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Penn State Football: Beyond Paterno, Expect A New Penn State By Pitt Game

by on June 19, 2011 9:23 PM

The Penn State that announced last week it would play the University of Pittsburgh in football again is not the Penn State that will take the field against Pitt in 2016 and 2017.

A half-decade from now, Penn State will be much different, on and off the field.

And we’re not just talking Joe Paterno here.

Nearly everything – and everyone – associated with Penn State football today may not be on campus when the Nittany Lions play the Panthers on Sept. 10, 2016.

The premise is not mine; it was shared by Penn State professor Jack Selzer, creator/director of the Paterno Fellows Program in Penn State’s College of Liberal Arts. But I’ll appropriate it from here on out.

Over the past five years, so very little has changed about Penn State football. In 2006, the Nittany Lions were coming off an 11-1 season that remarkably may have saved Paterno’s job, and have won an additional 47 games since then. There’s been only one change on the coaching staff in that time, and even that was handled with a seamless internal promotion.

All the key players then – the ones not in uniform, anyway -- are still the key players now.

That definitely won’t be the case five years from now.

Nearly all the decision-makers, money-makers and play-callers will be gone by the time Penn State and Pitt play football for the 97th time -- 1,909 days from Monday.

And if not gone, then certainly in a different role. A lot can happen in that time, and probably will.

Let’s take a look at seven of the most powerful men at Penn State and in Penn State football, plus Paterno’s firmly entrenched staff, and project where they will be in five years. Once we do that, what will emerge is a Penn State the likes of which nearly all of us have never seen.

NOT SHY, BUT RETIRING?

1. Joe Paterno will be 84-1/2 on Saturday. So, c’mon, you have to figure that five years from now JoePa will be retired, won’t he? Won’t he?

2. Graham Spanier has been at Penn State since 1995, when he became the university’s 16th president. He signed a three-year contract extension last year, which will keep him in the fold until 2015, one year past the end of the school’s $2 billion capital campaign. Odds are good he’ll retire at that point -- a year before the Pitt game.

By then Spanier will be 66 and will have accomplished as much, if not more, than any of his predecessors. His role in athletics, at Penn State and nationally, has been significant. Key, too, was one of his few “failures” -- his inability to create an exit plan for Paterno.

This time around, as long as Paterno keeps winning, it is unlikely Spanier will try to force the coach to retire (although another 7-6 or two and it’s anyone’s ballgame). But if Spanier is still around when Joe does hang it up – which I think he will be -- Spanier’s most important legacy at Penn State will be his hire to replace Paterno. And, ultimately, it will be his hire.

3. Tim Curley, Penn State’s athletic director, is a 1976 graduate of Penn State. By the time Pitt rolls around on the football schedule, he will have been on the job for 23 years. And for several years before that, Curley was an active and hands-on assistant to his predecessor, Jim Tarman (who succeeded Paterno).

Curley runs what is, in essence, a $105 million company with a couple of dozen very successful divisions (varsity sports), and does so in a manner that supports the school’s “Success With Honor” mantra. Recently, he was named the nation’s top A.D.

It’s an incredibly stressful job that Curley has handled with calm aplomb. By 2016, though, he’ll have been a PSU employee his entire post-graduate life – four decades. It would not be surprising if he retires before then, or thereabouts.

4. Steve Garban, in his mid-70s, is a 1959 Penn State graduate and has been affiliated with Penn State – and Penn State football -- for a half-century. A good portion of it has been behind the scenes, but wielding power nonetheless.

Garban is a former captain of the football team when Paterno was an assistant coach under Rip Engle. He worked for 33 years as a Penn State employee in finance, and ostensibly was one of Paterno’s bosses during the 12 years he was senior vice president for finance and operations/treasurer. During that time, he had oversight of the athletic department, according to the university’s website. It would come as no surprise to anyone to hear that he and Paterno have had their share of clashes.

Some reports have said that he was part of the small group that tried to meet with Paterno in 2004 to convince him to agree to a succession plan.

Since 1998, Garban has been a member of the Penn State board of trustees, and since 2010 he’s been chairman of the board. If Paterno retires in the next few years, Garban’s opinion is one Spanier will listen to. However, Garban won’t be chair in 2016, and his influence on Spanier – or, more likely, GSpan’s successor -- will be greatly diminished.

5. Rodney Erickson. “Who’s he?” is the natural response. Erickson is, officially, the No. 2 ranking executive at the university – after Spanier. (Yeah, I know: Paterno’s really the No. 1.)

Erickson arrived at University Park in 1977. He has been Penn State’s executive V.P. and provost since 1999, and as such is the university’s chief academic officer. Erickson’s influence at the university is great, and so are his skills; he has a spotless reputation among the campus’ top administrators.

While Erickson does not directly impact Penn State’s football team, when he retires most probably in advance of 2016 (he will be in his 70s), his role in the direction and leadership in Penn State will be sorely missed. Penn State will definitely be different, especially if hard financial times continue at PSU. And that will impact nearly 100,000 Penn State students -- 100 or so football players among them.

6. Galen Hall, who’s over 70 years right now, came to Penn State in 2004 to help right the Penn State ship as a favor to Paterno. Hall thought he’d stay a few years, then retire with Joe. LOL. That was eight seasons ago.

Although in his best physical shape in years, it’s highly doubtful the Nittany Lions’ offensive coordinator will be on the staff in 2016 – even if Paterno is.

7. Tom Bradley, in his mid-50s, has coached at Penn State for 33 years – his entire adult life. He did make a bid(s) in the offseason to coach elsewhere. It’s a stretch to imagine him eventually getting a head coaching job outside of Happy Valley after 2016. At that point, he’ll be pushing 60. So, if he’s getting out on his own terms, he needs to do it soon.

Of course, Bradley still has a chance to succeed Paterno – whenever his boss finally retires. But given Spanier and Curley’s recent predilection to hire already-successful head coaches outside of the Penn State system – Cael Sanderson, two times lax, men’s soccer, even a NCAA Tournament-tripping’ Patrick Chambers – Bradley’s years of loyal service may not be rewarded with the top job.

8. Finally, most of the football staff may not last the next five years. By 2016, Dick Anderson will have retired, and Ron Vanderlinden (age 60 in 2016) and Larry Johnson (in his mid-60s by 2016) will have left to possible head-coaching positions.

Candidates to stay on staff when a new head coach comes in are:

Mike McQueary, given his recruiting operations knowledge; Jay Paterno, given his Penn State ties, offensive acumen, forward-thinking and potential for an associate athletic director’s position as the successor to Fran Ganter (now in his 45th year at Penn State and likely to retire before 2016); and Bradley, if he doesn’t leave of his own accord before PSU plays Pitt.

You have to figure assistants Kermit Buggs and Bill Kenney, as well as strength coach John Thomas, will not survive a new regime. So, Pitt won’t be it for them either.

RARE STATE OF FLUX

As an institution, Penn State prides itself on stability. To wit:

Its head football coach has been associated with PSU for 62 years, followed in tenure by its chairman of the board of trustees (50), associate A.D. for football administration (45), athletic director (39), defensive coordinator (37), university provost (34) and university president (16).

It is entirely possible that when the Nittany Lions take the field against Pitt in five years, most (all?) of the aforementioned group will have retired or moved on.

If so, then color the Nittany Lions New and White.

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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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