztown (1995)
Playing career: Quarterback, East Stroudsburg (1991-94)
Why he'd fit for PSU: Franklin is one of the most sought-after young coaches in the country, and for good reason. His energy and work ethic have helped turn a perennial doormat in Vanderbilt into a squad that is downright competitive in the SEC. Under Franklin, the Commodores have won back-to-back bowl games and recorded consecutive nine-win seasons. Both are firsts in program history.
His intense, player-friendly approach would play well with a roster that adored Bill O'Brien. His coaching style and progressive system on offense would also be appealing to players and recruits who were sold on O'Brien's scheme.
Franklin's work at Vanderbilt also shows he can succeed against tough odds and is comfortable recruiting players at a school with highly regarded academics.
Why he wouldn't: What, exactly, are Franklin's career aspirations? In the long run, does he view himself as a college coach, or does he have an NFL itch? That he held 11 jobs with 10 different teams before the age of 40 at least raises the idea that he's always looking for the next step.
Already Franklin's name is being linked to NFL teams as well, with reports that multiple teams are interested in interviewing him. In the short term, will Penn State want to deal with that possibly drawing out a process that the school hopes to finish quickly? And in the long term, they may be wary at bringing in another coach whose name pops up in rumors each winter.
Franklin is also tangentially connected to an ugly situation where four of his former Vanderbilt players allegedly raped an unconscious woman. Franklin himself is not under investigation and faces no charges. But he could be subpoenaed by the defense to testify down the road. And Penn State really, really doesn't want to see that headline about its coach.
Interim head coach/defensive line, Penn State
Alma mater: Elizabeth City State
Coaching record: All in high school
Resume: Defensive line, Penn State (2000-present); Defensive ends/special teams, Penn State (1996-99); Head coach, T.C. Williams (Va.) H.S. (1992-93); Head coach, McDonough (Md.) H.S. (1975-91)
Playing career: Linebacker, Elizabeth City State (1970-73); Washington Redskins (1973)
Why he'd fit for PSU: Is there a single person in Centre County with a higher approval rating than LJ right now? The veteran Lions assistant is particularly revered by current and past players from his first 18 seasons with the program. His accomplishments as a recruiter and his work developing linemen and putting them in the NFL combine to make him one of the the very best position coaches in the country.
Johnson has previously turned down higher-paying jobs with more responsibilities in order to stay at Penn State. There would be essentially zero chance of him leaving for a different opportunity.
As interim coach, Johnson has worked feverishly this week to keep the 2014 recruiting class together, already managing to keep several high-profile commitments in the fold.
Why he wouldn't: It's not that Johnson wouldn't fit at Penn State — on the contrary, the Lions rather desperately need him to stay with the program. But more than likely the school would like to try and have the best of both worlds, bringing in an experienced head coach while keeping Johnson on staff in some capacity.
Johnson's head coaching experience is limited to the high school ranks, with his last game at the helm of any team coming 20 years ago. Penn State may not be willing to go through a trial-and-error phase with its next coach, particularly if the postseason ban is indeed lifted this offseason and the Lions have a shot at a bowl game.
It's also unclear just how sensitive the school is to any connection to Jerry Sandusky. Johnson coached four seasons at Penn State on Sandusky's defensive staff, and while his name almost never comes up in connection with the case, the Lions would likely prefer their next coach to not have answer questions whenever there is a new development in the ongoing prosecutions.
Alma mater: Penn State
Coaching record: 22-26 (NFL)
Resume: Head coach, Tennessee Titans (2011-13); Offensive line coach, Tennessee Oilers/Titans (1997-2010); Offensive assistant, Houston Oilers (1994-96)
Playing career: Guard, Penn State (1978-81); Houston Oilers (1982-93)
Why he'd fit for PSU: The Scranton native is one of the most successful players to ever come out of Penn State, one of precious few Nittany Lions inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His excellence on the field is matched by his the high praise that former teammates, coaches and colleagues have given him as a person.
Munchak's loyalty is unwavering, with his 30-plus years with the Oilers/Titans organization standing as testament to that. If he were to take over at Penn State, it's hard to imagine him leaving for another job of his own volition.
With Munchak's extensive NFL background, the Lions could continue to sell a path to the pros that was attracting recruits on Bill O'Brien's watch. Combine that with his Penn State ties and it makes for an attractive combo.
Why he wouldn't: The downside of all of that NFL experience is that Munchak hasn't been directly involved with the college game since he was actually a player in Happy Valley.
While Munchak's personality and stature suggest he could make an effective recruiter, there would have to be some amount of learning on the fly in a situation where Penn State needs to lock down its recruiting class immediately.
Though Munchak was highly regarded for his long-standing work as a position coach in the pros, the jury is decidely out if he's cut out to be a head coach. His tenure as head coach of the Titans ended Saturday, fired after three fairly vanilla seasons on the job.
Let's face it. Two years ago, Bill O'Brien wasn't appearing on any of these kinds of lists until the week he was actually hired. And with one of the top candidates in Golden saying he's out of the race on Sunday, the odds increased that another surprise candidate could emerge.
Just to scratch the surface, here are some of the other names that have briefly surfaced in the past week-plus.
• Recently fired Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano was one of the first to pop up when speculation about O'Brien heated up in December. Schiano was a defensive backs coach at Penn State and made a great impact as head coach at Rutgers, building up what had been a directionless program.
While his time at Rutgers shows he can be an effective college coach, it's hard to imagine the timing being favorable for him to come to Penn State. Schiano has earned a reputation as demanding at best and an outright bully at worst. His my-way-or-the-highway routine wore thin quickly with pro players and it could easily alienate Penn State players used to the freedom granted by O'Brien.
Schiano also worked for several years directly for Sandusky on the defensive staff and would also have to face some uncomfortable questions in that category.
• Two years ago, San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman received strong consideration for the Penn State job and openly gushed about the prospect of coaching in Happy Valley, calling it “a lifetime job.”
If Penn State liked O'Brien's background as an NFL coordinator, Roman would provide a similar focus on offense for the program perhaps with a stronger commitment to the program in the long-term. Roman's work at Stanford in helping develop Andrew Luck would also be a huge plus for Christian Hackenberg and future quarterbacks.
But the timeframe would be working against Roman in this case as the 49ers entered Sunday's playoff round. Roman preferred not to interview for other jobs a year ago in the middle of the Niners' Super Bowl run, and Penn State may not want to wait around to talk to him.
• In a similar category, Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is a coach with both Penn State ties and NFL credentials. Caldwell was an assistant for Paterno in the '80s, has two Super Bowl rings as a coordinator and a third Super Bowl apperance as a head coach.
Caldwell's head coaching stint in college came at a traditionally weak Wake Forest program and was not nearly as productive.
Regardless, Caldwell has bigger things on his radar. Reports are that both the Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions are interested in interviewing him for their open head coaching positions. A return to college may not be on his mind at all.
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