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Penn State Football: 10 NFL Coaches Who Might Be Worth Interviewing

by on December 13, 2011 2:30 AM

Let’s start with the disclaimer: This is by no means an endorsement of any of the following coaches to be the next Penn State football coach.

That’s for those folks on Penn State’s search committee to figure out. (And you thought Discovery’s Mike Rowe had “Dirty Jobs.”)

This is a list of NFL coaches – among the 350-plus in The League today – who probably have what it takes to score an interview with Penn State’s six-person search committee. An interview, not the job.

As you may have seen from my columns on Sunday and Monday, I’m just trying to examine the total pool of candidates – if committee head Dr. David Joyner and Co. decide to go out of house. (Remember, though, both Joyner, a PSU alum, and current president Rod Erickson have in-house credentials.)

Speaking of Blue and White roots, check the end of this story for the name of a former Penn Stater whose name is starting to surface. Again.


The following list is lacking a complete background check. (Although I did throw out a few guys who should be on this list, but are not, because of what some non-committee sources told me.)

And I don’t have any academic and graduation rate info on these guys. For several, it’s been a while since they were on campus.

Here’s what I do have after five hours of scouring the websites of all 32 NFL teams and working the phones for a few hours more. Coaches who:

1.) Are currently in the National Football League as an assistant. I doubt the Harbaugh Bros. are available. We already ruled out both luckless and Luck-y Jim Caldwell. And although Chan Gailey was 66-41 in three college stops, he’s not going to change his Bills.

2.) Have experience coaching at the college level.

3.) Have been in a leadership position, either as a coordinator, but preferably as a head coach. Head coaching experience is even better. Either way, being able to run your own show is key..

Given that the Nittany Lion head football coach -- be it Tom Bradley sans the interim tag or someone else -- willoversee a $72 million venture that returns 73.6 cents on every dollar (a Smeal College case study!), running a tight ship is paramount. Not only for the football team, but in support of the perennially national powerhouse club women’s rugby squad, thousands of IM softball players and any prospects of a new natatorium on Penn State’s University Park campus.

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NFL coaches are used to being part of a business. So that annual nut of nearly four score million shouldn’t scare them off. Of course, Penn State football is a lot more than money. But putting – actually, just keeping – butts in seats is critical.

(At the collegiate level, Harvard’s very successful Tim Murphy is an intriguing candidate. But in 2011, Penn State drew more fans in one home football game than Harvard did in all five of its home games: 63,535.)

The list does not include “retirees” like Tony Dungy, Herm Edwards, Bill Cowher or Eric Mangini. C’mon, really? You can also rule out newly-available Tony Sparano and Todd Haley. Sparano did coach at BU – like PSU basketball’s Pat Chambers – albeit as an assistant; he was 29-32 as head coach at New Haven in 1994-98.

Trust me, these are the best guys I could find. I list the coaches in a loose order of my preference:

Are they interested? Sounds like a job for The Committee.


1. Mark Whipple, 54, quarterback coach, Cleveland Browns – Speaking of Brown, he’s a 1979 graduate of that Ivy university in Providence, R.I, and was quarterback there in 1977-78. And he was head coach at Brown from 1994-97, going 24-16. Wonder how the Paternophobes would like that? Wouldn’t that be something?!

Overall, Whipple was 121-59 (.672) in three college head coaching stops. He was 48-17 at New Haven (1888-1993), preceding Sparano, and 49-25 at UMass, where he won the NCAA Division I-AA national title. He left Massachusetts to be the QB coach with the Steelers, before heading to the Eagles and Miami (under guess who? Sparano!) as an assistant head coach for two seasons.

2. Dirk Koetter, 52, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks, Jackonsville – Dirk is one of two Jag coaches with head coaching experience at two schools. He was 26-10 at Boise State (1998-2000) and 40-34 at Arizona State (2001-2006), where he fared poorly against Top 10 teams. A student at ASU was raped by one of Koetter’s players and that may have led to him being fired. He coached in college at Mizzou, Boston College and Oregon.

Here are some interesting quotes from his 2010 interview with

“In college coaching you've got to wear so many different hats -- administration, academics, recruiting. It's changed so much in the last 10 years I've had three great places to coach (Boise State, ASU, Jacksonville) and three great places to live. I'm kind of picky about where I'll work and where I want to live.

“Whether I get another chance in college or get an opportunity to do even more in the NFL, I'll be better prepared.”

3. Cam Cameron, 50, offensive coordinator, Baltimore Ravens – I thought he was older. He sure knows the Big Ten, having spent 18 years in the conference as a player and coach. He was a longtime fixture on the Michigan staff (1984-93) and served as head coach at Indiana from 1997-2001, going 18-37 despite the presence of Antwaan Randle El. Among his three losses to PSU was a 27-24 nail-biter at Beaver Stadium in 2000.

Following five successful seasons as OC at San Diego in the NFL, he was 1-15 as HC of the Dolphins in 2007. He can put up with almost anything, too – at Indiana he played basketball for Bobby Knight and was the quarterback for Lee Corso.

4. Mark Duffner, 58, linebacker coach, Jacksonville Jaguars – He was head coach at academic powerhouse Holy Cross from 1986-91, with a 60-5-1 record, including two 11-0 seasons. Holy Cross’ Gordie Lockbaum finished third in the Heisman voting. The S.I.D. that year? Penn State’s own Jeff Nelson, now an assistant athletic director. Duffner wasn’t as successful at Maryland, going 20-35 from 1992-96, including 49-13 and 70-7 losses (ouch!) to Penn State. His future with the Jags may be shaky, given that head coach Jack Del Rio was recently fired.

5. John Garrett, 46, passing game coordinator/tight ends, Dallas Cowboys – A boutique pick. America’s Team ain’t having a good year, but that’s more the fault of his brother (head coach Jason) than John’s. A Danville native, Garrett graduated from Princeton, where was a wide receiver. He coached at the University of Virginia for three years, the final season as offensive coordinator. In the pros, he’s been with Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and Arizona (as QB coach).

6. Greg Olson, 48, offensive coordinator, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – He was Drew Brees’ quarterback coach at Purdue from 1997-2000 after college stops at Idaho and Central Washington. He’s also been an OC in the pros with Detroit and St. Louis.

7. Ron Turner, turned 58 on Dec. 5, quarterbacks coach, Indianapolis Colts – Talk about dirty jobs, coaching that mess -- sorry, Kerry Collins -- that occurred when Indy was one manning down. He was the Colts’ WR coach last season. He was the Bears’ offensive coordinator for nine seasons, in two shifts separated by an eight-year stint as head coach of the University of Illinois (1997-2004), going 35-57 as the head man before the Illini got Zookered. Turner was head coach of San Jose in 1992 (7-4). Prior to that, he was a college assistant at Arizona, Northwestern, Pitt, Southern Cal, Texas A&M and Stanford.

8. Gary Gibbs, 59, linebacker coach, Kansas City Chiefs – Probably too old, so someone who PSU may not want Sooner or later. Gibbs had his day at Oklahoma, going 44-23-2. He spent 23 years there as a player, assistant and head coach. He’s acknowledged as having done a good job cleaning up the Oklahoma program following the clouded exodus of Barry Switzer. He also was defensive coordinator at LSU and Georgia before heading to the NFL, where he was DC with the Saints for three seasons.

9. Perry Fewell, 49, defensive coordinator, New York Giants – In the college ranks, he coached at North Carolina, Army, Kent State and Vanderbilt (his last season as assistant head coach). He also was the Bills’ defensive coordinator, with other stops in the NFL at Chicago, St. Louis and Jacksonville.

10. Rob Chudinski, 43, offensive coordinator, Carolina Panthers – TA native of Toledo, Ohio, Chudinski spent 10 years at Miami (Fla.), the last three as offensive coordinator. What irony if a Hurricane came to PSU to restore order.

But forget Chudinski. From chatter I’ve heard the past two days, it is much, MUCH more likely that a different Miami guy – AL GOLDEN – will end up as Penn State’s next head coach.


Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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