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Penn State Football Coaching Search: As Of Sunday, The Plane Truth

by on January 05, 2014 9:25 AM

Here’s the plane truth about Penn State’s search for its next head football coach:

The official search committee tasked with finding Penn State’s next head football coach left University Park Airport via the air before 9 a.m. on Saturday morning. It was bound for South Florida.

And as of Sunday morning, the committee’s plane has yet to return to State College.

There’s been no official word by Penn State, but it is very possible the committee is meeting Sunday with Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, whose team beat Houston 41-24 in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Saturday, and/or Penn State grad Mike Munchak, fired Saturday as head coach of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.

A quick geography lesson:

The bowl game was played in Birmingham, Ala. Vanderbilt University is located in Nashville, Tenn. Munchak flew to Texas on Friday morning to meet with GM Ruston Webster and team/president CEO Tommy Smith, who is based in Houston. Ironically, former Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, who resigned on New Year’s Eve, is in Houston after being hired by the NFL’s Houston Texans.

Munchak, who has worked for the Tennessee franchise as a Hall of Fame player, assistant and head coach since 1982 and dating back to its days in Houston, lives in Nashville. So, Franklin, 41, and Munchak, 53, are both based in the Nashville area. That doesn’t mean they are there on Sunday. Or that even if they are in Nashville, one or both is meeting with the Penn State search committee.

But it doesn’t mean they aren’t, either. It sure would be convenient.

Flying time is an hour and 59 minutes from the Miami International Airport to the Nashville International Airport. It is possible, however, that Penn State was working out of the Opa-locka Executive Airport, in suburban Miami and located 10 miles from Sun Life Stadium. Opa-locka is a smaller venue, with easier in/out access and meeting facilities.

On Saturday, according to several media reports, the committee met with Miami (Fla.) coach Al Golden, 44, a former Penn State assistant coach and player, about the open position. Most likely, the meeting took place in the Miami area. Neither Golden, who just completed his third season with the Hurricanes with a 9-4 record after a 7-0 start, nor Penn State has issued an official statement about Saturday’s meeting.

However, University of Miami athletic director Blake James sent a text on Saturday to several south Florida media outlets, noting that he and Golden “communicate regularly” and that he believed Golden would remain at Miami. “He is our football coach and I believe he will be our football coach going forward,” James said in the text.

The Penn State search committee was established on Thursday and is led by athletic director Dave Joyner, who directed the group that hired O’Brien in 2012. There has been no official information released about who made the trip to south Florida, but the announced members of Penn State’s 2014 head coach search committee are:

Joyner (chair); Tom Poole, Penn State vice president for administration; Charmelle Green, associate athletic director and senior woman administrator; Linda Caldwell, NCAA faculty athletics representative and distinguished professor; Bob Warming, Penn State men’s soccer head coach; and Wally Richardson, a former two-year Nittany Lion starting quarterback and current director of the Penn State Football Letterman’s Club.

Larry Johnson, Penn State's longtime defensive line coach, is serving as the Nittany Lion football program's interim head coach. He has indicated he would like to interview for the position on a permanent basis. There have been no announcements by Penn State that the search committee has interviewed Johnson.

"He's an extremely stable individual who's very well thought of," Joyner said of Johnson on Thursday. "He's an excellent leader. He has a long history with Penn State, and he's a great representative of what Penn State football and Penn State University is all about. I think he's got the respect of both recruits as well as the student athletes that are here. So in my book, Larry is a solid very solid individual who will be a solid base as we get through this."

At Miami, Golden has a 22-15 record and in five seasons as head coach at Temple, he was 27-34, with a 17-8 mark in his final two years. He was a 1991 Penn State team co-captain and was PSU’s linebacker coach for one season (2000).

The Hurricanes started the 2013 season with a 7-0 record and a Top 10 ranking, but went 2-4 over their final six games. In a three-game skid against Florida State, Virginia Tech and Duke, Miami lost by a combined score of 131-68. Miami’s defensive coordinator is Mark D’Onofrio, Golden’s best friend and former Penn State roommate. Miami completed its 2013 season last Saturday with a 36-9 loss to Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

That was the final game at Louisville for its coach, Charlie Strong, who since has taken the job as head coach at Texas. That directly impacts Penn State. Franklin was a candidate for the Longhorns opening and interviewed with the school. Franklin, a Pennsylvania native and graduate of East Stroudsburg University, is considered a top candidate for the Penn State opening. He has also been reported as a candidate for NFL head coach vacancies at Cleveland and Washington.

On Saturday, Vanderbilt gave up a 24-0 lead to Houston before pulling away to win, 41-24. In a televised interview after the game, Franklin was asked about his coaching future. His reply: “Amazing win for Vanderbilt vs. Houston. Thank you so very much.”

Vanderbilt had five consecutive victories to complete its 9-4 2013 season, which included a sweep of SEC rivals Georgia, Florida and Tennessee – the latter two on the road. The Commodores played in three straight bowl games under Franklin, a first for the program, and completed their first back-to-back nine-win seasons. Franklin’s three-year record at Vanderbilt, his first head coaching job, is 24-15.

Munchak was fired, according to reports from NFL.com, after he refused to make changes on his assistant coaching staff. Smith became the Titans team president when his father-in-law, franchise owner Bud Adams, died at age 90 in October.

Munchak had just finished the third year of a four-year contract that paid him between $2.75 and $3 million annually. He was 22-26 (.458) as an NFL head coach, with 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. In three seasons, Tennessee was 2-20 vs. teams with winning records. He was a second-team All-America guard for Penn State in 1981. He played 12 years with the Titans’ franchise and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After his playing days he was an assistant coach with the franchise for 17 years.

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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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