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Penn State Football Coach Search: More Munch, The Packer is Back and a Guess That May Be Richt

by on December 31, 2011 12:01 AM

It’s been 53 days since Joe Paterno was fired. And somehow we made it to the end of the year.

Now, in terms of a successor, it’s time to separate the Tweet from the Munch, and offer a guess. Especially if you’re chaffed by how long it’s taking.

But first, a few words about erstwhile candidate Mike Munchak:

Despite protestations and disclaimers to the contrary, the Tennessee Titans’ current head coach was a legitimate candidate to be the Nittany Lions’ next head coach. Yes, he issued a strong “not interested” statement. But believe me, there was interest.

In fact, say three sources, there was interest to the point that Munchak, a Nittany Lion standout offensive guard in 1979 and ’81, had already reached out to a few former PSU players to ascertain their interest in joining the Penn State staff, should he be hired.

Then the Mike hit the fan, as 88-year-old team owner Bud Adams -- the only boss Munch has ever known in his adult life – and Tennessee put on a Titan effort to keep Munchak. For good reason. After 29 years with the organization, Hall of Famer Munchak was in his first season as head coach, and his 8-7 team enters Sunday with a chance of making the playoffs.

As it was, sources say Penn State and Munchak planned on touching base after this weekend – predicated on the Titans losing, which is a distinct possibility, since they are on the road against division champ Houston.

So, that leaves Munchak, 51, off the coaching carousel. Probably. Never say never, but Munchak’s message that he is staying put was not only directed at the media, Penn State and his Titan players, but his former PSU ’mates as well.

PACK UP YOUR BAGS

That leaves Penn State with…

Tom Clements, at least for a few more days. Indications are that Clements, the Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach and Pennsylvania native, is still in the mix. And with the Pack earning a bye for the first round of next weekend’s NFL playoffs, two sources say that Penn State will take advantage of that off-week to meet with Clements in person.

Clements has already interviewed via Skype with representatives of Penn State’s search committee, according to Jon Saraceno of USA Today.

Clements, 58, coached for four seasons with his alma mater, Notre Dame, in 1992-95. As a Fighting Irish quarterback, he led ND to the national title in 1973. He had a stalwart career in the CFL, then he spent five years in private law practice in Chicago. Clements has coached for five NFL teams, including the Pittsburgh Steelers (2001-03).

There are, no doubt, other viable candidates still in play. Given the timetable, acting athletic director and committee chair Dave Joyner has had ample time to survey the landscape and methodically look at – and meet – most, if not, all of Penn State’s options.

TIME AFTER TIME

So why so long? Two main reasons among a very long list:

One, Joyner’s no doubt gotten some no’s from people he had hoped to hire – i.e., Chris Petersen, maybe Kyle Whittingham, definitely Munchak.

Two, there are one or more viable candidates who are still in play – and so are their teams. Call them Munch-alikes: folks who’ve had informal conversations or communicated with Joyner et al through intermediaries. They need to lay low and can only talk in earnest after their bowl games/NFL season/playoffs are done (or, with the NFL, at least further along).

That explains why Joyner gave a 30-day window back on TicketCity press day on Dec. 7. That would have put the hire before next Friday, Jan. 6. He backpedaled a bit off of that on Thursday night in Dallas, hinting it could go into the week of Jan. 9, with a hire definitely by Jan. 13.

The new head coach is not a Mangini or a Gruden or even a Gary Patterson (TCU’s bowl game was played on Dec. 21) – although Patterson, who has a framed photo of himself and JoePa on his office wall, has always been my sleeper candidate. They’re all available now; two are not even in coaching. That they haven't joynered Penn State is a good indication they will not.

Coaches whose teams didn’t appear in a bowl game, or played in a minor one, aren’t candidates. And the next head coach is not a coach on Penn State’s staff. They're just not.

The best place to look is the coaches of every bowl team that has played since Dec. 28 and will be playing from here on out. There’s no window between their game and Penn State’s Jan. 2 bowl game to negotiate. So talks would only be for-real on Jan. 3 – or later, if their team is still playing. If they played on Dec. 27 or sooner, there would have been more than sufficient time to get the deal done and announce it on Jan. 3-5.

That leaves a trio of contenders, through the process of elimination. Quite possibly still alive in the Penn State coaching sweepstakes, with their affiliation, postseason game(s) and date(s), are:

Mark Richt, Georgia, Outback Bowl, Jan. 2

Dabo Swinney, Clemson, Orange Bowl, Jan. 4

Tom Clements, Green Bay Packers, NFL playoffs, Jan. 15-Feb. 6 (Super Bowl)

Now that’s a short list. You can add, as longshots, Munchak and a few others who may have slipped through the cracks or haven't said no or haven't been approached yet. And maybe Whittingham or Petersen will recant – but doubtful.

DIDN’T MAKE THE FINAL CUT

Here’s who it is not, with the major reason:

.500 Fever – Greg Schiano, Rutgers; Jim Grobe, Wake Forest

Rumors Gone Awry – Dan Mullen, Miss. State; Al Golden, Miami (Fla.)

Too Raw --  Mike London, Virginia; James Franklin, Vanderbilt

Contracts Extended, University Befriended – Mark Dantonio, Michigan State; Kyle Whittingham, Utah; Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech; Chris Petersen, Boise State

My Old School -- David Shaw, Stanford; Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

Grumpy Old Men – Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech; Bill Snyder, Kansas State

Too Much Money, Too Many Player Woes – Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Too Much Money, Too Low GSRs – Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

A Personality That’s Testing – Bob Pelini, Nebraska; Bobby Petrino, Arkansas

Knightmares – Chip Kelly, Oregon

The rest? Either too big (Saban, Miles), too new (Meyer), too passé (Tedford) or too Gundy (Gundy).

RICHT MAY BE SMART

That leaves us with Sweeney, Richt or Clements. Clements is the safety school, Sweeney may or may not be in the mix and Richt was a big name a few weeks ago. Richt could be the name again. Here’s why:

1. Early in December, when his name came up in conjunction with the Texas A&M and Penn State jobs, Georgia announced that Richt and the UGA athletic director were negotiating a new contract. But the coach never signed, as I noted recently, as annotated by “Right On Richt.”

2. Even though Richt has had a 106-37 record, with two SEC championships, in 11 seasons at Georgia, he’s not a fan favorite and yearns to feel a bit of love from Bulldog fans. Former State College sportscaster Mike Conti, now based in Atlanta, explains that phenomena here.

3. There was big talk for two December days in several key campus locales -- including the Lasch Building football complex -- that Richt was the guy. (For more, check out the link in No. 1). That emulates the Urban Meyer fervor that hit early last fall. And we have since learned that frenzy was rooted in reality.

4. The Kirby Smart Theory. This is the province of Ben Jones of StateCollege.com, BlackShoeDiaries and a Twitter following that is approaching five figures at Ben_Jones88. Ben is an even bigger proponent of the epic Joyner hire that will rock the Richter scale. His take on Smart:

“Kirby Smart, Alabama’s ultra-successful defensive coordinator, played for Georgia and coached there briefly. He’s had his name in and out of coaching searches over the past year. There was even talk of Georgia firing Richt last year to hire Smart. A lot of Alabama fans expected Smart to make the jump to the head coaching ranks this year, but in the middle of Southern Miss’ search he removed his name rom consideration on Dec. 17 -- the same time period as Richt’s supposed talks with Penn State and A&M. If by chance Smart expects Richt to be gone, he might now have a shot at his dream job.”

Ben makes some good points.

But get a load of this:

Richt makes $3.64 million and is 51 years old. Kirby makes $750,000, turned 36 seven days ago and his defense was ranked No. 1 in the country in 2011 and was No. 2 in 2009.

Maybe Joyner’s thinking is really this:

If Richt doesn’t take the Penn State job, hiring Kirby away from Alabama just might be the Smart thing to do.

 



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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