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Penn State Football Coach Search: Munchak Denies Interest in Coaching Vacancy

by on December 28, 2011 12:22 AM

Update: 12:02 p.m.: Titans coach Mike Munchak has denied any interest in the coaching vacancy at Penn State, according to a report by the Tennessean on Wednesday.

"I have a great deal of respect for Penn State, and I hope they find a great coach there," Munchak told the paper. "But I am happy where I'm at.

"It is not like I'm saying I want nothing to do with Penn State. My point is I have no interest in being the head coach there.

"Hopefully this will be the end of all the speculation. Most of it never comes true anyway."

Earlier: Mike Munchak is going to be Penn State’s next head football coach.

One knows it, the other heard it, the third believes it.

One is a past classmate, the other is Munchak’s former roommate, the third a close teammate and even closer friend. Their message is clear, as they continue to cell-abrate over the phone and text to their Nittany Lion hearts’ delight.

If you listen to any one of them – off the record -- Munchak, the first-year head coach of the Tennessee Titans and a second-team All-American guard at Penn State, is poised to become the 16th head coach in Penn State’s 126 years of collegiate football.

Munchak, 51, would follow interim head coach Tom Bradley, and also follow in the footsteps of his former college coach, Joe Paterno, who was fired on Nov. 9.

Of course, that has to happen. Or, at the very least, Penn State acting athletic director Dave Joyner has yet to make any such agreement public.

MUNCHAK COMING BACK?

A native of Scranton, Munchak started for Penn State in 1979 and ’81 – he sat out 1980 with a knee injury – then declared for the NFL Draft in 1982. He was selected eighth in the first round by the Houston Oilers, then stayed with the franchise for 30 seasons – as a Hall of Fame player, assistant coach and, in 2011, head coach.

That he may return home to Penn State has many of his Penn State 'mates absolutely giddy. They just can’t say anything yet, all three insisted on Tuesday. They also said:

“I root for Tennessee to win every week. Not this week.”

“On the record? I can neither confirm nor deny.”

“I must have had 50 calls about it…today.”

A fourth Penn Stater, Todd Blackledge, did speak on the record, focusing on Munchak and not the specifics of the coaching vacancy. A former No. 1 NFL draft pick himself, Blackledge quarterbacked the Nittany Lions throughout Munchak’s PSU career.

“I think highly of Mike as a person and as a player who understood the game,” said Blackledge, a respected college football analyst for ABC. “I thought Jeff Fisher (Munchak’s predecessor) was one of the best coaches in the NFL, and Mike obviously learned a lot from him and earned his way to where he is now.

“I think Mike did a nice job in his first year as head coach. With time, I think he’ll be a great coach. Offensive line coaching is the toughest thing there is – my dad (Ron) did it for 40 years – so that tells you what kind of football mind Mike has.”

The search committee, Bradley said at a team practice in Dallas in Tuesday, “said they weren't going to decide until after the bowl game.” The Nittany Lions (9-3) play Houston (12-1) on Jan. 2 in the TicketCity Bowl in the Cotton Bowl in Texas.

A TITAN TASK

And the Titans must complete their NFL regular season. They are 8-7, and a long shot to make into the playoffs as an AFC wild card team. They play at Houston against a sturdy 10-5 Texas team that has already secured a postseason berth.

For Munchak’s team to make the playoffs in his first season as head coach, the Titans must win on Sunday, the Bengals (9-6) must lose at home against the Ravens AND one of the following scenarios must be played out:

1.) Jets beat Dolphins, Raiders lose to Chargers.

2.) Jets beat Dolphins, Broncos lose or tie Chiefs.

3.) Jets lose to or tie Dolphins, both Raiders and Broncos win.

If the Titans lose, there are plenty of Penn Staters and FOM’s – Friends Of Mike – who anticipate that Munchak will be announced as the next Nittany Lions head coach two or three days later.

Two problems with that scenario:

The Titans might win. Then what? The next open college football recruiting period, when coaches are permitted to meet with recruits, is Jan. 4-7. No one seems to know what would happen next if Tennessee is victorious – other than the Titans returning to Houston the next week to play the Texans in the first round of the NFL playoffs.

Besides, there is the chance that all the Munchak mutterings are just so much wishful thinking.

THE TENNESSEE POV

David Climer has been a sports writer and columnist for The Tennessean for 34 years. In that time he’s covered both the Tennessee Volunteers, as well as the Titans since they came to Nashville in 1997 as the Tennessee Oilers. He’s known Munchak for 14 years – always a Titan, never a Nittany Lion.

“I never say never on anyone going anywhere,” said Climer, “especially when your alma mater is involved. But my sense is that Mike Munchak is an NFL lifer and not a college football guy.

“I can’t see him being comfortable or effective there because of the background he has here, what his comfort zone is and how long he’s been here.”

Munchak has never coached at the college level, and the last time he was involved with college football was on Jan. 1, 1982, when Penn State defeated Southern Cal 26-10 in the Fiesta Bowl. He started at guard, playing next to center Jim Romano, who snapped the ball to Blackledge. It was Munchak's last game as a Nittany Lion.

He does know how to recruit...a bit. Munchak -- who, sans agent, makes about $3 mil a year --  was proud of his role in convincing free agent quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to leave Seattle in the offseason and come to Nashville.

But that experience hardly transfers:

It is unlikely that at Penn State Munchak will be recruiting many 35-year-olds with a wife and three kids. Or that he will be luring any recruits with the promise of a three-year, $21-million contract.

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Penn State Football Head Coach Search: 15 Questions 45 Days After Paterno Was Fired

Penn State Football Coaching Search: Hawaii Says Chow to Norwood; Dissecting Bo Pelini’s No

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

Penn State Football: Why Whittingham or Petersen Won’t Be Penn State’s Next Head Coach

Penn State Football Search: 10 NFL Coaches With Penn State and Pennsylvania Ties Who Won't Be Hired

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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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