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Penn State Football: About The Golden Moment… Al's Heart Hasn't Changed

by on January 05, 2014 9:40 PM

As an offensive guard for Penn State and the Houston Oilers, Mike Munchak made a career out of opening holes for other people.

He was so good at it, in fact, that he’s now in the Pro Football of Fame.

On Sunday, a fellow alumnus returned the favor for Munchak, creating a crack that – if he acts swiftly – might allow the former Tennessee Titans head coach to find a new job within a week of being fired.

The job? Penn State head football coach. The kind alum? Al Golden.

Sunday was only the second day since the 1982 NFL Draft that Munchak didn’t have a job. In fact, it was only the second day since the 1982 NFL Draft that Munchak didn’t have the same employer. He started his playing career as a first-round draft pick of the Houston Oilers, which later became the Tennessee Titans when Munch was an assistant and then head coach of the franchise.

Two days without a job for the first time in almost 32 years and already Munch has an interview. With his alma mater. As I tell my students, “Those alumni connections really help.”

They do. Not that Mike’s a bad guy – he actually was a thoughtful and soft-spoken player when I covered him for the Collegian when we were undergrads. But Penn State’s search committee doesn’t seem to be interviewing anyone named Shanahan or Schwartz or even Schiano (and he was a Penn State assistant coach from 1990-95; maybe it’s because Schiano is one of those mean Bucknell grads).

Munchak did indeed interview with Penn State’s search committee on Sunday and is a viable candidate. He does, after all, have three decades in The League. But if wants the job, he needs to run to daylight. The opening may not be there very long.

SPIKING THE BALL

True, Golden may have issued a 78-word statement on Sunday afternoon, reaffirming his commitment to the University of Miami. But it could be a counter play, which “Football for Dummies” defines as “an intentional misdirection run on the part of the offense.” Or, maybe, he's spiking the ball to stop the clock. Who knows? They might put some time back on the clock.

Sunday may just be a Golden Moment.

In Coral Gables and the Nittany Valley, the fat lady could have laryngitis. And, perhaps, Golden’s agent and Penn state’s point person -- search committee chair and athletic director Dave Joyner -- are still talking. (Or maybe never stopped.) Chip Kelly changed his mind. Truman did beat Dewey. And for a single night, Joe Paterno coached the New England Patriots.

Golden may have spoken, but I believe (with a RealFeel of 72%) that it’s not his final answer. Sunday afternoon, the guy simply had no choice. He met with the Penn State search committee on Saturday for The Interview and Monday was slated to be all about The U – a previously scheduled meeting with his assistant coaches, a previously scheduled postseason press conference, a Hurricane Club renewal package asking for $9.8 million was hitting the streets and preparation is underway for recruiting visits beginning Jan. 15.

ASK AND ANSWER

That left Sunday for The Ask and The Answer. If Penn State asked Golden if he wanted the job, he knew he would answer yes. Penn State knew he would say yes. He knew that they knew. All he needed to know was the money, and that didn’t figure to be a problem. (Still doesn’t.)

That’s because Golden is underpaid when it comes to college football head coaches. As a coach with eight years and two schools of head coaching experience, he makes $2,148,107 a year – No. 46 in the country at a school that has won five national championships. By comparison, Penn State’s recently-departed Bill O’Brien made almost $3.3 million, 14th in the country. Add in his July 1, 2013, bonus and O'Brien jumps to No. 8 at $4.2 million. Al’s pot of gold with Penn State was (will?) sure to be around $3.2 million. Excellent money. But it wasn’t (isn’t?) about the money.

Before Sunday night hit, so the events of Miami’s Manic Monday could be called off, Golden needed The Ask. It never came. Not because Golden isn’t the man for the job. He is. There’s other stuff. And, unfortunately with Penn State over the past 27 months and counting, there is always a lot of other stuff.

So Golden had to show the right stuff on behalf of his current employer and issue that statement. Even at that, he’ll have a tough go at Monday’s presser, that’s for sure. He can hold onto that he was never offered the job and the fact that it was his ailing alma mater calling, needing him in its hour of need.

To be fair to Dear Old State, Golden may have given PSU a deadline that was unreasonable to meet. Penn State has protocol to follow and is no longer Freeh to do what it wants. There must be search committees, interviews, due diligence, providing legitimate opportunities for in-house and diversity candidates, dealings with higher-ups.

Golden needs to get that. But, Penn State needs to (is?) try again.

A POT OF GOLD

This isn’t ‘Ole Cocky Al from the ’91 Nittany Lions we’re talking about. Maybe that’s part of the problem; folks don’t realize what Golden has accomplished since he left campus 23 years ago, leaving behind a redshirt season because he was so anxious to get started. He played a year in the NFL and earned a masters in sports psychology from Virginia.

Golden has done well for himself. And, more importantly, he did well for Temple and even better for Miami. He brought calm and direction when he arrived in Coral Gables, when the Hurricanes were the focus of an NCAA investigation. His program weathered a two-year self-imposed bowl ban and immeasurable bad publicity.

The ’Canes have come out on the other side. Seven games into the 2013 season, they were ranked in the Top 10. Golden won the 2013 Lombardi Award for Excellence in Coaching. Five ’Canes players were invited to the NFL’s 2014 Combine. According to Rivals.com, Miami ranks eighth in 2014 recruiting, ahead of No. 9, which is playing in the BCS title game, and Penn State, at No. 22.

If Golden somehow took the Penn State job, he would be doing Penn State a favor. Look, Miami is done with any sanctions and its scandal didn’t impact the ’Cane community in any significant way.

At Penn State, like O’Brien, Golden would (will?) play a big role in the healing of Penn State – perhaps moreso, since he is an alum and will in likelihood stay much longer than O’Brien. At Miami, Golden doesn’t work for any lame ducks. ((OK, there is that lame mascot, Sebastian the Ibus.) His president is Donna Shalala, who has been at Miami since 2001 and she had a good bit of stability in a previous job as well – as Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton for eight years.

TOUGH LOVE

Penn State’s a tough job. Really tough.

O’Brien lasted two years. Penn State needs someone who is going to stay for two, three times that. Golden is only 44, yet has been a head football coach for eight years for two programs – a horrible one that he made pretty good and one with a horrible image that he’s made pretty good. 

Sorry, Munch … but …

Penn State needs to ask. And one way or another, Golden will answer.

Al first came to Penn State in the summer of 1983, as a ninth grader from Colts Neck, N.J., to attend the Nittany Lions’ football camp. He returned the next year and the next and the next year, until he finally came back as a Penn State freshman. That was 1987.

If it gets to where he does says yes to Penn State, it won’t be a change of heart. And that’s why Miami will understand. Al Golden’s heart hasn’t changed.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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Penn State Football: Al Golden Releases Statement
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