After a two-year stint at Penn State, Bill O’Brien has decided to leave for the NFL and the Houston Texans. O’Brien guided Penn State through a difficult period, which included scholarship sanctions and a bowl ban due to the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
O’Brien went 15-9 at Penn State, with 10 of those victories coming in Big Ten play. Despite winning records in both seasons, NCAA sanctions prevented the Nittany Lions from participating in a bowl over the last two years.
There’s no question O’Brien is a NFL guy, as he interviewed for openings last season and spent from 2007-11 with the Patriots.
O’Brien brought stability to Happy Valley after the NCAA sanctions were announced and recruited solid talent, including quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
Even with two more years of a postseason ban, Penn State is still one of the top jobs in the Big Ten. However, there’s some uncertainty about who will serve as the school’s athletic director in the coming years. Will that deter a big-name coach from Penn State?
Candidates to Replace Bill O’Brien at Penn State
James Franklin, head coach, Vanderbilt
Franklin is one of the hottest names in coaching circles for open vacancies. The Pennsylvania native’s name has popped up for the jobs at Texas, Penn State and in the NFL. In three years at Vanderbilt, Franklin is 23-15 and has guided the Commodores to three consecutive bowl games. Vanderbilt’s three straight bowl games are a school record and 23 wins over a three-year period is one of the best stretches in the program’s history. As a Pennsylvania native, this is a chance for Franklin to return home. However, he could have his pick of offers – including college football’s No. 1 job in Texas.
Al Golden, head coach, Miami
Much like Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, Penn State represents an opportunity for Golden to return to a familiar setting. Golden grew up in Colts Neck, N.J. and played at Penn State from 1987-91 under Joe Paterno. Golden also coached linebackers with the Nittany Lions in 2000. In addition to his one-year stint at Penn State as an assistant, Golden worked at Virginia and Boston College before taking over at Temple in 2006. Under his direction, the Owls went from being one of the worst teams in the nation to a bowl team. Temple went 27-34 during Golden’s five seasons, but the Owls went 17-8 in his last two years. Golden inherited a mess at Miami due to an off-the-field scandal and has brought improvement to the Hurricanes. In three years under Golden, Miami is 22-15 and is 10-6 in the ACC over the last two seasons. After cleaning up from one NCAA scandal at Miami, would Golden want to finish another at Penn State?
Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State
Herman is a rising star in the assistant coach ranks. The Cincinnati native started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Texas in 1999. After two years with the Longhorns, he stayed in the Lone Star State with stops at Sam Houston State, Texas State and Rice. After four stops in Texas, Herman was the offensive coordinator at Iowa State from 2009-11. And after three years with the Cyclones, Herman was hired by Urban Meyer to coordinate the Ohio State offense. Under Herman’s direction, the Buckeyes averaged 37.2 points a game in 2012 and 46.3 points a contest in 2013. Much like Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, Herman is due for a chance to run his own program. However, is Penn State willing to gamble on an assistant with no head coaching experience? If the Nittany Lions are, Herman would be an outstanding hire.
Larry Johnson Sr., assistant coach, Penn State
Johnson is a bit of a longshot, but if Penn State wants to move quickly in replacing O’Brien, he should be near the top of the list. The North Carolina native has worked at Penn State since 1996, serving as an assistant coach under Joe Paterno and Bill O’Brien. Johnson is regarded as an excellent defensive line coach and recruiter, and his presence will be key in keeping the 2014 signing class together. Johnson’s only head coaching experience occurred in high school at two different locations.
Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State
Lembo wouldn’t be a big-name hire like James Franklin or Al Golden, but the New York native is a coach that is due for a promotion to run a BCS program. Lembo has been a successful head coach at three different stops, starting with a 44-14 stint at Lehigh from 2001-05. From 2006-10, Lembo guided Elon to a 35-22 mark and one playoff appearance. In three years at Ball State, the Cardinals are 25-12 under his watch. Lembo has also led Ball State to back-to-back bowl games for just the second time in school history.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson
Morris is the highest-paid assistant in college football and should be ready to run his own program after spending the last four years as an offensive coordinator in the FBS ranks. Under Morris’ direction, Clemson has averaged at least 440 yards per game in each of the last three seasons. The Tigers also averaged 40.2 points a game in 2013. There’s no question Morris is one of the nation’s top offensive minds. But his only head coaching experience took place at the high school level. Would Penn State take a chance on Morris? Or does he need to take another head coaching job at a smaller program before having a chance to run a program like Penn State?
Mike Munchak, head coach, Tennessee Titans
Munchak’s status with the Titans is up in the air for 2014. However, his future in Tennessee may not matter now that Penn State is open. Munchak played at Penn State from 1979-81 and was drafted by the Oilers in 1982. After a 12-year career in the NFL, Munchak retired and joined Houston’s coaching staff in 1994. He worked with the Oilers and Titans in an assistant capacity until 2011, as he was promoted to head coach after the team parted ways with Jeff Fisher. In three seasons as the Titans’ head coach, Munchak is 22-26. Munchak has no experience coaching on the college level, but he is a Pennsylvania native and a former Penn State player. With strong ties to Happy Valley, Munchak figures to be a strong candidate for athletic director Dave Joyner.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State
Narduzzi turned down Connecticut, but a job with the profile of Penn State would certainly provide intrigue for the 47-year-old coach. Narduzzi’s coaching career started at Miami (Ohio) in 1990 and continued there until 1992. From 1993-99, Narduzzi worked at Rhode Island and spent the following three years (2000-02) at Northern Illinois. Narduzzi’s first chance to coordinate a defense on the FBS level was in 2003 at Miami (Ohio), and he joined forces with Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati in 2004. Since 2004, Narduzzi has worked under Dantonio and has coordinated some of the nation’s top defenses at Michigan State. Narduzzi won the Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant coach in 2013. The Spartans led the nation in total defense this year and allowed just 3.9 yards per play. The only downside to Narduzzi’s resume is no head coaching experience.
Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers
Roman was in the mix the last time the Penn State job was open and should be a candidate to replace O’Brien this year. Most of Roman’s experience has been in the NFL, starting with the Panthers in 1995, continuing with the Texans in 2002, the Ravens in 2006 and the 49ers in 2011. Roman worked with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford from 2009-10. Although he has no head coaching experience, Roman has worked under one of the best coaches in the NFL (Harbaugh) and is an excellent offensive mind. How quickly Roman would be available depends on how far San Francisco goes in the NFL playoffs.
Greg Schiano, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach
Schiano recently joined the ranks of the unemployed, as he was fired after Tampa Bay’s Week 17 loss to New Orleans. While Schiano was just 11-21 in two years with the Buccaneers, he had a much better stint in college at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights struggled mightily prior to Schiano’s arrival, but he led Rutgers to six bowl appearances in his final seven years. The Scarlet Knights also won at least eight games in five out of the last six seasons. Schiano is also regarded as an excellent recruiter in the New Jersey/Pennsylvania area. Considering his losing record at Tampa Bay, Schiano could be a tough sell to Penn State’s fan base.