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Penn State Football: Seven Options To Fill Vacant Defensive Assistant Position

by on December 05, 2013 2:40 PM

With Ron Vanderlinden no longer in the fold at Penn State, head coach Bill O'Brien will need to find a new linebacker coach. In many cases any given defensive coach has worked with more than a single position throughout his career, so the coach hired by O'Brien doesn't have to currently coach linebackers. In some respects O'Brien just needs to hire a coach he and John Butler feel helps move the program in the right direction. 

As an offensive mind, it's much easier to find coaches that O'Brien has worked with on the same side of the ball. On defense though it's a little harder to speculate which coaches O'Brien would be most interested in. 

The best rule of thumb is to look for coaches that O'Brien has already worked with and ignore names around the country that might be up for grabs. O'Brien can hire anyone he wants to, but it seems like a safe bet he'll hire someone he knows and trusts. Whether that means only former colleagues remains to be seen.

For the sake of narrowing down the list of potential candidates, here are a few names to consider -- coaches who have ties to Penn State, O'Brien, Butler or all three. These aren't the only defensive coaches either O'Brien or Butler have worked with, but they're the ones who might be easier to steal away from their current jobs.

Peter Giunta: New York Giants' Defensive Back Coach

With an NFL background Giunta brings an obvious asset with him to State College if hired. Giunta coached at Penn State for three seasons before coaching for three more years at Brown (O'Brien's alma mater). He doesn't bring with him the trend of youthful coaches O'Brien has hired but he brings experience both at the college and NFL level as well as connections to regions well within Penn State's recruiting grounds.

Patrick Graham: New England Patriots' Defensive Line Coach

It's never easy to pry coaches away from New England, but Graham knows O'Brien and has worked with him before. He also brings some college coaching experience with him as well as a season at Yale, the all important Ivy League school resume booster with O'Brien.

Jon Tenuta: Virginia Defensive Coordinator

Having worked with O'Brien while at Georgia Tech, Tenuta brings decades of defensive experience to the table. While moving from a coordinator to an assistant is a step down -- making the move from UVA to Penn State might be worth it. Tenuta also has ties in Ohio which could help Penn State in the long term.

Brad Lawing: Florida Defensive Line Coach

Butler worked with Lawing while at South Carolina where Lawing spent most of his career before getting hired to join Will Muschamp at Florida last year. Things didn't go so great in The Swamp this season and Lawing might feel the need for a change of scenery. That being said, even after a bad season, it's hard to say no to Florida weather and the chance to turn a generally successful program back around.

Ronnie Lee: Idaho Defensive Coordinator

Butler also worked with Lee while at Minnesota in the mid 2000s before both coaches made their moves. Lee might be hard to get from Idaho having only just started out west, but having coached in the Big Ten before it could be hard to turn down an offer to return.

Frank Spaziani: Former Boston College Head Coach

 He played linebacker and quarterback at Penn State and has been in the coaching ranks for years. Most recently the head coach at Boston College, Spaziani has been a defensive minded coach his entire career. He doesn't have any direct connections to O'Brien or Butler outside of his Penn State alumni status, but he has experience and could serve the program well in an assistant role.

Lance Thompson: Alabama Outside Linebackers Coach

 Getting coaches to leave Nick Saban might not be as hard as you think, but getting coaches to leave one of the best programs in the nation is. Even so, Thompson brings with him elite experience and worked with O'Brien while at Georgia Tech. This might be a hard hire to pull off, but if Saban leaves for Texas it could help Penn State's chances. That is unless Alabama promotes defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to head coach and Thompson is promoted to defensive coordinator.


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Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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