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Penn State Football Coaching Search: Al Golden, Jim Caldwell, Mike Munchak Top Wish List of Candidates

by on January 01, 2014 4:30 AM

Al Golden, Jim Caldwell and Mike Munchak.

Penn State guys.

Those three names are bubbling to the top of Penn State's wish list of potential coaches to succeed the departed Bill O’Brien as the Nittany Lions' next head football coach.

All three have strong Penn State ties as players and/or assistant coaches. Sources say that PSU history -- along with head coaching experience -- are shaping up to be key attributes in the hiring of PSU's 16th head coach in 128 seasons.

Caldwell, 58, and Munchak, 53, have been head coaches in the NFL. Munchak still is, although he is on the hot seat with the Tennessee Titans after a three-year record of 22-26.

Caldwell is currently quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, helping them to the 2013 Super Bowl title. He is expected to interview for the vacant head coach’s position with the NFL’s Detroit Lions. Caldwell was head coach of Wake Forest in the college ranks and Indianapolis in the NFL.

Golden, 44, cleaned up two messes as a head coach, first at Temple and now with sanction-laden University of Miami, garnering .500 seasons or better over each of the past five years. Both Golden, a tight end and a 1991 team captain, and Munchak, a second-team All-America guard in 1981, were standout players for the Nittany Lions.

Expect a new head coach to be in place no later than next Friday, Jan. 10 – and quite possibly sooner. With Allen Robinson’s Jan. 15 NFL Draft decision looming, 19 verbal commitments left hanging and the Feb. 5 National Letter of Intent date not far away, expect Penn State to act quickly in hiring a new coach.

Although Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin, 23-15 over the past three seasons, is a Pennsylvania native and has been mentioned by many as a candidate, it is likely he will not be given high priority by Penn State – and possibly vice versa.

Greg Schiano, fired earlier this week after two seasons and an 11-21 record as head coach of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at this point is not considered a candidate. Schiano had a 68-67 record in 11 seasons as head coach at Rutgers. He was a Penn State assistant from 1990-95.

Look for an all-out effort to retain assistant coach Larry Johnson Sr., the longtime defensive line boss who was part of O’Brien’s staff and has been at PSU since 2000. Johnson is a strong recruiter and at least three of the four D-line verbal commitments from the Class of 2014 are expected stay if L.J. is on board.

Former linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, fired by O’Brien the day before the 2013 season finale at Wisconsin, could find his way back on the staff as well. Vanderlinden has coached at Penn State from 2001-2013 and was a former head coach at the University of Maryland. Both he and Caldwell were on the University of Colorado football coaching staff in 1983 and 1984 – Caldwell as the wide receivers coach and Vanderlinden as the defensive tackle/nose guard coach.

And although he hasn’t made any such overtures, former Penn State player, defensive coordinator and interim head coach Tom Bradley – a 33-year veteran of the program -- may also receive some search consideration. And if not as a head coach, his considerable recruiting talents and successful history leading the Penn State defense (six consecutive Top 15 finishes in total and scoring defenses, from 2004-2009), could land him back on the staff in another capacity.

Other than Johnson, do not expect any of the other assistant coaches from O’Brien’s staff to be retained. Likely, too, is that strength coach Craig Fitzgerald and defensive coordinator John Butler will follow O’Brien to Houston. That may also be true of O’Brien assistant coaches Stan Hixon, Charles London, John Strollo and special assistant Jim Bernhardt. Mac McWhorter had indicated to some players that the 2013 would be his last. There are no indications as to whether Tim Bream, a Penn State graduate who is director of athletic trainer services and is head athletic trainer for football, will be retained.

THE SEARCH

This will be Penn State’s second search for a head coach in 27 months and, once hired, its fourth different head coach in that time period.

After 46 seasons as Penn State’s head coach, Joe Paterno was fired on Nov. 9, 2011. Bradley served as interim head coach from Nov. 9, 2011 to Jan. 6, 2012. O’Brien was head coach from Jan. 6, 2012, through Dec. 31, 2013.

Penn State is expected to act quickly. The search that produced O’Brien lasted 40 days and was conducted by a six-person committee headed by athletic director Dave Joyner. It is a strong possibility that happens again. However, if Penn State were to follow the Freeh recommendations, president Rod Erickson could make a direct hire, based on input that could from Joyner, a search committee, the Board of Trustees and/or a combination of all three.

PENN STATE TIES

Penn State ties will be key among the candidate pool. Munchak started at guard in 1979 and 1980, when he was named second-team All-America. Golden was a three-year letter-winner as a tight end and served as team captain for an 11-2 squad in 1991.

Munchak, a Scranton native, has worked his entire life for the Titans franchise -- dating back to when it was in Houston. He played 12 seasons with the franchise and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After his playing days he was an assistant coach with Houston and Tennessee for 17 years. He just finished the third year of a four-year contract with Tennessee that pays him between $2.75 and $3 million annually. He had a 7-9 record this season, preceded by marks of 6-10 and 9-7. The Titans won their last two games of 2013, but lost five of the six games before that.

Golden, 44, directed a near-miracle turnaround as head coach at Temple from 2006-10. The Owls were 1-11 in his first season, but they went 9-4, winning the East division of the Mid-American Conference, and 8-4 in his final two seasons. From there, he went to the University of Miami, to take over a program that was also broken. Operating under sanctions over the past three seasons, he’s led Miami to records of 6-6, 7-5 and 9-4.

Golden was the Penn State linebackers coach in 2000. (Vanderlinden came to Penn State the next season after Golden went to Virginia to be defensive coordinator.) Golden also coached in the college ranks with Boston College. He’s a native of New Jersey and his wife Kelly is from Lock Haven.

Caldwell coached the Penn State quarterbacks in 1986-1992, and also was the head coach for Wake Forest (1993-2000) and the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts in 2009-2011, taking them to the 2010 Super Bowl following a 14-2 regular season. He’s coached at seven colleges and for three pro teams. The past two seasons he was QB coach and offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens. Caldwell was a four-year starter at defensive back for Iowa in the late 1970s.

“If Penn State wants to keep the only scholarship quarterback on the roster, then Caldwell is the guy,” said a former Penn State player who also has pro experience. “He coached Kerry Collins, Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco, with two Super Bowls under his belt and time as QB coach for three pro teams. That’s better than three years with one quarterback and one team.”

RECRUITING A PRIORITY

It will hurt the new head coach that Penn State’s former director of player personnel, Bill Kavanaugh, left PSU a dozen days ago to become head coach at his alma mater, Bentley College. That leaves inside Lasch Building, potentially, O’Brien’s recruiting coordinator John Power, who has been at Penn State one year; recruiting graduate assistant Bob Snopek; Brenna Mathers, who directs recruiting visits and myriad related details; and a cadre of recruiting interns, many of whom were assigned to a single assistant coach.

Maintaining the verbal commitments of the Class of 2014 – a total of 19 high school seniors, according to Blue White Illustrated – and converting them, into signed letters of intent 36 days from now could be the No. 1 priority of Penn State’s head coach.

Golden has a large advantage over Munchak and Caldwell in that he’s spent the past decade recruiting in Penn State’s prime Mid-Atlantic region and also has developed strong ties to the South, especially in Florida. The last time Caldwell was on the high school recruiting trail was for Wake Forest in 2000. Munchak, an NFL lifer, has never done college recruiting.

Most urgent are five incoming players who are slated to begin classes in 13 days.

Tarow Barney (Bainbridge, Ga.), a defensive tackle who played the last two seasons at Northwest Mississippi Community College, has already signed his letter of intent and is expected to enroll when spring classes start on Monday, Jan. 13. Four other Class of 2014 verbal commitments have announced their intent to enroll midyear at Penn State, beginning classes at the same time. They are, according to Ryan Snyder of Rivals.com: quarterback Michael O’Connor, wide receiver De’Andre Thompkins, defensive tackle Antoine White and offensive tackle Chasz Wright.

Another key priority for the new head coach will be to retain Robinson, the talented junior wide receiver who is Penn State’s all-time receiving leader in several categories. Robinson is mulling whether he will forego his final season at Penn State and declare for the 2014 NFL Draft. He has until Jan. 15 to do so.

Related Stories:

Bill O'Brien To Take Houston Texans' Head Coaching Job Per Reports

PSU Football Players & Fans React to Reports of O'Brien's Departure

Joe Paterno, Bill O'Brien and the Lasch Building



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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