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Penn State Football Coaching Search: Norwood’s Aloha May Be Latest Snub as the List of No’s Grows

by on December 20, 2011 12:15 AM

Most fans thought replacing Joe Paterno would be difficult when he retired. No coach wants to follow a legend.

But no one knew replacing the Hall of Fame coach after a scandal could be even that much tougher.

After three weeks of trying to locate and hire a coach who matches Paterno’s numbers, the Penn State search committee is learning that the task may be neigh impossible.

Paterno, fired on Nov. 9 three-quarters into his 46th season, is the winningest coach in major college football history, with 409 victories.

But the six-person committee headed by acting athletic director Dave Joyner is more interested in two other numbers that are more relevant to its search:

-- There’s the $53 million profit the football program made in 2010-11, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education, with that money supporting 29 varsity teams, an array of club sports and an intramural and recreation program for 44,000 students.

-- Penn State’s 87 percent graduation success rate is tied with Stanford’s as tops among teams ranked in the BCS and AP Top 25 rankings. Also No. 1 is Penn State’s 87 GSR for African-Americans, according to the NCAA.

HAWAII VS. UNHAPPY VALLEY

The task of becoming Penn State’s 15th head coach in 125 years – and first since 1966 – is so daunting that apparently a former Nittany Lions coach is more interested in greener, lusher pastures.

Brian Norwood, a PSU assistant under Paterno from 2001-07, interviewed for the head coaching job earlier this month. Norwood, 46, was defensive coordinator at Baylor from 2008-10, and is now associate head coach for the 9-3 Bears.

The Norwood family was both popular and prominent during its time in State College. Norwood’s son Jordan played wide receiver at Penn State and now plays for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. Gabe played basketball (with Jordan) for the State High team that won the 2003 state title, and was on the George Mason squad that advanced to the Final Four in 2006. Levi transferred from Penn State to Baylor and is a redshirt freshman wide receiver.

Still, a homecoming doesn’t look likely.

On Sunday, Norwood interviewed for the head coaching vacancy at the University of Hawaii, where he played collegiately. That Norwood traveled 3,710.4 miles to the Big Island from Waco, Texas, more than a week after meeting with Penn State officials is an indication that at least one of the parties didn’t see Norwood as Paterno’s successor.

Three of Norwood’s former colleagues still on the Penn State staff also have interviewed for the position: interim head coach Tom Bradley, defensive line coach Larry Johnson, Sr. and quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno.

However, due in part to the Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal, none of them are considered serious candidates.

Neither is Bo Pelini, 44, the fourth-year head coach at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers coach, in his fourth season with a 39-15 record, interviewed recently with Joyner in Texas. A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Pelini looked to move east in 2005. He was a finalist for the head coaches’ job at the University of Pittsburgh when Dave Wannstedt was hired.

Count him out. According to sources close to the search, Pelini is no longer a candidate.

You can probably scratch off Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald’s name as well. Fitzgerald, 37, is 40-35 in six seasons. A Northwestern icon as a linebacker, he was a two-time winner of the Nagurski Trophy and the Bednarik Award. He and Paterno have had a strong bond, but Fitzgerald’s ties to his alma mater are much greater – now more than ever.

“Northwestern is about to launch the most ambitious development campaign in the history of the athletic program,” said a source close to the Northwestern football program. “Estimates range from $200 million to $400 million for athletics for a major Ryan Field overhaul and major facilities changes for football on ‘Monday through Friday.’ The momentum is going to be huge for Fitz.”

THREE MORE GONE

Three more candidates recently fell off of Penn State’s board, each inking a contract extension. They are Paul Johnson of Georgia Tech, Kyle Whittingham of Utah and Mark Richt of Georgia.

That leaves as potential candidates: Tom Clements, the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback coach; Florida International head coach Mario Cristobal; and former Penn State offensive lineman Mike Munchak, the first-year head coach of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.

Cristobal, for one, may soon land elsewhere in Pennsylvania.

The 41-year-old coach of Florida International, 24-37 over the past five seasons, is considered the leading candidate for the vacancy at Pitt. Cristobal coached for three seasons at Rutgers under head coach Greg Schiano, a former PSU assistant who is occasionally mentioned as a possible candidate despite his 67-67 record with the Scarlet Knights.

Munchak’s ties to the Titans are even stronger than his with Penn State. Munchak, 51, is a Scranton native who has been with the Titans as a Hall of Fame player and coach since 1982. This is his first season as head coach for 7-7 Tennessee. A source says Penn State is dogged in its pursuit of Munchak.

That leaves Clements, 58, a former Notre Dame quarterback who spent four seasons as an assistant at his alma mater. He also coached in the NFL with the Saints, Chiefs, Steelers and Bills before landing in Green Bay, where he’s coached both Brett Favre and Aaron Rogers.

Clements led Notre Dame to the 1973 national championship and is a native of McKees Rocks, Pa. He also has a law degree from Notre Dame.

Maybe that J.D. will help with Penn State with its final verdict.

Related Content:

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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