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Penn State Football: Shouldn’t Penn Staters Apply? The Odds Against Golden, Munchak Were 35-2

by on January 11, 2014 4:00 AM

Did Al Golden or Mike Munchak have a chance to be the Nittany Lions’ next head football coach?

After all, they’re Penn State graduates.

An evaluation of the coaching hires made by the Penn State athletic department since the Sandusky scandal shows that, given recent history, the numbers were stacked against the two veteran coaches.

How stacked? 35 to 2. (More on that in a minute.)

No one can dispute that both coaches were very qualified candidates, no matter where they got their degrees. Impressive degrees, too; Golden was pre-law and Munchak studied business logistics.

Golden (Class of 1991) is a former Penn State captain who, as a head coach, successfully resurrected two college programs facing disparate challenges -- perennial sad-sack Temple and scandal-riddled and undisciplined Miami (Fla.).

Munchak (Class of 1982) is a Pro Football Hall of Famer, longtime assistant and recent NFL head coach, as well as a second-team All-America guard at Penn State. Overall, that’s 36 years of football at its highest levels. (Penn State’s newest head coach, James Franklin, is 41 years old).

Many people thought that being a successful Penn State grad gave Golden and Munchak an advantage. Hardly. An audit I did of all of Penn State’s Intercollegiate Athletics’ hiring of head coaches, assistant coaches and directors of operations since November 2011 shows the exact opposite.

Dave Joyner (Class of 1972; Penn State College of Medicine 1976) is the CEO of Penn State’s $104.7 million-grossing operation. He was appointed acting athletic director on Nov. 16, 2011 – a week after Joe Paterno was fired by the Penn State Board of Trustees, of which Joyner was a sitting member at the time. He was named Penn State’s full-time athletic director by president Rodney Erickson on Jan. 21, 2013.

According to information on Penn State’s official athletics website,, a total of 37 coaches and directors of operations have been hired since Joyner was appointed. The tally includes Franklin and is current as of the website on Friday.

Two were Penn State graduates. Two.

The other 35 who were hired since November 2011 went to college somewhere else. 

A cynic would say that Joyner, a distinguished two-sport Penn State athlete who has made significant contributions to the university in myriad ways, was nearly the last Penn Stater in. Then he shut the gate.

Full disclosure: I am a Penn State graduate (Class of 1982), teach sports industry and journalism classes at Penn State, and direct alumni relations for the College of Communications. I increasingly see my role as that of Murray Sperber when he was at Indiana– only I think the college student-athlete model at Penn State actually works pretty well, especially in comparison to most universities. In this case, Penn State’s hiring numbers speak louder than I ever could.

Now, let’s meet those two Penn Staters:

One is assistant women’s volleyball coach Steve Aird (Class of 2001), who was hired in March 2012 by Russ Rose. Aird is a former Nittany Lions volleyball and women’s volleyball director of operations. Rose’s other two full-time assistants are also Penn State grads, hired prior to Joyner’s tenure. Rose’s model seems to work – and how. His squad won its sixth national championship in December. So, apparently, having Penn Staters coach Penn Staters can be a good thing. (See, also: Morett, Pavlik and Jepson.)

The second is Ryan Foster (Class of 2011), the director of operations for men’s and women’s track and cross county. A talented distance runner, he was a four-time Big Ten champion and one of the impressive 138 All-Americans coached by Beth Alford-Sullivan.

Those other 35: Counting Franklin, that list includes five head coaches, with new hires coming in baseball, football (twice), swimming and diving, and softball. None were Penn Staters.

There have been 30 additional new hires of assistant coaches and directors of operations over the past 26 months. Twenty-eight don’t have PSU sheepskins. The biggest group of non-PSU hires has been in football, where two head coaches and eight assistants have been hired since Jan. 6, 2012. For purposes of this survey, Paterno Era holdovers Ron Vanderlinden and Larry Johnson retained by Bill O’Brien were not counted as new hires.

There has been a seismic shift under Joyner, who ultimately is responsible for the hiring direction of athletics, as he noted on Jan. 2, when he was discussing his veto power over any hires made by Penn State’s new head football coach.

“I always give our coaches complete, quote, unquote, autonomy in selecting the staff,” Joyner said. “However, the athletic director reserves the right for a veto depending on certain situations. Also, I certainly encourage our new head coaches to look very seriously at staff that are here, and I will do the same when we have the new head coach.”

During the recent football coach search, Johnson – a Penn State fixture since 1996 – was also interviewed. But, for the second time in two years and five days, a Penn Stater (whether by service or degree) did not get the job. Both Munchak and Golden interviewed for the job in 2011-12. Joyner also served as head of that search committee, which was tasked with finding Paterno’s sucessor, after the longtime coach was fired after 46 seasons as head coach at Penn State.

Beginning with Paterno in November 2011, seven Penn State head coaches have left their positions for myriad reasons. They include: Emmanuil Kaidanov (fired as men’s and women’s fencing coach), Dawna Prevette (women’s tennis), Robin Petrini (softball), John Hargis (swimming and diving) and Robbie Wine (baseball). They were either succeeded by a non-Penn Stater or, in two cases, their spot has been filled on an interim basis by a coach already employed by Penn State.

To be clear: This is not James Franklin’s fight. Nor his doing in any way.

The charismatic coach will, no doubt, talk about his Pennsylvania roots and connections when he is introduced to the media and the Nittany Lion fan base on Saturday. And that’s pretty cool.

But Penn State has a rich tradition of strong academics and great athletics, witness its ongoing high showing in the Learfield Sports Directors Cup and decades of success in many sports. Many great student-athletes who got their start at Penn State have gone on to become great coaches.

Just not at Penn State.

Those ties may bind. But they seemingly tie the door shut as well.

Franklin could go a long way in changing things by naming a former Nittany Lion or two to his coaching staff. A good place to start is the over 1,000 former players who belong to the Penn State Football Lettermen’s Club, led by Wally Richardson. Franklin already knows Wally; he was on the six-person search committee with Joyner.

Franklin’s time is limited. I get it. An even more precise list is on page 172 of the 2013 Penn State Football Yearbook. It’s all there -- the 60 Penn Staters who are now in the football coaching profession. (Please, tell me why Bobby Engram is coaching at … gulp … Pitt?)

It may be worth a shot.

After all, with six national titles, you have to figure Russ Rose knows what he’s doing.

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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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