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Penn State Football: Seven Coaches Likely to be on the Search Committee’s Short List

by on December 16, 2011 7:45 AM

Penn State’s next football coach is most probably somewhere in the following three groups:

Peaches and Pat -- Mark Richt of Georgia, Paul Johnson of Georgia Tech and Gary Patterson of Texas Christian.

Big Ten Men – Bo Pelini of Nebraska and Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern.

The Alumni Association – Penn State grads Al Golden of Miami (Fla.) and Mike Munchak of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.

Richt was the potential hire du jour on Thursday, lighting up the message boards, while Golden filled the bill earlier in the week.

As a group, these coaches have either reached out to Penn State, been tapped by PSU or fit the mold that search committee chair Dr. David Joyner articulated on Thursday.

“We want to continue to win games and do it the right way,” said Joyner, whose stint as acting athletic director, filling in for Tim Curley, began four weeks ago. “…I want to continue that focus – and so does the president (of Penn State, Rod Erickson) – on the integration of the proper balance between athletics and academics.”

The man who started and maintained that focus for 46 years, Joe Paterno, was fired on Nov. 9. He was replaced by longtime assistant, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, the Nittany Lions’ interim head coach.

Bradley is slated to interview with the committee on Friday, making him at least the third coach on the current staff to interview for the job. The other two are quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno and defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr.

Former Penn State assistant coach Brian Norwood (2001-2007) and current associate head coach at Baylor, also interviewed for the position. Norwood’s son Jordan, a former receiver at Penn State, now plays for the Cleveand Browns.

It is unlikely any of them will be offered the head coaching job.

But I think one of the following guys will. They made our list because they generally fulfill the three main criteria Joyner has laid out for the position, and/or because of our knowledge of interviews and assessed interest on at least one side of the equation.

We also used the good old-fashioned process of elimination. For our list of rejects and mythbusters, click here.


The measuring sticks used are: 1.) academic success, 2.) on the-field-success – which must translate into tens of millions of dollars of revenue to drive Penn State’s $116 million athletics budget, and 3.) integrity.

Penn State’s success in the first two areas is palpable.

Penn State football is No. 1 in the Academic Bowl Championship Series rankings, as determined by New America Foundation's Higher Ed Watch. The Lions were paced by a tie for first, with Stanford, for top Graduation Success Rate -- 87 percent -- among teams ranked in the BCS and AP Top 25 rankings.

In addition, PSU has a stellar Academic Progress Rate of 972, while graduating 87 percent of its football players overall and 87 of its African-American football players.

The Nittany Lions were 68-22 (.755) over their last 90 games, and in 2011 ranked fourth in average home attendance (101,427) – behind Michigan, Ohio State and Alabama. That ticket revenue is key to Penn State football’s $53 million profit last season, based on gross revenues of $72.7 million.

Still, attendance lagged by 2,817 fans per game compared to 2010, due primarily ty the controversial STEP program. Penn State can’t afford a further drop; the new coach will have zero wiggle room.

As for the third criteria: You certainly know the deal. Penn State’s reputation for integrity and values was besmirched this fall by the Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

This is what the new coach is stepping into.

Now, let’s talk money.

I don’t see it as a problem, at least up to $3.6 million. That represents a raise of $688,600 (25 percent) for Richt, the higgest-paid guy on our list.

Graham Spanier and his $2 million-or-so ceiling are gone. Committee member Ira Lubert and his checkbook is open, and I’m sure he can coax some from other high rollers. Don’t forget: Lubert and Joyner made the Cael Sanderson hire, so it is doubtful they wrestle over the check when it comes time to pay the new football coach. The new coach will bring in a lot more money than Sanderson, who I would guess makes in the neighborhood of a half-mill a year.

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The only viable candidates, I think, are FBS head coaches — and Munchak is an anomaly. Penn State likes him. The list of pro possibilities is unimpressive. And coordinators at any level need not to apply (OK, Norwood did, but won’t get hired). PSU is not the place for OTJ.


Time to show our cards. Here’s my best guess, based on some solid info, but with a wing and a prayer or two, in rank order.

Salaries are from USA Today’s annual survey; max is the maximum the coach can make from the base salary and all other streams of job-related revenue, including bonuses. Academic information is from a study by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, using NCAA statistics.

Attendance information is from the NCAA, and shows the ability to fill a home stadium, a key revenue stream, and to keep the fans, who are lifeblood of the program, involved. That did not happen at Beaver Stadium in 2010.

1. Mark Richt, 51, Georgia

11th year, 106-37, 10-3 in 2011; 7-3 bowls; 2 SEC champs, 5 div. titles. Salary: $2.8 million/max: $3.64 million. Ave. attend.: 92,746; capacity: 100%. APR: 976; grad rate: 65%; African-Am. grad rate: 63%.

Chatter: Richt’s name exploded onto the Penn State scene over the past 36 hours, and reverberated in all corners of athletics and football at Penn State, even though ESPN reported he is in the midst of a contract extension. … When doing all the numbers this week, his name really popped out, as you can see above.

Plusses: From Mike Conti, former State College sportscaster now based in Atlanta: "As a Penn State alum, I’d love to see someone of Richt’s recruiting ability and character coaching the Nittany Lions. He’d be more successful facing the Big Ten than the SEC … UGA had not won the SEC or been at the Sugar Bowl from the night they lost to PSU until Richt got there. Since then, they’ve been to three Sugar Bowls. … Two of the Richts' kids are adopted from the Baltic states. His wife is the water girl on the sidelines. … If PSU put up the megabucks I think they could sway him. He’s treated like garbage by UGA fans and I think he’d listen.”

Minuses: After passing on Texas A&M job, Richt and UGA started talks to extend his contract. His quote about that is kind of ambiguous: staying as long as “Georgia will have me.” … No northern ties, although he was born in Nebraska. … Players have penchant for occasional trouble – “a pretty lengthy list,” Conti says.


2. Gary Patterson, 51, TCU

12th year, 108-30, 10-2 in 2011; 6-4 bowls; No. 2, 13-0, Rose Bowl in 2010. Salary: $3 million/max: est. $3.5 million (TCU is private). Ave. attend.: 42,466; capacity: 95.7%. APR: 972; grad rate: 78%; African-Am. grad rate: 69%.

Chatter: There is none; folks who know have said that this search could very well produce someone who no one has talked about. Fort Worth source reports all is quiet, although Patterson was out of town recruiting Thursday night (had to call into his radio show) and Joyner was headed south … Minn. coach Jerry Kill was best man at Patterson’s wedding, so maybe he will talk up the Big Ten.

Plusses: Upstanding citizen, program builder ($164 million stadium renovation is to be done in June, plus weight and locker rooms)… wins .. excellent academics; TCU ranks near top of most NCAA academic ratings for football … PSU search committee could take the following either way: Texas source says Patterson is a huge admirer of Joe Paterno, and has a framed picture of the two of them (plus a third party) behind his desk. His wife Kelsey is a big fan of Joe and Sue, having connected with them on Nike trips. … He does like challenges, and is very self-confident; PSU situation might feed into that.

Minuses: Paterson has established an almost-Paterno-like kingdom: 9,500-student private school, strong academics, minimal media, a gruff exterior, facilities build-up – so why leave? … He may feel a special commitment to say due to renovations; on other hand, he could say he built and made the place better, so he can move on. …  Moving into the Big 12 … Two sides may not be talking.


3. Bo Pelini, 44, Nebraska

 4th year, 39-15, 9-3 in 2011; 3-1 bowls; 3 Big 12 division titles. Salary: $2.775 million/max $3.75 million. Ave. attend.: 85,664; capacity: 105.7%. APR: 958; grad rate: 67%; African-Am. grad rate: 58%.

Chatter: Very little. Although Bo is known for being outspoken, any discussions have been on the QT. His interest is supposedly earnest.

Plusses: Young, energetic. Great bio: defensive coordinator at Oklahoma and LSU, plus years in the pros. … Youngstown, Ohio, roots – specifically renown Cardinal Mooney H.S., also the alma mater of the Stoops Bros. … Mike Stoops and Pelini share same birthdate (Dec. 13) and maybe workplace. Pelini is looking to hire a DC since his brother Carl left Neb. to be head coach at Fla. International. … Knows Big Ten, Midwest, NFL, West Coast, New England, SEC.

Minuses: Ohio State grad … four solid seasons (4, 4, 4, 3 losses), but hasn’t had a breakout year … can go overboard on sidelines, and has been admonished by A.D. Tom Osborne …Some player trouble with the law.


4. Mike Munchak, 51, Tennessee Titans

 1st year, 7-6. 2nd place, AFC South. Salary: n/a.

Chatter: I wrote back in he summer of 2010 that Munchak would be a great successor to Joe Paterno at Penn State. I’m sticking with it.

Plusses: Penn State wants him. … Non-plussed, hard-working loyal (Houston/Tennessee is his only post-college employer)… Pro Hall of Famer would grab any recruit’s attention. From the 1980s heyday era of Penn State, so he is not connected to anything but a good image and successful seasons… 7-6 in the pros may not be all that fun … From Scranton, so has PA connections … Good connections, too, with former players. …

In some insightful quotations that appeared in The Tennessean, Munchak said a good coach could be successful in the pros or college:  “I don’t know why someone couldn’t do both,” he said. “I know the differences, but the bottom line to me is if you are a good coach, then you should be able to do it on any level and have success.”

Same for recruiting: “I think it’s the same type of thing, and if you believe in what you are doing, then that should come out in how you are selling to an 18-year-old boy or a 25-year-old guy who has a little money in his pocket already.” 

Minuses: Shifting careers, in essence when over 50. Just reached pinnacle of NFL profession with his lifelong franchise. Why switch now? …. Not familiar with nuances of college – recruiting, academics, since it’s been 35 years since he went through it himself.


5. Pat Fitzgerald, 37, Northwestern.

6th year, 40-35, 6-6 in 2011, 0-3 bowls; never higher than 4th in the Big Ten. Salary: $1.2 million/max: $1.2 million plus add’l n/a (NU is private). Ave. attend.: 36,449; capacity: 79%. APR: 993; grad rate: 94%; African-Am. grad rate: 92%.

Chatter: People have been talking about Fitzgerald and the Penn State job for years. Years. … The door is still slightly open.

Plusses: A wholesome, energetic, All-American kind of guy. Presents exactly the right kind of image. … Has a big following among Penn State fans. … Has the energy and years to mold Penn State into something that suits him best… He and Paterno have a mutual admiration society … His agent has never send a direct no about Penn State; in talking to Ron Musselman of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, he was quoted as saying there’s always a chance. ... Academics are a home run. …Started as HC when only 31, so learning curve still high.

Minuses: In May, Fitzgerald signed a 10-year contract that would keep him in Evanston for 10 more years. His story is almost legend: Big star at NU, coaching under his mentor, who passes away. Assumes top job. … Nice family is one with the school, the community. … Here’s a totally different minus: He may have been the best college linebacker in his day, but his teams now can’t play defense. … Can he fill Beaver Stadium? … And at just 5 games over .500, can he win?


6. Al Golden, 42, Miami (Fla.)

1st year, 6-6, at Miami. Temple: 5 yrs., 27-34. Salary: n/a; est. $1.5 - $2 million. Ave. attend.: 52,575; capacity: 70.2%. (All Temple) APR: 937; grad rate: 60%; African-Am. grad rate: 47%.

Chatter: All kind of noise since Monday, some of it from Clinton County, and at least with me – from all directions. Golden’s wife Kelly is part of the Hanna family, and that includes her uncle Mike Hanna, the state representative from Clinton County.  The family is also close to Fran Ganter, Penn State’s associate A.D for football. …

Plusses: Knows Penn State, but was only on the coaching staff for one year (200) after graduating as a team captain in 1991. … He showed with Temple that he is up to the challenge of building / rebuilding a program. … The Owls were 1-11 his first season, but by Years 4 and 5 they were 17-8… The sight of a Penn Stater on the sidelines would certainly rally the Penn State fan base if the search committee is unable to land a big name. ... Deep down, Golden wants the job, if Penn State wants him.

Minuses: One of the biggest is fact that Golden signed a contract extension that takes his agreement with Miami into 2019. His salary is not published – Miami is a private school – so there’s way of knowing what the punitive payment would be if Penn State bought out his contract. Think millions, though… PSU athletics is not exactly flush with cash, so that may be a deal-breaker there.


7. Paul Johnson, 54, Georgia Tech

4th year, 34-18, 8-4 in 2011; 2 ACC division titles. Salary: $2.4 million/max: $3.5 million. Ave. attend.: 46,449; capacity: 84.5%. APR: 966; grad rate: 55%; African-Am. grad rate: 52%.

Chatter: I think they were talking to the wrong Navy coach. Johnson was a very solid 45-29, going bowling every year but one. He was succeeded by current Navy coach Ken Niumatalol, who got all the PSU pub earlier this week … Could have been mistaken identity.

Plusses: He is a rock. He has great experience – head coach at three schools – Georgia Southern (62-10 and two NCAA Division I-AA titles), Navy and Georgia Tech. … He’s 141-57 overall (.712)…  Steady, sturdy, disciplined.

Minuses: Definitely a Southern guy… Runs that goofy option, which he’ll need to change to recruit four- and five-star players … Not well-known or charismatic. ... Big price tag for a guy who does not fill a small stadium. … Grad rates not great, but he’s not been at Tech long enough to really own them. 


Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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