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Penn State Football: The Next President? Search Me

by on December 27, 2013 2:30 AM

It looks like Penn State’s protracted search for a new university president could intersect with a possible hunt for a new head football coach.

There was always that chance, right?

After all, since Rodney Erickson announced his retirement it's only been 778 days. And counting.

When Erickson signed an employment agreement on Nov. 10, 2011, to become The Pennsylvania State University’s 17th president, it was also the day he set his retirement date.

Just seven paragraphs into his 10-page contract with Penn State (which you can access here), it says that the “University shall employ Dr. Erickson as its President for a term ending June 30, 2014 or earlier if both parties mutually consent...”

So, it's not like it's a surprise that Rod is a short-timer. He made it very clear when he took the job. From Day One, all the parties involved knew the exact date – or sooner -- Erickson was going to retire as president. That was 111 weeks ago.

Another 53 weeks went by until the Penn State Board of Trustees named its Presidential Selection Council. That was Nov. 16, 2012 – which was 406 days ago. Two months after that, on Jan. 18, 2013, the University Presidential Search and Screen Committee was formed. And, just like that, the search was off and running. Then came (the) fall.

On Sept. 10, Karen Peetz, former chair of the board of trustees and chair of the Trustee Presidential Selection Council, said: “It is clear to me that we have a (candidate) pool that contains the person who will bring extraordinary credentials to the university as our next president.”

On Oct. 10, the Daily Collegian reported that in an email to the newspaper, Penn State’s vice president for administration, Tom Poole, said, “The board has always stated that the goal is to have a finalist by the November (Board of Trustees) meeting and the process is currently on track to meet that goal.”

On Nov. 5, the Albany Times Union reported that Dr. David Smith, head of SUNY Upstate Medical University, was slated to become Penn State’s next president, but was found to be allegedly “padding his state pay without permission.” Smith subsequently quit SUNY and, obviously, was not hired by Penn State.

On Nov. 22, Penn State alumni trustee William Oldsey was named to the Trustee Selection Council, the group’s 14th member.

Now, here it is Dec. 27, 2013. And if the NFL Network’s report on Thursday that Bill O’Brien is interviewing with the Houston Texans is correct, Penn State might need to form another search committee. This one for a head football coach.

Again.

WHICH MEANS…

If O’Brien does leave, that would mean Erickson (an admitted non-football guy) will have hired three head football coaches – interim head Tom Bradley, O’Brien and then whoever is Next Man Up – during his reign. A reign that was always designed to be temporary.

Which means, then, that if O’Brien leaves, his successor would be facing the same situation O’Brien faced when he interviewed, when he was hired, when Penn State was nearly KO'd by the 1-2 punch of Freeh and Emmert, when he coached for two seasons, when he met with NFL teams the past two post-seasons and when he left: His bosses now who won’t be his bosses later.

Which means that what used to be one of college football’s most stable jobs, even before Joe Paterno, will be a revolving door. Not counting Bradley’s four interim games and the 1949 season coached by Joe Bedenk, Penn State had been a destination job since World War I, with Hugo Bezdek (12 seasons), Bob Higgins (19), Rip Engle (16) and Paterno (46). O’Brien’s been at Penn State for two seasons.

(If O'Brien goes, a true and truly dedicated student-athlete like Allen Robinson -- if he doesn't leave himself -- will have had four head coaches and four wide receiver coaches in his four years at Penn State.)

When O’Brien was hired from the New England Patriots two Januarys ago, the search drew a lot of fire because of its length and its relatively-unknown final selection. As it was, the process, led by then-interim athletic director Dave Joyner, was long by college football standards but short by Penn State standards. It lasted 40 days from search committee formation on Nov. 28, 2011, to O’Brien’s official signing on Jan. 6, 2012. 

Now, O’Brien is apparently facing another decision regarding his coaching future. And that Penn State’s presidential future is still very hazy plays a key role in his decision to go post-Christmas shopping. He had hoped to know who were to be his bosses, at both the presidential and athletic director levels, before the NFL regular season ends on Sunday. 

MULTIPLE CHOICE

More than know, actually. More accurately, he’s had a burning desire to have a sense of their a.) direction, b.) philosophy, c.) sanction and NCAA savvy, d.) athletic and fiscal acumen, e.) football program and f.) athletic department commitment, g.) and individual support.

At least at the presidential level, O’Brien knows, h.) none of the above.

Which could mean, to O’Brien, i.) I am going to see what my options are with the NFL while the iron is (still) hot.

It’s not that Penn State can’t act fast when it wants to. Witness the selection of O’Brien. Much more relevant is its recent search-and-sign of Nicholas Jones, Penn State’s new executive vice president and provost by way of New Zealand and Johns Hopkins. The provost is the university’s chief academic officer and, as such, the second-highest ranked employee among the 44,000-plus employees in Penn State’s statewide system. Provost was Erickson’s old job for 13 years before he replaced Graham Spanier.

Overall, Jones’ hiring was fast. From start of the search process on Sept. 20, 2012, to the announcement of Jones as the successor to interim provost Robert Pangborn – who replaced Erickson when he became president – on April 29, 2012, the entire process took just 211 days.

PAST PENN STATE PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITIONS

For its size, Penn State used to be relatively nimble.

Historically, over the past half-century it has taken Penn State a bit less than a year to select a new university president, from the day the president announced his retirement date (as Erickson did Nov. 10, 2011) to the day his successor's hire was formally announced to the public. The details:

ERIC WALKER

First day – July 30, 1956

Announced retirement – Jan. 14, 1969

Last day – June 30, 1969

 

JOHN OSWALD; days from Walker announcement to Oswald selection – 332

Hiring announcement – Dec. 12, 1969

First day – July 1, 1970

Announced retirement – July 11, 1981

Last day – June 30, 1983

 

BRYCE JORDAN; days from Oswald announcement to Jordan selection – 431

Hiring announcement – Oct. 14, 1982

First day – July 1, 1983

Announced retirement – Sept. 15, 1989

Last day – Aug. 31, 1990

 

JOAB THOMAS; days from Jordan announcement to Thomas selection – 311

Hiring announcement – July 23, 1990

First day – Sept. 1, 1990

Announced retirement – May 13, 1994

Last day – Aug. 31, 1995

 

GRAHAM SPANIER; days from Thomas announcement to Spanier selection – 297

Hiring announcement – March 16, 1994

First day – Sept. 1, 1995

Announced firing – Nov. 9, 2011

Last day – Nov. 9, 2011

 

RODNEY ERICKSON; days from Spanier announcement to Erickson selection – 0

Hiring announcement – Nov. 9, 2011; formally signed contract, Nov. 10, 2011

First day – Nov. 9, 2011

Announced retirement – Nov. 10, 2011 (778 days ago)

Board of Trustees Presidential Selection Council announced – Nov. 16, 2012 (407 days)

University Presidential Search and Screen Committee announced – Jan. 18, 2013 (343 days)

Last day – June 30, 2014

 

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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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